Iconic Laurelthirst Will Be Saved From Development By Lewi Longmire and Partners

“Mostly it’s just putting our bodies in front of the bulldozer.”

Ural Thomas at Laurelthirst (Laurelthurst FB)

For 28 years, the Laurelthirst Public House on Northeast Glisan Street has been the city's most reliable home to roots and folk and blues, playing two and sometimes even three live shows each day, usually for free.

But this year, it looked like it was headed for development. Its owners were considering retirement after decades in business, and had received an offer from developers.

But you probably never heard about it.

That's because Portland musician Lewi Longmire and three other Laurelthirst employees or supporters have stepped in to buy the pub instead.

Rather than just take the developers' offer, the owners decided to allow people with stakes in the bar to keep the place alive by buying the business—with first options on buying the building.

"It is out of their own generosity of spirit and love for the community that they helped foster that. They were willing to go the extra mile and negotiate with us in order for the pub to continue for everyone's sake," Longmire says. "They could have easily cashed out immediately, but didn't."

The other partners are Nicholas Zerr (a longtime patron who managed Basement Pub), Bart Yanoch (a bartender at Laurelthirst for 18 years), and Brandon Logan. Though Longmire is the most recognizable name, Zerr and Yanoch are the largest investors.

"Mostly it's just putting our bodies in front of the bulldozer," says Longmire, perhaps Portland's most prolific sideman, who estimates he's played about 1,000 shows at the Northeast Portland venue over the past ten years.

"In a year when Trump is elected, Jimmy Mak's is gone, and they demolished the Lotus and Veritable Quandary, this would have been the death knell of everything I loved in Portland."

Related: Jazz Mecca Jimmy Mak's is Closing Forever

From humble roots, the Laurelthirst has become one of the oldest and most loved music venues in the city, hosting generations of songwriters, folkies, and jam and roots music. "It's such a rich history," Longmire says. "I remember seeing Pete Krebs and Golden Delicious, you'd see Elliott Smith hanging out at shows… I saw Colin Meloy from the Decembrists play open mic a couple years ago."

The new co-owners plan to refurbish the seats and update the food menu, but keep the general spirit of the place the same. But Longmire also say the unanticipated purchase of the bar has stretched all of their finances very thin.

"Everyone involved is taking a hit on their earnings," Longmire says. "But I'd rather be just getting by while doing the business I love. My musical life is based out of there, I play 80 shows a year there—there are others in the Old Portland contingent, I don't know how they'd live if it went away. 

"When I came to town it was one of many pubs in that style. Now it's just the last place that's left—a place comfortable for music, friendly, but you don't have to get 200 people in there or feel like a failure. The sound is good, people listen, and it's known for its music. There are 16 shows a week: two shows daily and all ages shows on weekends."

Related: The Lewi Longmire Family Tree

Longmire says he doesn't think the bar could ever be the same if someone moved it to another location and and stuck the same name on it.

"Maybe I'm hippy-dippy," he says, "but it's a situation where everything thats happened has left some sort of energetic imprint on that building. You have a building where people have been having an amazing time for 80 years, it's going to show up in the place."

The Laurelthirst will not close, but to finance the changeover in ownership the club plans a series of benefit concerts, along with a fundraising campaign online, which will be posted here on the bar's Facebook page.

Just through this Friday, the bar will have shows featuring the Kung Pao ChickensJackstrawLogger's DaughterAnita Margarita & the RattlesnakesSimon Tucker BandMimi Naja & Jay Cobb AndersonBilly Kennedy BandLynn Conover & Little Sue, and a Holiday party with Love Gigantic's.

All but the Billy Kennedy show, this Thursday, are free.

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