PORTLAND – One of the city’s liveliest music venues has been sold, and will close for about two months for renovations.
And, in a case of commercial history repeating itself, the renovation plans include turning part of Empire Dine and Dance back into a Chinese restaurant.
Empire Dine and Dance, at 575 Congress St., will close for about two months after Sunday’s country-flavored show with Saccarappa Boys and North of Nashville, said its founder, Bill Umbel.
The five-year-old restaurant and music venue has been sold by Umbel and will be run by Theresa Chan, a Maine restaurateur, and Todd Bernard, a veteran of Portland’s arts scene. Bernard is a former owner of the Space Gallery music and arts venue, at 538 Congress St.
Umbel said the new operators will close Empire Dine and Dance temporarily so that the downstairs, which now is a bar and restaurant with space for small music groups, can be renovated into a Chinese restaurant.
The building was home to a Chinese restaurant called The Empire from about World War I into the 1950s.
The 240-person capacity room upstairs will remain a concert room, Umbel said.
Bernard confirmed Friday that the venue will double as a Chinese restaurant and live music venue, and said the name will remain Empire Dine and Dance.
Umbel, 55, said he had been looking to sell the business for a while because he’s “getting old and tired” and running a music venue isn’t his primary line of work — real estate sales and development is.
He said he was looking for the right buyers and would not have sold to Bernard and Chan if he hadn’t thought they would keep running the place as a hub of the local music scene.
“Until I found the right person, I’d just as soon run the place myself,” Umbel said. “I wanted to leave it in the hands of someone who would continue the tradition.” He would not disclose the sale price.
When Umbel bought the building, it was run down and had been a bar for many years. He knew that it had been a Chinese restaurant called The Empire at one time, and he restored the name when he opened his club in December 2007.
Empire’s website had a message Friday announcing Sunday’s show as the “Farewell For Now Celebration.”
Empire Dine and Dance has hosted live music almost every night of the week, offering everything from classic rock and country to Americana and R&B.
One of its most popular recurring events has been “Clash of the Titans,” with local bands competing against each other by playing covers of specific artists. For example, Wednesday’s Clash featured Justin Timberlake songs vs. Beyonce songs.
Musicians who heard about the closure Friday spoke of how important the place is to the local music scene, providing a venue for musicians that is larger than a bar but easier to fill than a theater or arena.
Pete Kilpatrick, whose Pete Kilpatrick Band has played Empire Dine and Dance several times, said the venue’s location in the heart of Portland’s arts district helped make it a hot spot.
“We had one of our album release parties there, and it’s always a great place to play,” Kilpatrick said. “Everyone knows it’s a place you can go to hear good music.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: