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.”