Thirsty Lion sports pub closed its original flagship location in Old Town on Sunday.
The sale of the restaurant will close this week. Its future owners, Derek Stotz and Richard Kelly, plan to open another spot there called Alderman's Portland Tavern.
This isn't a sign that Thirsty Lion's in trouble—it's actually expanding. Since founding in 2006, the Portland-based chain of sports-bar gastropubs has expanded to eight locations including spots in Arizona and Colorado, and they're expanding to Texas, with two Dallas-area locations this October and more in the works.
But owner and founder John Plew, who also owns the Grand Central Restaurant and Bowling Lounge, says he's done with Old Town, an area where he's done business for over 35 years, including at Bar 71 in the same location as Thirsty Lion, and at the Lotus in central downtown.
"You've gotta shoo people off your doorstep, you've got to make sure your bathrooms have codes," says Plew. "Your guests get harassed on the way out the door."
Plew says the original Old Town location is also a little over half the size of the Thirsty Lions he was able to build in Hillsboro and Tigard, which affects his bottom line. But two other primary concerns were parking and the safety of his patrons—and the liability that an Old Town location incurs.
"I'm taking the company and trying to make it a scalable operation," he says. "It doesn't fit the profile of somewhere we'd currently locate. Think about the McCormick and Schmick's on 1st and Oak. It was there, and then it turned into a national chain."
Plew will remain based in Portland area, but don't expect another location in Portland immediately—Plew cites higher costs of labor as a reason he's looking elsewhere instead of the west coast, and also why he'd avoid the city of Seattle for future Thirsty Lion locations. After Texas, the next city he's looking at is Minneapolis.
"Clearly we're expanding," he says, "but all the restaurants have been in tip credit states, which is the majority of states except for the west coast."
Thirsty Lion said its goodbyes on its Facebook page this morning.
To our guests,
We’re sorry to say that we’ve closed our downtown Portland location. It’s been a great run in Old Town.
As our brand has evolved and grown, so too we’ve outgrown this space. We hope that you’ll visit our other Oregon locations in Tigard and Hillsboro if you haven’t already. Here’s to the memories that were made at SW 2nd & Ash.