Raleigh Hills business owners invite 1980s' hitmaker to bring The Tillicum club back to life

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dani Rosendahl, general manager of the On Deck Sports Bar & Grill, recently took over ownership of The Tillicum nightclub and plans to reopen the bar this weekend. Rosendahl, who grew up in the Raleigh Hills neighborhood, was a patron of the long-running nightspot. To all but the most faithful patrons, it was gone barely long enough to be noticed, but the Tillicum, one of the Westside’s longest-running live music venues, is reopening with a flourish — including a nod to a memorable phone number from the early 1980s.

After a series of ownership turnovers in recent years that culminated in the club at 8585 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway closing in early August, Raleigh Hills couple Dani and Steve Rosendahl swooped in to rescue the blues-oriented venue from potential oblivion. The couple acquired the bar and restaurant in early October and has spent the past few weeks hiring a staff of 15, cleaning and refurbishing the Tillicum, which started life in 1870 as a stagecoach stop.

If the required permits are approved in time, the Rosendahls plan to open on Saturday at 5 p.m. Otherwise, the “Tilly,” as regulars have called it for years, will open on Monday at 9 a.m. for regular business. That includes breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and live music at least three nights a week.

“I grew up right up the street,” said Dani Rosendahl, 50, who lives with her husband, Steve, near Raleigh Hills. “I’ve spent many an evening (at the Tillicum). When we heard it closed, we jumped on it.”

To properly celebrate the club’s new era, the Rosendahls will present Tommy Tutone, a New Wave-era band best known for “867-5309 (Jenny),” an indelible top five hit from 1982, in a free grand opening show on Friday, Nov. 15, from 9 p.m. to midnight.

The Rosendahls, who own the Pit Stop Sports Bar and BBQ Grill at 10245 S.W. Canyon Road, know Tommy Heath, the band’s distinctively voiced frontman, when Tommy Tutone performed at their other bar venture, On Deck in Northwest Portland’s Pearl District.

“He used to live in the Pearl, so we asked him to play in summer 2012,” Dani said of Heath. “We wanted some name recognition when we opened the Tillicum. Everybody knows that song, so we emailed him, and he said he’d do it.”

While the Tillicum has operated steadily through the years, with only the slightest variations in decor, musical styles and menu offerings, Rosendahl feels the club’s reputation faded as previous owners struggled with the financial challenges and other rigors of running a live music-oriented nightclub.

“It’s been around forever, and it used to have a great reputation,” she said. “It was always a great place to hang out, but for the past 10 years or so, it hasn’t been, as much. We’ve done a lot of cleanup, painted and fixed things up that needed it. We’re excited to bring it back to how it used to be.”

Soon after this weekend’s expected soft opening, the Tillicum will feature live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Variety, Rosendahl indicated, is her and Steve’s goal.

“I know it used to be a blues bar,” Dani said. “I’m not the biggest blues fan, so it won’t be just that.”

Coming across some old cookbooks she found in the club’s kitchen, she also uncovered some of the Tillicum’s fabled history, including its opening as a stagecoach stop in 1870 and a fire that destroyed the original building in the 1920s.

“It went through Prohibition and all kinds of stuff,” she said, noting the club at its best was known as more than a place to drink and socialize. “You went there because the dinner was so good. I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t wait for it to open again because they remember how great it used to be and are willing to try it again.”

Jamin Merrill, the Tillicum’s new general manager, said he’s excited to be part of revitalizing a legendary nightspot.

“We have definite goals for this place,” he said. “There’s a lot of buzz, a lot of people walking in who are waiting for us to open. If we’re going to give it another chance, we want to wow them.

“We want them to leave with a good story on their lips,” he adds, “and have them come back.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The outside of The Tillicum remains the same, but some aspects of the interior are being changed to appeal to customers as the bar reopens in the coming week.

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