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New starts for businesses destroyed in Northport fire

Gunther's Tap Room, seen Friday, burned down a

Gunther's Tap Room, seen Friday, burned down a year ago. Bar co-owner Brad Vassallo said he hopes to reopen by August. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

In the year since a fire destroyed several Main Street businesses in Northport, famed watering hole Gunther’s Tap Room is gearing for a summer reopening while another store is leaving the village for greener pastures in Huntington.

Once the favored spot of Beat writer Jack Kerouac, Gunther’s rebirth is making progress, the bar’s owners said.

“We’re definitely coming along,” said bar co-owner Brad Vassallo, adding that he hopes to reopen Gunther’s by August. “It’s been a long process, but at least we’re getting closer.”

The May 23, 2017, fire gutted Gunther’s and adjoining apartments. The nearby Clipper Ship Tea Co. and 7T8 European Fusion restaurant were damaged by smoke and water and were also condemned.

Investigators believe that an outdated electrical system caused the fire.

The electrical system has been replaced and updated, according to a PSEG spokesman. “We look forward to helping the owners reopen this historic business,” utility spokesman Jeremy Walsh said in an email statement.

Vassallo said the rest of the building’s infrastructure repairs are nearly done. “The plumbing is done, the gas lines are in, and we’re getting ready to put insulation in,” he said. “It’s a slow process but we’re looking forward to finishing.”

Melissa Wawrzonek, the owner of the tea store, said the subsequent delays in restoring the building forced her to relocate — first to a temporary pop-up shop in Northport and now to a new permanent home in downtown Huntington on Main Street, in the former Village Flowers space.

“Insurance takes months. Inspection takes months. Because we were tied to Gunther’s it was a problem — we knew it was a wait for the building to get up to code,” she said.

The devastation from the fire may have, in the end, helped Wawrzonek make crucial decisions about the direction of her business.

“It makes you kind of take a step back and make some decisions. Do you want to rebuild, do you want to start fresh?” she said. The new version of the Clipper Ship Tea Co. will focus more on prepared tea beverages in addition to selling 200 loose-leaf teas and accessories, with seating and an outdoor patio, she said.

The downtown Huntington scene, with its bustling shopping and foot traffic, promises to be “the right fit” for her store, Wawrzonek said. “For Chapter Two, this seemed to be a good move.”

Gunther’s Tap Room over the years:

  • Has remained cash-only since the beginning
  • Opened in 1963 by Pete Gunther
  • Logo of a letter G made of green tile at the entrance
  • The bar’s most famous customer, Jack Kerouac, hung out there when he lived nearby in the 1950s and ’60s.

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