Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

Jimmy Mak’s: Ace of clubs prepares to play a new hand


For many years, J.D. Stubenberg and Lisa Boyle were mainstays of the great Portland music club Jimmy Mak’s, in their own ways as vital to the place as the hotspot’s founder/owner Jimmy Makarounis and the musicians who lit up the stage there. Since the club’s closing at the end of 2017, followed hard upon by the death of Makarounis from laryngeal cancer, they’ve been involved in plans to revive and sustain the Jimmy Mak’s legacy.

So now they’re getting the brand back together.

Tonight’s concert at the Mission Theater — a high-energy double serving of rock-and-soul featuring the Yachtsmen and the Paul Creighton Project, with the Soul Vax horns adding some special sauce all around — comes to you under the Jimmy Mak’s Presents banner, an imprimatur of the discerning yet populist aesthetic that Makarounis and Stubenberg championed over the past couple of decades. The show is a benefit for the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship at Portland State University, a program launched in 2017.

Portland pop-rock band the Yachtsmen will play at the Mission Theater on Friday to benefit the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship.

The show also serves as a reminder that the much-loved, much-missed club likely isn’t gone for good. In fact, the investor group Friends of Jimmy Mak’s plans to launch a new location this fall.

“We’ll hopefully start swinging hammers by the end of May, maybe June,” Stubenberg said last week. “So we’re hoping to open in September or October, but we won’t really know until we get into construction.”

As Willamette Week and others reported last summer, the new Jimmy Mak’s will take over the Pearl District space on Northwest Twelfth Avenue that previously housed the restaurant Oba. According to Stubenberg (who will be bar manager and book local music acts, while Boyle serves as general manager), the club’s licensing by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has been completed. The next big step is obtaining city permits for the renovations.

Makarounis had considered moving the club to a new location before learning in the fall of 2017 that the cancer he’d battled a few years earlier had returned. He then considered selling the club, Stubenberg recalled, but because he’d already sold the building to developers in 2015, “when he got sick the only asset the business had was cash flow.


Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

“There was no quit in him,” said Stubenberg. “But I think maybe he was hedging his bets when he sold the building — put some money in the bank for the family. After the cancer came back, we talked about trying to keep the club going without him. But shutting down the business was the right thing for the family and for us. It was the safest course.”

Eventually the Friends of Jimmy Mak’s coalesced, three LLCs including about a dozen individual investors, according to Stubenberg. Evan Denhart, whose family owns the Portland-based kids clothing company Hanna Andersson, offered help with property management and development. The investors briefly considered a building at Southeast Sixth Avenue and Ash Street, before deciding against it, then were offered a lease on the spot Oba had been in for 20 years before closing in October of 2017. “It’s considerably larger than what we’d been looking at, but it will allow us to do so many more things,” Stubenberg said.

From his description, it sounds as though the additional space mostly will go toward making a more comfortable venue, rather than simply to cram in more customers. “We only seated 140 or so in our old space, though our capacity was 210. Those other 70 people were standing in front of the bar, or in the back room unable to see the show.”

Plans for the new club, created with Scott/Edwards Architecture, call for 200 to 215 seats, some of them on a sunken floor to enhance sight lines of the large stage in the corner of the showroom. The showroom will have a bar running along the 12th Avenue side of the space, and there’ll be some outdoor seating along that street during favorable weather. A green room with a full bath is intended to make the club better suited for touring acts. Thorough design of sound and lighting systems is in the works. And the space also will include a separate bar near the main entrance, with room for 80-90, to serve as a neighborhood hangout and a private event space for rent. Chef Ethan Powell, who’s restaurants have included EaT and the Parish, will consult on a kitchen that’s focus will be “middle of the road Americana — prime rib, fried chicken, French onion soup…”

Celebrated jazz and soul drummer Mel Brown powered not just his own diverse bands but the popularity of Jimmy Mak’s as a Portland culture hotspot.

For all that, the Jimmy Mak’s brand is mostly about music. No single musician has been associated with the club more closely than the great jazz drummer Mel Brown, who had standing weekly gigs for three different ensembles.

“I told Mel, ‘You will have those three nights a week for however long you want them,’” Stubenberg said. Jazz always was the club’s calling card but by no means its sole focus, and Stubenberg plans to continue with a broad palette, centered in the straight-ahead and soul-jazz styles with pop, rock and funk filling out the offerings. PDX Jazz and Soul’d Out Productions both are on board as pipelines for national touring talent.

“It’s ultimately about what puts asses in the seats in that building,” Stubenberg said. “It won’t say ‘Jimmy Mak’s Jazz Club’ on the marquee, it’ll be ‘music’.”


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Photo Joe Cantrell


Marty Hughley is a Portland journalist who writes about theater, dance, music and culture. His honors have included a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship at the University of Georgia, a fellowship at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California, and first-place awards for arts reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism Competitions. In 2013 he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry. A Portland native, Hughley studied history at Portland State University, worked at the alternative newsweekly Willamette Week in the late 1980s as pop music critic and arts editor, then spent nearly a quarter century at The Oregonian as a reporter, feature writer and critic. His recent freelance work has appeared in Oregon ArtsWatch, Artslandia and the Oregon Humanities magazine. He lives with his cat, and dies a little with each new setback to the Trail Blazers.


One Response

  1. Great News!
    I hope this new venue will still allow minors in to watch, listen and occasionally play for the early sets.

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