By David Weber
The Northport Village community is rallying to aid those affected by the Tuesday morning blaze that ripped through a historic Main Street building home to apartments and three businesses, including iconic dive bar Gunther’s Tap Room.
The blaze, which originated at Gunther’s, has displaced five residents of the apartments on the second floor of the building. Along with Gunther’s and four of the six apartments in the building, both Clipper Ship Tea Company and 7T8 European Fusion Restaurant were condemned.
American Red Cross and emergency management personnel were on-site to assist in relocating the residents.
A fundraiser was held Tuesday night at Main Street Cafe, a pub down the street from the fire site. It was organized by Main Street Cafe owner Darin Parker, who said nearly $8,700 was raised and will be used to assist those affected by the blaze.
Melissa Wawrzonek, owner of neighboring Clipper Ship Tea Company, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help relocate her business.
“Although we do have insurance we quickly learned this morning that it is not enough to cover all of our losses,” Wawrzonek stated. “It is so crucial for us to retain our loyal and hardworking employees that have been with us for over five years.”
At Gunther’s, messages of hope have been left on the boarded-up windows.
“Never forget the nights I don’t remember,” one person wrote in pink Sharpie.
“This is the story of America,” signed another.
Gunther’s was previously owned by Pete Gunther, who died last year. It’s been a Main Street staple since it first opened in 1962. The building was originally built in 1889 and served as the Commercial Hotel. The bar is now co-owned by Eddie McGrath and Brad Vassallo.
The bar was a frequent stop by Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac through the late ’50s and early ’60s. Kerouac wrote many of his haikus there.
Jeanne Goldschrafe, who has worked as a cleaning lady at Gunther’s for over 20 years, said she grew worried Tuesday morning when she
heard sirens rushing towards her Woodbine Ave. home.
“I lost my boss, Mr. Gunther, last year… This is like losing him all over again,” Goldenschrafe said.
Fire officials said the fire originated at Gunther’s around 6:53 a.m. and quickly spread to neighboring Clipper Ship Tea Company. Residents in four apartments on the second floor were evacuated, according to Northport Village police.
Around sixty firefighters from Centerport, East Northport, Eaton’s Neck, Kings Park, Greenlawn and Northport were on scene under the direction of Chief Brad Wine and Assistant Chiefs John Jacobsen and Dennis Sheridan.
Three firefighters, two from Northport and one from Kings Park, suffered minor injuries.
The investigation has been turned over to the Suffolk Police Arson Squad and is being led by Fire Marshal Tim Brojer, who says the historic building will not have to be demolished despite the severe interior damage.
While the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, Northport Police Lieutenant Bill Ricca said, there is a belief that may have been caused by a faulty electrical box at the back of the building.
Ricca said, “We aren’t sure the nature of how it happened, but the working theory as of now is that an electrical problem occurred behind the bar.”
According to a story published in The Long-Islander on Jan. 1, 2009, a fire broke out in Gunther’s on Dec. 22, 2008. That fire caused minimal damage and was quickly contained and the cause was determined to be electrical, according to the then fire chief.
Northport Village Trustee Ian Milligan said the building owners have one year to get it back up to code.
He added, “The building really was an icon of the village, and people were sad to see this happen. Everyone is anxious to see what will happen next. It’s going to be a long road.”