Fittingly, perhaps, for an iconic establishment that’s lazily drifted about the periphery of one of Southeast Portland’s most-traveled boulevards for 60 years without ever attracting much notice, the Jolly Roger has announced a fateful last call, but all relevant information regarding the date of departure remains shrouded in mystery.
Rob Jackson, co-owner of the Jolly alongside wife Starr for the past 20 years, indicated a willingness late last year to amend their lease as needed in order to facilitate their landlord’s sale of the restaurant and bar’s long-standing location at 1340 SE 12th Ave. Soon afterward, the property was bought by developers whose plans for a five-story, 100-plus-unit residential complex await governmental approval, which leaves the business in a peculiar limbo.
“We got destroyed during all the conflicts,” Jackson tells WW. “No matter how much we tried to fix the building, people kept hurting it, and the police were unavailable to help. That just helped us make the decision. We were supposed to be here another year, but we came to an agreement with the landlord that shortened our lease by one year so he could sell the building. At that point, we would’ve been done anyway.”
One Jolly bartender told WW last month that the bar would stay open until the 2023 Super Bowl. If forced to make a prediction, co-owner Jackson’s best guess was a New Year’s scuttling, but stressed the futility of groundless speculation.
“Everybody’s talking, but nothing has been decided yet,” Jackson insists. “The company that wants to put up the high-rise needs to get licensing for demolition beforehand. If the permits go through, they could call us tomorrow and start setting up a time for us to leave. As soon as they know, we’ll know, and then, giant parties every day.”
The circumstances surrounding the Jolly Roger’s fate also complicate the emotional response for a local citizenry predisposed to rail against the heavens whenever a landmark disappears.
Jackson was hardly forced out. This wasn’t the bar’s first location, after all, and its banner shall still fly across the river, where Jackson rebranded the former Stanich’s West as Jolly Roger at John’s Landing almost 15 years ago.
Admittedly, civic preservationists may have reason to worry about the Jolly’s truly irreplaceable feature. Jackson admits there’s no clear plan on what will become of the bar’s justly treasured signage—a majestic freestanding pylon sign shaped like a ship’s mast at a height no longer sanctioned—but it’s evaded the wrecking ball before.
“I don’t like to see any of these places go away,” Jackson says. “This building is so old and beat up that a redo would be crazy. I’m 60 years old, and we have two successful operations going right now. The building’s owner’s 76 and, business-wise, he’s making the right choice. It’s time to cash out. We’ve been here for 20 years, we made a lot of friends, and it’s been an absolute blast. Unfortunately, time marches on.”