The days are numbered for Portland institution Virginia Café, which will fall under the wrecking ball early next year, leaving precious few dive bars downtown. While they'll tell you they're not actually closing, only moving up the street, the Virginia won't be the same without the decades of nicotine residue and lipstick prints that give the place its special ambiance. And it'll be near impossible to replace iconic bartender Tony Mengis, who's taking his cult following across the river and opening his own bar—East End—with friends Gabe Lageson and Michele McDonnell. A fixture on the rock scene as well as behind bars, Mengis has been mixing music and booze for over a decade: as bass player for the Soda Pop Kids and the Riffs, booking the Satyricon and Chinese Tea House, and getting girls (and boys) drunk at half a dozen fine watering holes around town.Party with the beautiful people at East End's grand opening this Saturday, December 1, at 9 pm. For more info, see "Once More With Feeling," page 27.
What made you want to open your own bar? Haven't you heard the horror stories?
I've seen every horror story happen live. I'd like to think I learned from that. I think it's totally possible even with all the millions of bars in Portland to open a place that's fun and has personality and actually works. I don't need to make money, all I want is a job. But I need a place where I can be happy.
What kind of identity do you hope to create for East End? Is it a beer-and-a-shot punk-rock sorta place?
Rose from XV did the drink menu, so there's a lot of mint and muddling. Mattress did the food menu. We're booked solid with a huge variety of stuff. Lots of bands are coming through, including Danava and Wreckless Eric. We also have monthly DJ nights: soul night, mod night, doo-wop night. All the stupid shit we're into.
What's been the biggest challenge getting East End ready to open?
All the licensing and stuff. Dealing with all the paperwork. Trying to explain away my criminal record.
You've been sober for a long time. Do the drunks and druggies get on your nerves?
Every job sucks in its own way. Drinking looks really fun up until about midnight, when people start getting all sloppy.
What do you do when you're not in a bar?
Eat a lot. Watch Law & Order. Shop for records. My whole life outside the bar is spent shopping for records or at Goodwill or Value Village.
What's the last record you bought?
The Bee Gees' Horizontal.