Big John’s Tavern was shuttered a lot sooner than expected on Monday, but it will be back.
Owner Ryan Condon showed up at his tavern on 251 East Bay St. to board the windows and change the locks on Monday morning, about two weeks sooner than he said he was going to close for renovations.
Condon bought Big John’s in 1991, but he has been a mostly silent owner since 1999, when his nephews Jim and Chris Condon leased the business. He reemerged last month when he got wind that his nephews had moved onto other things.
Condon plans to restore the 59-year old bar to the place he remembers as a patron in the 1960s and ‘70s. To help him achieve his vision, Condon said he has partnered with John Adamson of the Rarebit.
Condon said he decided to shut the bar down early because he wanted to safeguard the memorabilia that made Big John’s so iconic.
He pointed to an empty frame on one wall and said someone had taken a picture of John Cannady, the late football great who started the East Bay watering hole in 1954.
Another problem for Condon was an Oct. 31 party he heard about.
“Bartenders and customers talked about taking all the memorabilia from here and having a going away party on Halloween night and going crazy in here, and they’re not going to do that,” Condon said.
Employees won’t be back once Big John’s reopens, said bartender Chad Rose, so some had planned the Halloween going-away party. The bash, along with other live music acts scheduled for the rest of October, have been canceled.
Employees at the bar on Monday afternoon said they didn’t know anything about memorablia being taken. Rose said the photo of Cannady had been missing for weeks.
“That stuff happens when you own a bar,” Rose said.
Rose, who has worked at Big John’s for seven years, said he and his coworkers were owed an advance notice of the bar’s closing.
“I was expecting these last 10 days to make money and to pay my bills for the rest of the month, and now I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “That’s why the customer base here is so great, many of them are business owners and thankfully a lot of them have offered us jobs.”
The Green Door, a restaurant started by Cory Burke of Roti Rolls, moved into the adjoining space next to Big John’s earlier this year under an agreement with Jim Condon. When Jim Condon left in August, Burke said he expected to work out a new agreement with Ryan Condon.
After a few conversations, Condon told Burke that The Green Door didn’t fit into his plan for Big John’s revival. The Green Door will be allowed to stay open for the rest of the month, but the bar’s early closing will likely have an impact on the restaurant because so much of their business overlaps, Burke said.
“We’ll definitely find a new spot that suits us,” he said.
An agreement to reimburse Burke for his investments in the building has not been discussed.