News of the sale of the inner Northeast Portland dive bar—which temporarily closed its doors on March 1—broke earlier this week, with a report appearing at Willamette Week before the sale was finalized. That deal did go through to completion on Tuesday, and today, the new owners, Warren Boothby and Marcus Archambeault, clarified their intent with the purchase as well as providing some indicators for the future of the longtime bar, which is iconically perched on the triangular wedge at NE Sandy and 14th Avenue.
The business's previous owner, John Berning, has been running the current incarnation of the Hut for the past 15 years or so, but the bar itself dates back 92 years. Berning's tenure saw many changes to the building, including painting the exterior purple and introducing various food menus over the years, then eventually more or less eliminating them. From what Archambeault and Boothby told me, Berning had been happy with running the business for the past decade and a half, but was reaching a point where he was ready to move on; Berning casually approached the two about the possibility of a deal after seeing what they'd done with Club 21 a little further up Sandy.
The Sandy Hut building itself, however, is owned by the Manza family, whose relatives originally opened the place and operated it as a somewhat swanky night spot for many years. The Manzas will continue to own the property as Boothby and Archambeault run the new business, and they're all working closely together to provide the historical context and background that will bring the bar into the future.
"We’re going to get some historical items from [the Manzas], and kind of showcase them," says Boothby. "Some photos of the family, some old knickknacks, and we’re going to look at their old menu items that they had from when it was the Wolf’s Den and was really in its heyday. And use those for inspiration."
"We've heard a little bit about a couple ghosts that live in there, some resident ghosts," adds Archambeault.
Archambeault and Boothby tell me that Terri Manza is a lifetime Portlander raised on Division Street, and she was bothered by the development that took over the neighborhood of her childhood. She was pleased with what the two had done with the Double Barrel bar at 21st and Division, and how they reverted the property back to some of its original luster. "We got a lot of inspiration from the old-schoolers in that neighborhood," says Archambeault. "We wanted to pay homage to the old Division by making a place that is a local place, an old-school place."
A similar restoration is in store for the Sandy Hut, although Boothby and Archambeault are quick to mention that they're not looking to open a time capsule or make the bar excessively retro. "Our main goal is to continue the Sandy Hut for another 100 years," says Boothby, "and the Manzas' family legacy is to keep it going for as long as possible. And we’re all in agreement about that. That’s why negotiating a lease with them and talking to them went so well, because we’re all on exactly the same page. And being the ones to be able to do that, for Marcus and I, it’s really an honor. The real story for us is: 'Precious historical dive bar gets saved, gets a new life.' And we have an agreement with the Manzas that we’re going to keep this thing going, and it’s their building and that’s what they want, too. So it’s a great partnership for all of us."
Some additional facts:
• The Sandy Hut will stay closed for about a month as the upgrades are made. These include removing the purple paint on the outside walls (a relatively recent development in the Hut's 92-year history) and making much-needed improvements to the bathrooms and vintage coolers behind the bar. Compared to the extensive work the team did on Club 21 a few years ago, they say the Sandy Hut is in good shape.
• Not a damn person is going to touch that sign, a spectacular neon creation that was one of the main draws for the new owners.
• Archambeault and Boothby are currently in talks with the existing Sandy Hut staff to see if it makes sense for them to continue on in its new incarnation.
• There are glass tiles by the building's original door at the tip of the triangle. They're going to try to restore those in order to let light in.
• The Al Hirschfeld mural, which you may not have noticed, is one of two known to exist (the other is in the Frolic Room in LA). It will be emphasized and brought back to its former glory.
• There will be an actual working food menu, with perhaps some references to the Hut's past as a somewhat upscale joint where folks like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Neil Diamond would reportedly drop by. Steamed clams? They're not sure yet.
• Shuffleboard will be making a return. They're currently searching for the right table. There will be other games, too, including lottery and Keno.
• Will they still serve Jell-O shots? Yes!
• The stage will be removed, and they're undecided about the future of live music at the Hut. As Archambeault says, "We haven’t quite hashed it out. We’re interested in running bars and having people come drink at the bar. We’re not super familiar with [putting on] shows." The two clarify that there will still be occasional shows at the nearby Club 21, just less frequently—perhaps once a month or so, and that they will be special events, accordingly.
• The prices will still be cheap. Boothby says that with the Hut, as well as their other bars (Club 21, Double Barrel, Gold Dust Meridian), they're interested in cultivating a "diverse clientele—with people that are young, old, new money, no money."