- The Matador's Facebook page
When news emerged last night that beloved Northwest District dive the Matador is shutting down tomorrow, it was easy to cultivate cheap outrage about gouging rents in a rapidly gentrifying city, of Portland institutions being shunted aside in favor of new, more expensive, less charming spots.
The Matador's departure might have brought to mind the impending destruction of SE Hawthorne's Cartopia pod (for apartments), or the uncertain future of Club 21 (because of, maybe, apartments), or the fresh closure of Produce Row.
And there's absolutely some of that in the Matador's demise, but it's not remotely the whole thing, owner Casey Maxwell tells the Mercury.
Maxwell's lease ran out in May, he says, and he'd been on a month-to-month situation since. When the building's owner, a Gresham outfit, came to the table with fresh lease terms, they did indeed include higher rents.
"They needed one thing and I just didn’t feel like I could fulfill the obligation of signing a lease for another 10 years," Maxwell says, calling his landlords "good people."
But here's the thing: It wasn't only the rents. Even if the 104-year-old building's owners had come to Maxwell with the exact same terms he'd been laboring under for nearly a decade, he says, he might have had second thoughts. Business was down, and the building brought a slew of maintenance challenges.
An example: The bar's bathrooms, with their cavernous urinals and heartshaped sinks, have an air of legend to them, maybe, but Maxwell says they were mostly a liability—not accessible to some disabled people (the bar was grandfathered in, and so not forced to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Maxwell says) or the very drunk, and stalwartly, unredeemingly squalid.
"You could clean those things all day every day and they’re still going to seem filthy," he says.
With revenue flagging, and what he says was his landlord's reluctance to fund improvements, Maxwell balked at the new terms ("I'd just be making myself an indentured servant.").
But, then, here's the other thing: Maxwell's ready to accept blame for what he says was the Matador's lackluster business. He's got another bar that demands his attention. But he also thinks that same gentrification blamed for displacing eateries around town is partly to blame for his situation—because it's too good at creating new ones.
"In the old days, people even traveled to the Matador from other neighborhoods," he says. "Now it's tough. You can’t blame people when there’s a great bar on every corner."
Even with all that, Maxwell thinks he was close to saving the 43-year-old Matador. Late Wednesday afternoon, he says, he was in the thick of working a deal in which a third party would assume his lease, take control of the bar, and keep things going—leaving him free to run his other place. In truth, Maxwell had given up on owning the Matador a month or so ago, when he decided the lease terms were unrealistic. But he'd hoped to keep the bar alive, and his staff employed. The deal fell through, though.
Anyone hoping to pay their respects has until closing time tomorrow.