The history of the Virginia Cafe can be traced back as far as 1906, the year that Christopher Dussin emigrated from Argos, Greece to Portland. In 1914 he partnered with George Lewis to operate and own the original Virginia Cafe, at 1014 SW Stark Avenue, currently the home of the Clyde Common. The 2 brothers, Theodore and William finally made the journey from Greece to assist in the operation. The brothers bought out George Lewis but kept him on as Chef and advisor. In the heart of the city’s once notorious ‘Tenderloin District’, the brothers offered “Quick Service and Best Coffee” to a clientele heavily studded with characters that frequented the area. Many of the hotels in that area were sporting houses, and on an average day 50 trays were carried by two ‘runners’ from the Virginia Cafe, to the girls’ rooms – “gals who ate well and tipped lavishly.”
In 1922, the brothers expanded their operation by opening the New Virginia Cafe on SW Park Avenue. There they established a thriving business, serving many of Portland’s leading business, professional, political and theatrical personalities. In 1926, Billie Boyer broke the “Lib Barrier” and became the cafe’s first waitress – a lone little brunette in the midst of waiters. During the ‘20s and ‘30s she developed a following of regular customers, a handful of who were present to witness her 50th anniversary on the job in 1976.
While ‘Black Friday’, 1929 signaled the start of desperate times for most businesses, the Virginia continued to prosper. Four years later, when many thought the Virginia had escaped the ravages of the Great Depression, business suddenly dropped 75% and remained at a very low level for an extended period of time.
The next generation of Dussin’s, led by Guss Dussin, Chris’s son, decided to embark on a new venture that opened in 1969. As business boomed for them, they chose to sell the VC Stark Avenue location in 1971, followed by the VC Park Avenue location in 1978. This new venture would later turn into their worldwide success story, The Old Spaghetti Factory.
Restored in 1979 by the current owners, Peter Goforth and Bob Rice, The Virginia Cafe thrived in a city thirsty for a nightlife that set the stage for what we all call Happy Hour. The original ‘Buck Night’ brought out all walks of life mingling together in harmony. With the Embers above the VC, Park Avenue was definitely an avenue to hang out on.
The Virginia Cafe sat on Park Avenue pretty much with the same style and spirit it had back in 1922. In January of 2007, news broke that the entire block had been sold, displacing all the tenants and in its place would rise a 35 story tower. It appeared to be the end of the story for the Virginia Cafe, which had run continuously in downtown Portland since 1914. Low and behold, a new site was found and construction began in the former home of the Willamette Week offices on September 17th, 2007. Many of the old fixtures and booths made the journey to the new location, with one booth finding a home at the Oregon Historical Society.
February 25th, 2008 started like every other day had on Park Avenue, with one exception: it was moving day for the Virginia Cafe. With our home on Park Avenue still open for business for one last day, work was escalating to a fever pitch to get the new place open on 10th Avenue. The anticipation for the move was mounting. At 4:33pm family, friends and long time patrons of the Virginia Cafe picked up their bar stools and began the bar stool crawl to 10th Avenue led by The Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers to our new home at 820 SW 10th Avenue. That was indeed a sight to see.
We are now going into our 100th year serving Portland and we are still continuing to roll out great food and fun happy hours, along with our Annual Lip Print Contest and Napkin Art Contest. The naysayer’s may say we really aren’t 100 years old since we have moved a couple times, but this old broad gets better with age and a facelift or two makes it all that sweeter.
From all of us at the Virginia Cafe we want to thank you for your continued patronage after all these years.
The Virginia Cafe Family