Three Dollar Deweys closes its doors. Here’s how the Old Port hangout began.

The bar's sudden closure was announced during the last weekend of July — ending a nearly 40-year run.

Bartender serving patrons at Deweys.
A bartender serves patrons at Three Dollar Deweys. –Steve Noel

Once an intimate hangout spot among the bustling fisherman’s wharf, a Portland, Maine landmark closed its doors for the final time July 28 — ending an almost 40-year run.

The sudden closure of Three Dollar Deweys, a staple of the Old Port bar scene since 1980, was announced on a sign posted by Sandra Marston and Donald Berry, co-owners since 1985, on the watering hole’s door over that weekend, the Portland Press Herald reported.

“The family has made the decision to [retire],” the sign said. “Our family has been honored sharing this time with you. Family traditions have a way of continuing forward.”

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Berry confirmed the news to the Press Herald last Monday, but declined to say anything further than expressing the family’s immediate reaction.

“We’re in a little bit of shock and everything,” he said.

As of this past Wednesday, the bar’s state and city liquor licenses were scheduled to expire, according to the newspaper.

The bar, which quickly became known for its long communal benches built from church pews, lack of television screens, free popcorn, and, most notably, wide selection of imported beer, first opened at the corner of Fore and Union streets, said one of the original owners, 57-year-old Georgia Griffin, of East Templeton, Massachusetts. It would eventually move to its 241 Commercial St. location in 1995 under new management.

When Griffin first met her late ex-husband, Alan “The Beer King” Eames, in 1978, he was a package store owner carrying a vast assortment of foreign beers — and already had an impressive knowledge surrounding the industry from his worldly travels, she said. What first began as a deep interest soon brewed into a desire to build a bar of their own.

“He would get into these conversations with people, and people loved to talk about beer,” Griffin said. “It just sort of seemed natural.”

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So in 1980, the original masterminds behind Deweys — Eames and Griffin, then married — set out to the Old Port, making the trek from Templeton with a vision in tow and beer on the mind. The duo was going to build a comfortable, English-influenced pub the area hadn’t seen before, Griffin said.

“Mostly what we wanted was a place to hang out,” she said. “A bunch of the customers became our friends. That’s where you chose to meet people.”

Alan Eames, Georgia Griffin, and friends in Portland, during the construction of Deweys. —Hugh Verrier

At the time, the wharf was in the midst of a cultural boom — and it’s since experienced even more dramatic changes. Thus, it was the ideal location, Griffin said, attracting regulars that would continue to return even after Deweys shifted hands and moved down the street, as well as tourists in the mood for something other than the typical commercial fare.

“I also conceived and gave birth to my son during the reign of Deweys,” Griffin said. “Everyone feeling like they were part of it and meeting Adrian. People loved to visit with him — that was the kind of place it was.”

The personality of the bar, and atmosphere it created, was defined as much by what was missing — like clocks and television screens, a deliberate decision — as it was by the artwork on the walls, crafted by Griffin herself, and the purposefully limited menu, she said.

The “$1 lookie, $2 feelie, $3 dewey,” sign, for instance — an idea of Eames’s — was inspired by old Gold Rush folklore, and just one representation of what made the bar so unique, Griffin said.

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“[The art] was a part of the atmosphere [Marston and Berry] could take with them,” she said. “We kept [the menu] originally to chilis, stews, and burgers. I think when Sandy took over and they moved it down, they really expanded the menu.”

Griffin, after divorcing Eames, would go on to leave the bar in 1983. After managing the bar for two more years, Eames would sell Deweys to Marston and Berry, who were previously silent investors in the business, Griffin said.

Two customers sitting at Deweys. —Steve Noel

Having grown up in nearby Hampton, New Hampshire, 58-year-old Steve Noel, now of Chicago, said he was neither the most well-read nor well-traveled when he first started patronizing the bar as an undergrad.  

And when he started college at the then Portland School of Art in 1980, the city was far less dynamic than present day, he said. There really wasn’t much for one to do.

But when he stepped inside Deweys, his life changed in ways he couldn’t imagine, Noel said. Serving as a short-order cook, the relationships he built with other staff, especially Eames, and the experiences he would have during his time at the bar would help to shape who he was as a person.

“One of the best times in my life,” he said. “You know how in the song, ‘Everybody knows your name’? It was that. I felt welcomed.”

Every single person you talk to, Noel said, is going to have a crazy or fascinating story they associate with Deweys. One of his favorites was the time he got invited onto a support ship for the French Navy — a result of the noble officers bonding with the staff there.

“One night we were having some drinks and in come all these noble officers from France, and they’re all in there in their Sunday best, with their medals and hats,” he said. “They loved us — singing French drinking songs, drinking French beers. They invited about 10 patrons and Hannah and myself on their boat for lunch. It was a seven-course lunch. I’d never had anything like it in my life.”

Noel said he credits Eames’s all-consuming obsession with finding the best-of-the-best foreign beer — from Australia, Brazil, China, England, Ireland, Japan, and so on — and innate passion for paving the way to the microbrewery trend and similar bar scenes over time, at least in New England.

He was the Indiana Jones of beer. In a lot of ways, he was the grandfather of all this stuff we see now in the craft brewing industry,” he said. “You don’t meet people at a four-top. You have people at a long, picnic-style bench — you start talking, friendships blossom. This is what he wanted.”

Alan Eames, one of the original owners of Deweys. —Steve Noel

Once both Griffin and Eames left, though, and Deweys eventually moved from its position on the corner of the street, it just wasn’t the same, Noel said.

Once the menu expanded and they put TVs in — it just become another bar,” he said. “Alan’s personality was not there. I’m surprised it was open that long. They didn’t get the spirit of the bar. It was gone.”

Brian Hassett, 52, of Simi Valley, California, said while he’s been on the West Coast for nearly two decades now — having been born and raised in Maine — it was still sad to hear that a “central part of [his] history” was closing.

“When we had been to it, it was such a rarity to have a spot where different groups of people — older, younger, crunchy-granola, yuppy — I don’t recall ever seeing a fight there,” he said. “It was just comfortable. It was strange in fact that you could speak to anybody and nobody would be like, ‘What are you talking to me for? Do I know you?’”

A group of people gathered at Deweys. —Steve Noel

Others, like Dave Craig, 55, of Yarmouth, Maine, who said there was no indication at all the bar would be closing, expressed a similar sentiment. Nostalgia — of memories made from his college days and late nights with friends — was what kept him coming back with a group of old peers over the years.

“The new location feels more like a restaurant. It was nicer, less divey, less intimate,” he said. “Still, it was a place I would go to with friends — at least once or twice a year — that I went there with in the ’80s. We would do a Deweys night.”

Two men by the bar at Deweys. —Steve Noel

Craig said the impact the bar had on Portland won’t be forgotten.

“The Old Port was really kind of scummy in the ’70s, and Deweys was part of the revilitization,” he said. “If anything, there’s a lot more going on outside the Old Port. Craft beer is the driving force. There’s more to do. More competition. You couldn’t go get a Guinness at any place in the ’80s. They really stood out.”

Although the real heartbreak for Griffin and Eames arrived when Deweys moved locations, Griffin said she thinks Marston and Berry did “a great job with continuing it.”

“Having sick, cool places, there’s a commercial aspect — I understand that,” she said. “But an intimate and enjoyable place where you’re really focused on the people you’re with and the beer you’re drinking, I really hope someone picks up the mantle.”