Saving Laurelthirst: A noteworthy cause
For the past year or two, Laurelthirst Public House co-owner Lewi Longmire has devoted a generous amount of blood, sweat and tears to saving the music venue from the encroaching "new Portland," a place where boxy, homogeneous condo buildings greatly outnumber funky, friendly neighborhood gathering places like the "Thirst."
As the long-running business enters the final weeks of a two-month GoFundMe campaign to purchase the Laurelthirst building at Northeast 30th Avenue and Glisan Street — essentially securing its status for the foreseeable future — might he be a bit tired of the lip service?
"I'm living this topic," he admits on a recent evening in the venue's pool room. "To talk about it is only natural."
Thanks to a recent anonymous $50,000 donation toward the campaign's $135,000 goal, there is plenty to talk about — most all of it positive.
At this rate, Longmire and fellow owners Nick Zerr, Bart Yanoch and Brandon Logan are confident the fundraising goal will be met by the campaign's Saturday, March 31, conclusion.
With that outcome, the three longtime friends — who bought the watering hole from Laurelthirst founders David Lee Williams and Steve Weiland in 2016 — will own the 1911 vintage two-story building as well as the business within it.
"As far as I can see, we're entering the homestretch," says Longmire, a longtime Portland musician who also books bands and performers to keep the Thirst's small stage humming seven nights a week. "We finally had a clear picture of what the (financials) look like. We were able to lower our goal for the crowdsourcing. Then we got a very generous, anonymous donation."
While he's seen the name on the check, Longmire is respecting the donor's wish for no publicity. He admits that asking patrons and the public to help buy the unassuming brick building wasn't his first choice.
"I can only speak for myself, but I didn't have huge expectations for the crowdsourcing idea," he says. "I wrestled with the idea for some time before making peace with the concept of asking people to help fund our dream. But people were so moved by the fact that we bought the business to keep it from closing down."
The dream of preserving the Thirst's future emerged in 2016 after Williams and Weiland decided to sell the business. The business partners, who bought the bar known at various times as Glen's Blue Keg and Proper Perspective in 1988, wanted to make sure their baby had a home before retiring to Hawaii.
Fending off cash-bearing investors, the partners held out until "friendly" buyers — those who would preserve the Thirst's down-to-earth camaraderie and Americana-flavored musical spirit — came into view.
The four partners — a mixture of longtime Thirst patrons and associates — pooled their resources and purchased the name and business in late 2016, inheriting an exclusive option to buy the building within a certain window of time.
That window is about to close. But, based on the momentum of the campaign thus far, the remaining $22,000 left to go doesn't weigh too heavily on the partners, including Zerr.
"The generosity from the fundraiser has blown away all expectations that we have had," says Zerr, a former longtime bartender at The Basement Pub who celebrated his 21st birthday at the Thirst in 1994. "This place is an institution. It's important for Portland to keep these things together."
For regular patrons like Corrin Casper, hearing of the success of the torch-passing and fundraiser is music to her ears. The 25-year-old Portland native discovered the Thirst when she brought clients from a group home to a Sunday night happy hour jam — what veterans simply call "church."
"I had no idea how amazing a place it was," she says. "First of all, it's been a great community of people. Everybody has a lot of love to give, and it's very welcoming. It's a place where you can go see really good live music for free and chat with the musicians afterwards — get to know them."
To contribute to preserve the Laurelthirst Public House, visit www.gofundme.com/help-save-the-laurelthirst.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.