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Northport Fire Department

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.”

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 Victoria Espinoza

Gunther’s Tap Room was gutted after a fire consumed the walls of the bar Tuesday morning, May 23.

The fire at Gunther’s, a mainstay in the Northport Village community, required the response of more than 60 firefighters to the scene after Northport fireman Jake Milliken passed the bar in the morning while driving on Main Street and noticed the smoke, according to Steve Silverman, public information officer for the Huntington Fire Chiefs Council.

The department said the fire started at about 7 a.m. and was brought under control within an hour, however it took another two to do a complete overhaul of the establishment.

“It was very labor intensive because of the construction of the property,” Northport Fire Department Chief Brad Wine said in a phone interview. “The body of the fire wasn’t tremendous but it was in the walls and ceiling so we pretty much had to gut it.”

Wine said the firefighters had to remove the tin ceiling and open up all of the walls to ensure there was no chance of an additional fire starting.

Three firefighters, two from Northport and one from Kings Park, suffered minor injuries including smoke inhalation and back and ankle injuries from slipping, and were transported to Huntington Hospital and St. Catherine’s Hospital. Wine said all three are on the mend and home recovering.

Wine said it was difficult responding to the call, knowing the importance of Gunther’s for the community.

The inside of Gunther’s after firefighters worked to stop the fire and inspect the establishment. Photo from Chris Ciaci

“Pete Gunther was a former chief with us in the department, I knew him my whole life, and I graduated high school with Eddie [McGrath] so it was tough to see something like this happen to a local business,” he said. McGrath, a former bartender at Gunther’s became the owner of the bar after Gunther died last year.

“Everyone knows Gunther’s, it’s a landmark in Northport,” Wine said.

Northport Police Chief Bill Ricca said the department received an alarm from Milliken, as well as a few other residents.

The police assisted the fire department with evacuating five people from apartments on the second and third floor of the building.

“The fire department did a really good job of containing the fire,” Rica said. “These old buildings are tinder boxes, and we were pretty fortunate that is was contained to the first floor, with minor damage on the other two floors.”

Ricca agreed it was sad to see this happen to the historic bar.

“We’re hopeful they get the spot up and running again,” he said. “It’s a staple to the Northport community, and a we hope they can successfully recover it.”

The Centerport, East Northport, Kings Park, Greenlawn and Eaton’s Neck fire departments responded to the scene to help. The fire is currently under investigation by the Suffolk Police Arson Squad and Northport Fire Marshal, and no determination has been made for the cause of the fire. Suffolk Fire-Rescue Coordinators, Emergency Management and the American Red Cross were on the scene to provide assistance with relocating displaced residents.

Ricca said neighboring businesses Clipper Ship Tea Company and 7T8 European Fusion also suffered some fire and water damage as a result of the incident.

Asharoken Police Officer-in-Charge Ray Mahdesian inspects the damage to the rowboat. Photo by Steve Silverman

A pair of siblings jumped out of a rowboat moments before a 22-foot vessel struck it in Asharoken last Friday.

Asharoken Village Police responded to a boat collision in Duck Island Harbor on July 3 at 3:45 p.m. involving a MasterCraft boat that, while towing two water boarders, struck the rowboat, according to Steve Silverman, a spokesman for the police.

The rowboat was severely damaged and partially sank following the collision.

According to Silverman, the operator of the MasterCraft boat, Stephen Plackis of Huntington, was issued two summonses, one for operating a vessel without an Asharoken Village water ski permit, and one for unsafe boat operation.

Attempts to reach Plackis on Monday were unsuccessful.

Plackis took aboard the passengers of the rowboat, a boy and a girl from Asharoken, after the collision. They were able to retrieve the submerged boat and tow it to shore.

The Northport Fire Department Rescue Squad transported the male in the rowboat to Huntington Hospital for observation, where he was later released. Plackis, his four passengers and two wake boarders were uninjured.

This version of the article corrects Steve Silverman’s title. 

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