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Brad Vassallo

Gunther's Tap Room in Northport is ready for business. Photo from Facebook.

The iconic Gunther’s Tap Room is reopening for business.

The Main Street watering hole in Northport built by Peter Gunther Sr., the late ex-chief of Northport Fire Department, has been rebuilt by the community it once served. Now, it’s ready to become the “bar of the people” again.

“As long as all goes well, we are looking to open for business Thursday or Friday,” co-owner Brad Vassallo told TBR News Media Aug. 31. “We have 20 to 30 people a day who pop their heads in here to ask, and we are excited.”

Everybody loves Gunther’s, it’s the late-night place to go. “It would have been really upsetting to see it not reopen and become something else.”

— Vince Terranova

It’s been more than a year since an early morning fire gutted the historic bar May 23, 2017, where one from locals to American novelist Jack Kerouac have sat down to have a pint.

“It was very emotional for all of us, as we’ve all felt the pain,” Northport native Bob Hagan said. “Being personal friends with the original owner, it was really difficult to see that happen.”

Hagan and his business partner, Eddie Carr, donated custom hardwood flooring to replace the former linoleum tiling. The 10-inch planks were installed and sealed with the final coat of stain earlier this week.

“It was probably more emotional than financial on our part as we wanted to see it rebuilt as quickly as possible,” he said.

Northport resident Vince Terranova also stepped forward and helped the Northport bar by donating to the reconstruction and renovation of the bathrooms, according to Vassallo.

“Everybody loves Gunther’s, it’s the late-night place to go,” Terranova said. “It would have been really upsetting to see it not reopen and become something else.”

Gunther’s co-owners, Vassallo and Eddie McGrath, had only taken over running the bar for roughly a year before it burned down, which hit home as they appreciated the local history it contained.

It has that same Gunther’s feel that it always had, which is always what we were trying to do.”

— Brad Vassallo

The walls have been repainted in the same original orange-and-brown color scheme with a red door that’s all “part of the history,” according to Vassallo. A few of the old pieces of memorabilia, photos and mirrors dug out after the fire, will be hung back on the wall over time. Vassallo said he has reached out to Gunther’s daughter, Lori Kerman, in an attempt to get replicas of the old newspaper articles that used to decorate the bar.

“It has that same Gunther’s feel that it always had, which is always what we were trying to do,” the co-owner said.

One infamous piece that’s been removed is the structural support pole near the pool table, according the owners. It was no longer needed when the 100-year-old building was reconstructed to modern safety standards.

“It’s a big change,” Vassallo said. “We plan on putting the pole back up near the bar for the nostalgia.”

He said one key piece at the heart of Gunther’s Tap Room that was salvaged is the original bar top. The piece has been painstakingly restored by Northport painter Robert Sturner. He said it required stripping the bar top down to its original wood, restaining it and layering six coats of polyurethane over it to preserve it.

“I polyurethaned right over the burns,” he said. “It adds something to it — it tells the story.”

“So many situations have happened in Northport like this, and over and over again, the community steps forward to pick up the pieces and help out.”

— Brad Vassallo

Even more important than the bar itself, Vassallo said the tap room’s bartenders and staff will be returning to pour a glass for their regulars. Many have already committed to their old shifts.

“It’s the people who make Gunther’s what it is,” he said.

Many had taken up a hodgepodge of shifts at other local establishments in order to offset the financial hardships for the last 16 months. Community fundraisers were launched to raise funds to help employees pay their bills, with more than $8,000 raised via GoFundMe for employees of the business.

“Northport is a close community and people here seem to take care of each other,” Vassallo said. “So many situations have happened in Northport like this, and over and over again, the community steps forward to pick up the pieces and help out.”

Sturner said he’s just glad to be one of the dozens who lent a hand in helping Gunther’s start its next chapter.

“I am grateful to have been a part of it,” he said. “They are my friends, and that’s my bar.”

Gunther's Tap Room caught fire in May, and a fundraiser was held this week to help restore the historic bar. File photo from Photo from Chris Ciaci.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

It’s said that many hands make for light work, and if that’s true, the outpouring of community support for Gunther’s Tap Room will hopefully have it rebuilt in record time.

The uplifting refrain of “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey could be heard as dozens of Northport residents and their families attended a fundraiser Aug. 13 for Gunther’s Tap Room at the Park Lounge in Kings Park. Gunther’s has been closed since being consumed by an early-morning fire May 23.

John Weeden, owner of Park Lounge, said he hosted the $25-per-person community barbecue and extensive Chinese auction to raise money to help reopen Gunther’s Tap Room, and to financially aid its employees who have been without a job. Weeden declined to say how much was raised in total.

“I’d like to raise enough money to help them pay for whatever bills they have to reopen it. I thought it was the right thing to do.”

— John Weeden

“I’d like to raise enough money to help them pay for whatever bills they have to reopen it. I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Weeden, who worked as a bartender at Gunther’s for 13 years. “I feel [Pete Gunther] would want that bar reopened. It was his legacy.”

Peter Gunther Sr., a late Northport native and ex-chief of the Northport Fire Department, owned and operated Gunther’s Tap Room since the 1960s, according to current co-owner Brad Vassallo.

“Gunther’s is the bar of the people,” he said. “It’s been basically built amongst the patrons.”

Vassallo, who purchased Gunther’s with Eddie McGrath in 2016, said they are currently in the process of completing structural repairs to the more than 100-year-old building to make it safe and compliant with modern building codes.

“The town has been remarkable in terms of helping the process,” Vassallo said. “They and the community have been fantastic in trying to help us out — letting us do what we need to get this place reopened.”

How much it will cost to rebuild and restore the landmark bar to its former glory is still an unknown, according to Vassallo, saying that “it will be substantial.” The owners said they have run into a number of unforeseen repairs that have slowed down the process.

But several community members have stepped forward, offering donations of building supplies and skills to speed up that process. Some have offered their help to lay down new hardwood floors, and others offered to fix up the bathrooms.

“The community [has] been fantastic in trying to help us out — letting us do what we need to get this place reopened.”

— Brad Vassallo

“We are going to keep the aesthetics as similar as we can,” Vassallo said. “There will need to be some changes, but the color scheme and the way the bar was set up — we are going to keep it as close as we can to the original form.”

With Gunther’s closed for reconstruction, bartender Jani Zubkovs said it’s been difficult for him and the other employees. They’ve stayed in touch over the last few months on updates on the repairs and in trying to find other work.

“It’s an eyesore right now,” Zubkovs said. “I miss all the people, all my regulars. It’s the local Northport place where everybody knows each other.”

In an attempt to offset the financial hardship, Zubkovs has picked up bartending two nights a week at Elijah Churchill’s Public House on Fort Salonga Road in Northport.

Dozens of area businesses contributed to Sunday’s fundraiser by donating goods and services for the Chinese auction.

For those who missed the event, a GoFundMe campaign has been set up, with a goal of $75,000 to help the business reopen. Visit www.gofundme.com/gunthers-tap-room for more information or to donate to the restoration cause.

Despite the disruptions in construction, Gunther’s owners remain hopeful that beer will be flowing again within the next couple of months.

“It’s disappointing that me and Eddie just bought the place to have this kind of situation happen,” Vassallo said. “The primary reason we took it over is that we made a vow. We wanted to keep Gunther’s Tap Room as it was, as Pete Gunther made it to be. We are doing everything we can to do that.”

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