The wrecking ball is on its way toward the Virginia Cafe, but the owners and employees don’t know exactly when it will hit. Just one of the businesses to be uprooted, the caf퀌� is located on the Zell block, sharing space with the Zell Bros. jewelry store and other retailers.
Goodbye, Virginia Cafe
The wrecking ball is on its way toward the Virginia Cafe, but the owners and employees don’t know exactly when it will hit.
Just one of the businesses to be uprooted, the caf퀌� is located on the Zell block, sharing space with the Zell Bros. jewelry store and other retailers. Up until mid-January, the owners of the Virginia Cafe had a lease with the Zell family.
The block has been sold to developer Tom Moyer, who plans to build a $150 million, 35-story, mixed-use structure to be called the Park Avenue West tower. Moyer also owns the Fox Tower.
For years, the city’s movers and shakers have congregated along with students and artists in the dark, wood-paneled dining room and bar. Famous for strong drinks and a bargain happy hour, the operation has been in its current location since 1922 and could find a new downtown home.
Bob Rice, co-owner of the caf퀌�, has discussed with Moyer the possibility of moving to one of Moyer’s nearby buildings, but nothing has been agreed upon.
Rice is concerned that even if staff and physical elements of the space come along for the move, the spirit and soul of the place may not be able to be recreated.
“I think we’d need to relocate in a very close proximity, in a building and space with a similar feel to it,” said Rice. “We would try hard to replicate everything–physically and philosophically, and even then we may not be able to be successful.”
Ethan Seltzer, director of urban studies and planning in Portland State’s School of Urban and Public Affairs and past member of Portland’s planning commission, said that the project could only be held up by the design review process.
“As long as the project is consistent with the zoning, the planning commission may not be involved at all,” Seltzer said. “Adjustments to the design may be necessary, but that’s not necessarily a planning issue.”
Rice learned of the plan for the block after details were printed in a story on the front page of The Oregonian. He had been overseas when an e-mail from a friend alerted him of what was going on back home.
Moyer had been trying to reach him before the press got wind of the plans.
“To Moyer’s credit, he turned the world upside down to try to get in touch with me before it got to the papers,” said Rice.
The cafe’s 21 employees, many of whom are part-time, are hoping to work through this year, although the exact date for the closure is unknown. Moyer estimated that work would begin in the fall, but Rice said he was skeptical of that.
“It’s really sad for the crew here and the customers,” said Leah Douvris, who has been the general manager for 11 years. “The family is breaking apart. This place has really been a home away from home for a lot of people.”
“This place has such a uniqueness to it,” Douvris said. “It’s not everywhere that you’ll find a 22-year-old hanging out with a 92-year-old.”
Rice, too, said that the diverse nature of the caf퀌� is what he’ll miss most. “Since day one, this place has attracted the most diverse clientele of any place I’ve run.”
Rice and his partner Peter Goforth together make up Goforth and Rice, a Portland-based company currently operating six restaurants in the area. They purchased the restaurant in 1979.
A Portland State alumnus, Rice studied business administration and drove a truck full-time while in school.
“We hired Portland State and Lewis and Clark students as bartenders and servers back when we opened,” Rice said. “We tried to craft a culture that was inviting, that would build upon itself, and we did precisely that.”