Thursday, August 23, 2007

Para-gone: Club closes, staff migrates

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Originally published in The Oregonian on August 23, 2007. Photos and text by Jason Simms.

On July 27, it seemed like everyone knew the Paragon was closing except for the staff.

By the end of the night—which was, according to bartender Laura Sensenig, the second busiest in the history of the 53-year-old North Killingsworth Street establishment (before that it was a “bottle bar” with no taps or hard alcohol and before that a speakeasy)—Carrie Lowen and Laura Sensenig were pouring top shelf Stoli vodka as well. The distributors had been told not to restock the bar. The phone was ringing and patrons were asking, “Is this really your last night?”

Ginger Nims, who inherited the bar when her father, Arthur Nims, died last Valentine’s Day stopped in and had a couple of drinks. “At three oclock in the morning she handed us our paychecks and said, ‘It’s nothing personal, it’s just business,’” relates Lowen. “And we were just in tears.”

Portland Community College first expressed interest in buying a portion of the TK-space parking lot five years ago. PCC spokesperson Kristin Watkins says that additional parking is necessary to “continue good relations with the community” especially since the campus has rapidly grown in the last several years. Nims put the business on the market, but said the parking lot alone wasn’t for sale. It wasn’t until his death that his daughter reached an agreement with the college. The property sold for $795,000, and a hand-written sign reading, “Thank you for the many years” was hung on the door.

“I needed this to go away,” says Nims, who is already extremely busy as a manager for Pitney Bowes, a partial owner of networking business and a single parent. Though Nims says that when she re-listed the property, it “wasn’t targeted to PCC,” college spokesperson Watkins says, “The owners offered it to us. It wasn’t a proactive offer that we had made.” The college presently has no plans for the single-story, window-less, yellow building. The metal cage that protects the front door (a relic from the speakeasy days), and the wood paneling leading to a once-white ceiling smoked into brown-ness will remain dark and vacant until further notice.

The bar had been a favorite spot for decades. Patty Hansen, who worked at the Paragon through four owners over 29 years and whose mother worked there for 26 years beginning in 1956, recalls that in the ‘50s, “there’d be people lined up at the door to get in because the owners would give the first people in the door free drinks.”

Lowen, Hansen, Sensenig and karaoke jockey Betty Mayhem—each of whom had worked at the bar for a minimum of 2 years, were let go without a severance or any kind words. “Not even a, ‘Thank you. You girls did a great job for my dad. You did a great job for me,’” says Lowen. Nims declined to comment on the decision.

Sensenig approached Jack Chung, owner of the Interstate bar and Grill, about picking up the staff as a package deal. “You can inherit essentially everything that was just dumped,” she told him.

In a few days, Sensenig and Lowen were pouring drinks at the Interstate (Hansen is taking some time off). Former Paragon customers were helping Mayhem, famous for her selection of heavy metal tunes, outfit an unused room for karaoke. Pausing from hanging up TVs, she reflects, “I was so content [at the Paragon]. I made far less than the average KJ, but I love the having the distinction of waking up every day and love going to work.”

Blessed with a few close friends and a new boss who is excited to have them, it looks like Mayhem, Sensenig, and Lowen will keep that distinction.

This is the original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive url expired.

In today’s inPortland section of The Oregonian, you’ll find a piece on the closure of the Paragon. One thing that got cut because of space and the focus of the section is that not only were the employees of the bar let go with no notice, they were also not given a severance—even Patty Hansen who had worked at the bar for 29 years. Another one of the bartenders, Carrie Lowen, told me that there was, “Not even a thank you. And that’s what really upset us the worst. A severance would have been great, but not even a, ‘Thank you. You girls did a great job for my dad, you did a great job for me, nothing.’”

It’s really sad. But Lowen, as well as Laura Sensenig and Bettie Mayhem are all now working at the Interstate Bar and Grill which seems like it will be great for them and great for the bar. These women are so closely knit. We all had a lot of fun at the photo outside the Paragon just before sunset a couple of weeks ago. It easily could have been an occasion for sorrow and tears, but these women just love being around each other so much, they couldn’t help but laugh and smile.

Above: Outside the door. From left to right, Mayhem, Sensenig, Lowen, Hansen.

The police used to stop in and thank these gals for doing such a great job of minimizing trouble on what can be a violent corner.
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Patty still had a key to the gate, so we sat on the patio one last time.
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That's where I learned all about how the club was sold for its parking lot. It reminds me of how elephants are killed for their tusks or deer for their antlers.
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A policeman actually stopped me and asked me not to shoot school property anymore just after I took this shot.
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See you at the Interstate.
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