"This man," says daily patron Nick Raptor, stretching out his arms, "his heart is this big."
Tzantarmas has the long, dangling arms of a former prizefighter, and a pugilist's face: deep bags under his eyes, a pug nose and toothy grin. He wears bright pastel sweaters and gray slacks, and talks in a thick Macedonian accent.
The New Copper Penny is a sprawling enterprise. One wing has a dance floor, another a room with television screens showing horse races. On the east side is a recently remodeled restaurant with a stainless-steel counter. When Saki first bought the place in 1972, he served gyros 22 hours a day. Now the restaurant has 22 taps of Northwest craft beers.
At breakfast, Tzantarmas holds court, busting the chops of whoever's sitting nearest. When he teases, his deep-lined face breaks into a huge, mischievous smile. "He has this thing now where he tells me he only loves me on Tuesdays," says Nikki Tzantarmas, his 23-year-old daughter, who tends the New Copper Penny's bar. "I'll say, 'I love you,' and he'll say, 'I don't.' He'll never get old. Ever."
Nikki shows a faded photograph of her father folk dancing, holding aloft a table—covered with a cloth and cluttered with bottles of wine and ouzo—with his teeth.
"You don't want him to bite you," Raptor says.
The legend of Saki is passed down orally and in writing—on the old plastic menus the New Copper Penny only recently replaced.
It tells how Tzantarmas' father, a Greek army officer in Thessaloniki, was killed by Communists in the 1950s ("they chopped him up," Tzantarmas says, sliding a finger across his throat) and how the son spent three years in an orphanage and a year at sea before jumping ship in Philadelphia with five pennies in his pocket.
He arrived in Portland as a heavyweight boxer, with a gold medal he claims is from the 1959 European Championships. In a 1965 bout, The Oregonian billed him as "the Golden Greek of Portland." (He lost on a technical knockout in the third round.)
After six years he says he spent working as a folk dancer, Tzantarmas purchased a run-down pub called the Copper Penny in Lents, his home neighborhood. He soon bought all the properties on the block. A hardware store became the nightclub, a doctor's office the restaurant, and a shuttered movie theater the Parthenon.