Knockout punch for ‘The Griff’ in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After nearly 50 years on Ocean Street, the Griffin Club is closing because its building is expected to be razed for new development.

Scott Parker, owner of the iconic watering hole – but not the building at 60 Ocean St. – this week said he received an eviction notice in April requiring him to be out by midnight June 2.

He said the bar will close May 31.

Parker, who has owned “The Griff” for 10 years and worked there for 20, said he hopes to resurrect the bar under the new name Griffin’s Dugout at nearby 64 E St. That would keep his seven bartenders employed and give his longtime customers a place to go.

“I’m going to try and get my people back to work,” Parker said.

The historic sports bar was founded about five decades ago as a boxing club by Eddie Griffin, a promoter of professional and amateur sports.

Parker said it was originally called The Dugout and was established next to the Legion Square Market on Ocean Street in 1965. In 1968, Griffin moved the bar to the corner of Ocean and C streets, and renamed it the Griffin Club.

Parker said he was planning to host a 50th anniversary celebration and a 50th anniversary St. Patrick’s Day party – the Irish bar is known for its St. Paddy’s Day celebrations, with lines that snake far outside the front doors of the green, somewhat dilapidated building – but those plans are now on hold.

“The building was sold from underneath me,” Parker said.

The building is owned by Byron and Audrey Castro of Cape Elizabeth; Eddie Griffin was Byron’s stepfather. The couple did not return messages seeking comment or information about the buyer of the property.

The nearly 5,800-square-foot building, built in 1900, was listed for sale in February for $599,000. Rumors have been circulating in Knightville that the Castros’ original buyer suggested renovating the building, but then flipped the property to a developer who plans a condominium development.

Real estate broker Tom Landry said he could neither confirm nor deny the building was sold.

Parker said the closing date is June 3 and said he believes the building will be torn down.

City Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said the property includes two lots. The one at 60 Ocean St. is zoned village commercial, and the lot behind it at 11 C Street is zoned village residential. Haeuser said both lots could be used for a new building.

Current zoning could allow a building up to 50 feet in height, or four to five stories. The zoning provides for 24 units per acre, but off-street parking must be taken into consideration.

Haeuser said 1.5 spaces per unit would have to be set aside for parking, unless the units are small: one space for a one-bedroom residence and 0.75 spaces for studio apartments.

The Griffin Club is across Ocean Street from the Martin’s Point Health Care properties at 51 and 63 Ocean St., which are under contract to be sold to the South Portland Housing Authority.

An SPHA proposal to build apartments or condominiums has been met with strong opposition from some neighbors, in part because it would require a zoning change to allow a five-story building; a City Council workshop on the proposal is scheduled for June 12.

Parker, meanwhile, is preparing to move “The Griff” and its pool tables, jukebox, sport-themed light fixtures, and accumulated history.

The walls of the bar are filled with photographs of sports heroes, including boxers, basketball and baseball players. The bar has also hosted many Irish wakes, and interspersed among the sports stars are photos honoring deceased patrons.

But despite the upheaval, Parker smiled and joked with regulars this week, telling them he’ll still keep a box of tissues on the new bar, and a basket of mints and matches.

“I hope to keep it going,” he said. “Everyone has a bad day. Sometimes you cheer up the clientele, other times they cheer you up.”

Heather Bryant, of South Portland, who has worked at the club for the past four years as a bartender, said she is optimistic about the move to the corner of E and Q streets, where Parker said the new bar will be handicapped accessible with seating for 35 people, a new bar and new draft beer lines.

“We are like a community here. We take care of each other.” Bryant said. “It’s been a good run. … I have faith in my boss.

“I would love to be able to go to a new location, but it’s sad about the building,” she said. “It’s a one of a kind, for sure.”

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Scott Parker, owner of the Griffin Club at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland, said the Knightville bar will close May 31.

The Griffin Club, at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood. The building is expected to be torn down to make way for a residential development.

Scott Parker, owner of the Griffin Club at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland, said he hopes to reopen the bar at the corner of E and Q streets.

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