Mel’s Blacks Out

After 45 years of serving strong drinks at reasonable prices, Mel’s Place closed its doors for good this Sunday, chased out of business by a looming rent increase and an inability to find substitute quarters. Owner Mike Knapp celebrated by giving away free T-shirts and selling $1 drinks. Although Mel’s was overflowing with sentimental revelers-hooting, hollering, and occasionally flashing some skin-a decidedly melancholic mood hung over the festivities. Knapp said with the bar’s strict occupancy limit of 49 people, he couldn’t possibly jack up the price of drinks enough to cover the increased cost of doing business. He tried moving to the 400 block of State Street but was denied by the City Police Department, which argued there were too many bars there already. In spite of its divey demeanor, Mel’s managed to survive as the upscale Paseo Nuevo shopping mall sprouted up around it in the early 1990s, mostly because its landlord never sold to the mall operators or to City Hall. Nor did it hurt the bar’s fortunes that former mayor Hariett Miller and former councilmember Rusty Fairly made a point of stopping at Mel’s for a cup of coffee or two every Tuesday morning just before council meetings. Knapp said he’s still assessing his options. If he reopens elsewhere, he said he’s definitely not calling it Mel’s. As to who Mel actually was, Knapp isn’t sure. “There are too many stories,” he said. “He was somebody’s chauffeur; he was somebody’s dog. I don’t know.”

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