WALLA WALLA -- It's last call for Barnaby's Pub.
The Wellington Avenue bar will close its doors today, unable to shake its nightclub reputation in an increasingly competitive market, owner Tim Reed said Thursday.
Reed, already envisioning a reinvention as a microbrewery, announced the closure to employees Thursday but was dreading the conversation with longtime customers for whom the establishment is like a second home.
"It's like disbanding a family," he said tearfully Thursday. "It is very difficult to close this bar."
But it's become even more difficult to continue running it, he said. Barnaby's had long been infamous as a last-call destination for singles and weekend revelers, an image Reed said he wanted to change. He said he had hoped the slightly older clientele -- an over-30 crowd -- that patronized the business in the mornings and afternoons would become its principal customer-base, lured in during the evenings by the menu, karaoke, open-mic nights and comedy. It never happened. Then last year's opening of the Red Monkey Downtown Lounge ate into that late-night weekend business, he said.
"That was the final nail," Reed said.
Tonight's closure brings an end to a 20-year run as Barnaby's, but the building has been home to an array of hot spots over the years.
In the 1940s, the now barn-red building on the corner of Wellington and Portland avenues was known as The Top Hat. Two decades later it became The Maverick. Its next incarnation was the Steak Out, though local residents dubiously nicknamed that business "The Stabout" after a fatal knife fight there. It was later known as Heath & Co. and JD's East before becoming Barnaby's in 1996.
A now 47-year-old Reed got his start there as a doorman, working 20 years ago for $50 a week and a case of beer, he quipped. Though he took a hiatus from the business two years later, he eventually returned. Reed said he bought the business 12 years ago from Bob Hanson and operated it with business partner Tim Gelhausen, who reportedly sold his shares in the operation last year.
The two also partnered in a couple of other restaurant and bar ventures, including The Sand Trap at Veterans Memorial Golf Course and the Time Out Tavern on Ninth Avenue. Neither continues to operate.
Notwithstanding the other operations, Barnaby's was always their main attraction. Reed worked to build the "where everybody knows your name" rapport with regulars. He also quietly stacked the menu with iconic dishes, including the original pizza sauce recipe from "Pizza Pete" and hamburger tips from Ice-Burg founder Joe Kleespie.
"The people that have come through the doors have been amazed at how good the food is and the prices," Reed said.
The pricing, he said, was particularly important given the stagnant economy and the rising cost of business operations. Twelve years ago, he said a keg of domestic beer was $40. Now it's $115. Insurance costs have risen, too, but maintaining customer relations has meant keeping the price of a domestic pounder low.
The community has changed, too. Barnaby's office manager Stephanie Linklater said Eastgate used to be a greater hub of business and customers. But with a focus on tourism and the downtown area, few visitors have ever heard of Barnaby's, much less know where to find it.
Reed said he doesn't plan to be away from the restaurant and bar scene long. He plans to reinvent his business as a microbrewery modeled in the image of popular brewing companies such as Ice Harbor and Full Sail. But when that will take place and where is unknown. "We have to close this to open that," Linklater explained.
At the end of the day, however, the planned microbrewery may not end up in the same location at all.
No immediate plans for a sale of the building have been made, though Barnaby's had been on the market in the past. Reed said he's working to build a team of investors for his new plans.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.