Constructed in 1924, the building that houses the Labor Temple Café and Bar – located in Astoria’s historic Uniontown district – was originally a meeting space for local worker unions. The Labor Temple was also once staffed strictly by union members. Over the years, however, the café and bar evolved into what the Northwest Labor Press described as a “dive bar.”
But Terry and Todd Robinett, the Labor Temple’s new owners, have nothing but vision and admiration for the 94-year-old place. “We both value historical places and their role in keeping the story of a community alive,” Terry says. “It’s important to keep telling a community’s story much like it is to keep telling children about their ancestors. These stories shape our identity and when a community has a strong sense of identity and values the characters in its story, it survives.”
The Robinetts moved to Astoria almost 4 years ago, though they have been in Oregon for 25 years. Terry came by way of bus from Florida to visit family and, as she puts it, “just stayed.” Coming from an extensive background in the service industry, Terry is at home running a place like the Labor Temple. Todd found his way to Oregon after fishing in Alaska and eventually made his way to Portland where he started his own tile business. The two frequented Astoria together while living in Portland, and knew they wanted to make it their home. “We both love the river, the ocean, the beauty of the surrounding landscape, the comfort of a dense, small community and the working-class vibe,” Terry explains. “I’ve just been blown away by the strength and compassion of so many of our neighbors here. It’s the most wonderful community. Everyone wears multiple hats, as they say. And we both like that.”
The Robinetts also own and run the Merry Time Bar and Grill, but emphasize that the two establishments are not in competition with one another. “We thought we could build upon the relationship between the two so as to compliment rather that compete,” she adds.
The two have implemented a lot of successful changes since re-opening their doors in January. “We moved the pool table to the Merry Time and added pinball,” Terry shares. “We will be adding an old-school CD jukebox, brought back old photos and artwork from 15 to 20 years ago, and are implementing an entertainment program with live events, comedy, rock-n-roll, country music bands, karaoke, a live sci-fi rock musical – seriously look for ‘Varsity Werewolf Cheerleaders from Outer Space’ in April – drag shows, burlesque, an adult spelling bee, and bingo.”
Terry, who is also a talented artist – she was chosen for Astoria Visual Arts’ Artist-in-Residence program in 2017 – says she is excited about the future events, which allow her to show her creative side. “I’m an artist at heart and am at my best if I’m involved with creative projects,” she says.
On the diner side of the Labor Temple, the Robinetts haven’t felt the need to change too much. “Our mission is always to provide a neighborhood place where everyone is welcome, service is friendly and products are consistent and a good value,” Terry explains. “We’ve kept the diner pretty much the same. Dave and Christina Warner did a great job building the diner business.” They have, however, made some changes they feel customers will appreciate, including adding freshly baked pies, extending their hours, and will soon add cakes to their menu.
The employees are also enthusiastically donning vintage style uniforms to really add to the experience, the couple shares.
It is important to Terry and Todd to honor the history of the place and not let it slip into oblivion. “We’ve been seeing too many old communities, businesses and places just disappear,” says Terr. “Buying the Labor Temple meant we could be stewards for a chapter or two of its bigger story.” She adds that they also want to incorporate the property’s past into their events and programs. “We are really hoping to add events that draw upon and honor the workers history.”
Although the space is being labeled by locals as the “New Labor Temple,” Terry says that they are more focused on small changes that create a big impact, rather than lauding the “new” label. “I look at the big picture,” she continues. “The Labor Temple’s history began before we were born and will continue long after we are gone. We’re just caretakers for this period of time. We’re adding to its story, but it will remain the main character.”