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If the house is rockin, don't bother knockin


New bar and eatery is rocking downtown Gresham

They’re singing in the old church on Main Avenue again, but the music isn’t exactly gospel tunes.

“This is a bar with really good food and where you can expect the unexpected,” said Michael Spinella, who along with his wife, Deanna, recently opened a new entertainment and eatery venue in downtown Gresham. “We have karaoke four nights a week, but we call it ‘Karaoke is dead. Come sing with Michael.’”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Michael and Deanna Spinella opened their restaurant Dec. 6 in the former home of the Zion Evangelical Church.

Gresham residents, Michael and Deanna are no strangers to the local karaoke crowd. The couple played “karaoke hosts” around these parts for more than six years, in high demand at private parties for their offbeat sense of humor and musical choices.

But their 12-year-old “hobby” is now a livelihood supported by home-cooked eats and the rowdy entertainment Spinella followers have come to expect.

Michael is a consummate performer whose soft-spoken manner hardly depicts a comedic frontman. But in the mid-1980s, he and his brother Mark woke up the sleepy mill town in Idaho where they were living with their idea of good music.

“It was a small tavern that had had six owners in the three years,” Michael said. “It was dirty and boring — a dump. So we bought it, and the first thing we did was put the jukebox on a hand truck and move it out the front door.”

The brothers replaced the sound system with their own audio equipment and introduced a sideshow, of sorts, where the pair entertained patrons using a little-known technique of singing along to recorded music with the vocals removed. Off the Wall, as the club was known, became a place where it seemed the owners would do anything to attract a crowd.

“We earned a reputation as the only guys in town who could get anyone who came into the bar to put on a pair of women’s stretch pants,” Michael said, laughing. “Once we sold beer for a nickel and shut down the highway. It was just madness.”

Michael broke up the act in 1992. He moved to Gresham and married Deanna in 1998. Three years ago, Michael’s day job as a manufacturer’s representative with the BASF Corp. was downsized, and he found himself at a crossroads.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “I only knew that I didn’t want to work for other people anymore.”

Resurrecting Off the Wall seemed fitting, Michael said, given the earlier success of the Idaho business and the couple’s local karaoke following. He and Deanna began looking at vacant areas in downtown Gresham, and in February last year, Michael found his perfect fit.

“He came home and said, ‘You’ve got to see this building. It’s got my name all over it,’” Deanna said. “And that’s what did it, because it really is all about him.”

The couple embarked on a nine-month painstaking restoration of the historic 1928 building that was once home to the Zion Evangelical Church. The minimal kitchen was gutted and rebuilt, including replacing three layers of subflooring, and a new handmade bar was installed.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Deanna created a buddy bar using photos she took during the couple's six years as karaoke hosts for private parties around town.

Spinella’s Off the Wall opened quietly on Dec. 6. It’s a family-run affair, with contributions and staffing by the couple’s children and close friends. Renowned blues singer Megan James, a close friend of the Spinellas, has been known to breeze into the kitchen to make her homemade soups which are daily features on the menu.

The menu itself boasts “food so good you’ll think we stole your Grandma.” Head Chef Ron Cleveland makes everything from salad dressings and appetizer dipping sauces to mac and cheese and desserts from scratch.

And it’s all written with the couple’s signature humor. Burger offerings are called “Bombdiggity,” in honor of a customer who used the word to describe something good. Salads are served with house-made “Flowerpot Bread” from a section called “Lettuce Entertain You,” and the Church Potluck features “Oh My Cod!” (Alaska amber beer-battered cod) and “Allenips,” which is Spinellas spelled backwards to describe bite-size steak strips.

Gresham’s newest downtown hotspot is indeed off the wall.

“We’re all about having fun,” said Deanna. “We don’t take ourselves very seriously.”

Fast Facts

Who: Spinella’s Off the Wall

Where: 436 N. Main Ave., Gresham

What: “Entertainment, Food and Spirits,” featuring home-cooked eats until closing, craft and domestic brews and live entertainment. Karaoke runs every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with future plans to include acoustic entertainment and concert videos. The restaurant is family-friendly until 8 p.m. daily and offers Kids Karaoke on Sundays from 4-8 p.m.

Hours of operation: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

For more information, call 503-492-0800.