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Friday, January 19, 2007
Not the Virginia Cafe!
Virginia Cafe to dust, prepare to be bit.
It looks like one of Portland's most iconic bars has a date with a wrecking ball. The block that houses the Virginia Cafe, one of my favorite local booze holes, is scheduled to be replaced with a "410-foot mixed use tower" with three stories of retail on the bottom levels. I think it's safe to assume the Virginia won't be making the transition but here's hoping the owners will be able to relocate elsewhere.
Much of the Virginia's charm is that it's been a bar for over 80 years. As I wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago, the place practically sweats history from the walls. It was a known hangout for Neil Goldschmidt's mistress once she became of drinking age and who knows what else the place has seen over the years. The Virginia is one of the few locales in central downtown where you can slip in for a drink without contending with a cover charge, high prices or feel like you're under-dressed. It has an unusual mystique that's hard to pin down and classify with a few words. Maybe "bohemian saloon"? Or "classy dive bar"? All I know is that it's the only place downtown where I can order a bottle of Miller Hi-Life.
The local blogosphere is already abuzz with outrage and nostalgia, with local drinkers of all ages coughing up dusty and not-so dusty memories. There are also those that will be happy to see the Virginia go and hope the space will go on to house a national clothing outlet. Bleah, I say. There are plenty of other places around town for cheap office duds.
Here's hoping that the Virginia will beat the odds and survive somehow. I like b!x's idea*, which he posted on his blog Furious Nads earlier today. If the developers are hunting for a good PR move, they should reserve a spot on the block for a new version of the bar. A Virginia Cafe 2.0 wouldn't be the same and it wouldn't have the same dingy charm but a few years of laughs and heavy cigarette smoke might do wonders.
If you think such a proposal is outlandish, consider the Hungry Tiger on East Burnside. Last I heard, its space is/was scheduled to be torn down this month and cleared for a condo development but the developer was already making plans to leave a spot for that ol' bar to make a comeback. We'll see, I guess.
* To clarify, b!x's idea was for the developer to actually build around the existing Virginia Cafe, not just leave a spot open for them in the new tower.