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Gunther’s Tap Room gutted by fire, Northport chief says

Firefighters outside Gunther's Tap Room in Northport after

Firefighters outside Gunther's Tap Room in Northport after a blaze broke out around 7 a.m. Tuesday, May 23, 2017. The famous bar was once frequented by the Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac. Photo Credit: Newsday / Lawrence Striegel

Gunther’s Tap Room, the legendary Northport bar once the favored haunt of Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, was gutted in an early morning fire Tuesday, fire officials said.

“The Northport community has suffered a significant loss in this fire,” Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin said. “It’s almost the summer. We get visitors from all over who love Kerouac ... love the idea of a bar like Gunther’s and want to come and visit.”

Three firefighters, two from Northport and one from Kings Park, suffered minor injuries and were treated and released from area hospitals.

A half-dozen residents were safely evacuated from the apartments over the Main Street bar, officials said.

The fire was reported just before 7 a.m. and initially put down quickly, Northport Fire Department Chief Bradford Wine said. But it reignited, and at about 8:45 a.m. firefighters were again dousing the bar with water while smoke poured from the roof. Flames charred the front of the brick building and broke the glass windows.

Northport Police Chief Bill Ricca said the Suffolk County Arson Squad’s investigation found that the fire was not suspicious. Northport police Det. Peter Hayes said a preliminary investigation found a severely damaged electrical panel in the rear of the bar and that investigators will look at electrical issues as a possible cause of the blaze.

The building, including two adjacent businesses and the apartments, were condemned, Ricca said. “It’s going to be boarded up until it can inhabited again,” he said.

Village trustee Ian Milligan said officials would help the bar owners move quickly if they choose to rebuild, citing the bar’s historic and sentimental status in the community.

Gunther’s has been a fixture in Northport for generations and was well-known in local folklore for being a second home to Kerouac, author of “On the Road,” “The Dharma Bums” and “Big Sur.”

“It’s such an iconic place,” Milligan said.

Village code gives the owners one year to rebuild and still preserve a building’s current zoning status, in this case allowing for the bar and attached apartments, Milligan said.

Gunther’s co-owners Eddie McGrath and Brad Vassallo, both of Northport, declined to comment Tuesday.

They bought Gunther’s last year after its previous owner, Pete H. Gunther, died in April 2016. They had pledged to keep the iconic bar — affectionately dubbed “Club G” by regulars — unchanged, down to the green tile “G” at the entrance, to honor Gunther’s memory. The tile letter was one of few things that remained intact after Tuesday’s fire.

The apartments suffered smoke damage. Clipper Ship Tea Co. and 7T8 European Fusion restaurant, which are in the same building as Gunther’s, were also condemned. Those businesses suffered water damage in their basements when a water main broke during the fire, Ricca said.

Mark Whitney, who lives behind the bar, said he woke up to the Northport Fire Department alarms just before 7 a.m. and quickly realized that Gunther’s was on fire.

“I looked out my window and all I saw was smoke,” he said. “It looked like a bomb went off.”

Ryan Campbell, 38, said he was asleep in the apartment directly upstairs from the bar when he heard knocking on the door and someone yelling, “Fire!” He hurriedly put on his pants, shoes and a baseball cap, grabbed his laptop computer and ran out. He said he turned to go back to retrieve other things, but the smoke was too thick.

Michael Rom of Northport watched Tuesday as firefighters removed debris from Gunther’s. He said he had worked at the bar, clearing tables, for a year a decade ago.

“I have endless memories, the people, the atmosphere. It had character. It’s hard to put into words,” Rom said.

With Lawrence Striegel

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