Damaged but not destroyed
After the smoke subsided and the firefighters dispersed, Multnomah resident Tom Moore took a peek into Renner's Grill. On a normal night, Moore would see friends, eat a hearty meal and drink a sultry Spanish Coffee.
This time, though, Moore found the roof broken, the kitchen blackened and the floor damp with water. For Moore, the sight was eerie.
"Seeing it in that different light was kind of twisted," he said.
Renner's, which was founded in 1939, weathered a kitchen fire during bingo night March 28 that left considerable damage and forced the bar to close indefinitely. However, owner Steven Potter is raising money to revitalize Renner's, which he calls an "institution" in Multnomah Village, and he remains hopeful that it will open again soon.
"We've survived a lot of things. We've had our ups and downs. This is definitely a setback," Potter said. "We'll power through it and try to look at it as thoughtfully as we can about trying to make it a better place when it comes back open again. Our goal is to keep the same ambiance we had before."
Potter purchased Renner's about two and a half years ago and has since expanded the menu, doubled the beer selection and collaborated with organizations such as Neighborhood House and the Oregon Humane Society for fundraisers. And he says revenue has spiked since he bought the shop.
"It's been a great experience. We've done really well. We've increased sales by double since we took over and we were really starting to pick up momentum until this happened," Potter said.
Moore has frequented Renner's since he turned 21 a couple years ago and has grown to appreciate the bar's inviting, communal feel. He's also become friends with the Potter family and the bar staff.
"I really like the bar staff. They have a great vibe there," Moore said. "It's just a great community meeting spot."
Danny Moulder, who has been going to Renner's for eight years, agrees.
"They have really good food for a bar and it's one of those places you look for in a bar or a restaurant where you know everyone who is there," Moulder said. "The guests are the same neighborhood folks you see everyday. It's definitely got that good feel."
Maplewood resident Lisa Sloan frequently attends Burrito Tuesdays and also says Renner's has excellent oysters and burgers.
"It's just this very unassuming, comfortable place filled with locals and regulars. And the food is outstanding," she said. "The quality of food is incongruent with the appearance. It seems like an old-school personality to it and then it's got this fantastic food."
On the night of the fire, while playing his guitar in his apartment nearby, Moulder said he could see smoke wafting. Moore could smell it from his apartment, and both of them immediately headed to the restaurant. They were distressed to see their favorite bar up in smoke.
"It's really depressing to see that at a building that's such a big part of the community and has been there for so long," Moore said.
That night, Renner's was jam-packed for bingo night and Potter was home —getting ready to return to the bar to relax. But then he received the phone call, rushed to Multnomah Village and witnessed the horrid sight.
"It was a shock," Potter said.
Sloan was actually on her way to meet a friend at Renner's when the fire sparked. Once she arrived, she felt scared for the Renner's staff and subsequently impressed with the firefighters' efficiency.
"(I felt) concerned and sadness. Is everyone out safely? I was concerned that this business could be damaged or ruined, and sad knowing there was destruction happening," she said. "I was also blown away and impressed by the firefighters. Those guys know what to do. They really know what to do to prevent it from going to other buildings."
Potter said most of the damage was to the roof and the kitchen, and he's thankful that no one was hurt and that the bar is salvageable.
"The building is attached structurally. It's just a portion of the roof," Potter said. "It could have been worse. There wasn't even really that much smoke."
Sloan said a group of residents discussed starting a GoFundMe fundraiser immediately after witnessing the fire.
"No one was saying, 'This is it,'" she said. "They were saying, 'How do we get it back?'
Potter says repairing the bar has required considerable personal investment, but Renner's did set up a GoFundMe account — which had raised almost $4,000 by mid-April — and also held a Black Tie Construction Auction in late April.
Potter said he appreciates the nearby Fat City Cafe for letting his staff wash dishes there and a bevy of other Multnomah Village businesses for lending a hand and contributing to the auction.
"We just want to say thank you to the community for being so supportive and volunteering all of their time and resources and wishing us the best. It's been awesome to see all that," Potter said.
For Moulder, finding a drink in Portland is as easy as walking out the door. But until Renner's opens up again, a void will be left unfilled.
"I have five other bars around me I can walk to, but it's not the same," he said. "There's something about Renner's. It feels like a second home."
To contribute to Renner's GoFundMe account, visit www.gofundme.com/renner039s-save-the-staff-fire-fund.