Geno D., remembered

Geno D., remembered 

A gathering in Geno’s memory will be held Wed., March 15, at Geno’s, 625 Congress St., Portland, at 8 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to share a story, sing a song, read a poem, or otherwise express their appreciation. The nightclub will be displaying artwork, photos and keepsakes of the man. For more info, or to help with this event, call 450-7992.

Geno at last summer's city council meeting. (photo/The Fuge)

Last winter I was sitting at the bar down in the old Geno’s, asking Geno D’Alessandro Sr. if he was worried about having to relocate after 21 years on Brown Street. It was a stupid question.

“I’m Geno,” Geno said, and that said it all. 

Geno had owned and run over half a dozen bars and restaurants all over New England — gin mills, family restaurants, rural roadside taverns that made the roughest dives in Portland look like a knitting circle. At the time, he had yet to find a new location, but the prospect of moving was not daunting to Geno. In fact, shortly before he died, he was looking at properties around town with an eye toward opening another place. 

I wish he had, if only to have the chance to see him stand before the Portland City Council again. 

Last summer, Geno and his son, Geno Jr. (known as J.R.), had to go before the council to get liquor and entertainment licenses for the new Congress Street location. The police had recommended approval – the place policed itself – but there are apartments right next door to the new rock club, and our current council scrutinizes liquor license applications like the N.S.A. poring over Quaker meeting minutes, searching for probable cause to pounce. 

Geno was unfazed. He slumped his hulking frame over the podium like it was his old bartop and talked to the councilors like customers. Of course, none of them had set foot inside Geno’s in years, if ever. He had to explain where the old place was. 

“Some of you ladies probably remember Bernie’s Fashions,” Geno began in his gritty Brooklyn accent. The four female councilors looked as if he’d just belched into the microphone. But he got the licenses.

Geno was from an earlier era, the New England of 50 years ago. His was the culture of harness racing, not NASCAR; of downtown department stores and diners, not malls and chain restaurants; bottles of High Life, not microbrews on tap. He had no time for things like draft beer and credit cards. If you had cash, you put it on the bar and you got a drink – no fuss over how much head’s in the glass, no keeping track of tabs. 

Geno kept rock alive in Portland by default. He liked some of the hundreds of bands that played at his place through the years, but he preferred Sinatra. To Geno, hardcore shows were about sweaty kids buying a lot of drinks. 

Geno’s actually started as a sit-down lunch and dinner place. After six months of slow-to-no business from the ladies shopping at Bernie’s, Geno decided to let the punks play there, the ragged-ass rock bands that couldn’t get gigs anywhere else in Portland at the time (1983). They brought in enough customers to keep the place going to this day. 

J.R. said his father especially liked the eccentric bands, the really weird acts. He’d see guys come in with big Mohawks and such and say to his son, “Look, the coolpeople are here.” 

And he meant that. 

— Chris Busby

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