Historic CI Bar & Grill is a thriving businessin the modern age

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CI Bar & Grill is turning 50 years old in June, which is an impressive accomplishment, but the business actually goes back to the end of Prohibition.

“It has been the local watering hole since the 1930s,” said long-time owner Dave Phillips. “It was originally called the Spot Tavern, and Tualatin’s founding fathers gathered here. And later it was a biker bar. It was really rough. The Brothers Speed gathered here, and there was usually a row of Harleys parked along Boones Ferry Road.”

After the Spot closed in the early ‘70s, it was a year before the place opened as the Country Inn. Bill Beckman, one of the partners, went to the Brothers Speed clubhouse in Tualatin and asked them not to patronize the Country Inn. They agreed; however, the Country Inn still had a rough crowd and a bad reputation. 

Phillips came on the scene in 1994 when he was hired as the general manager. When the Tualatin police chief heard a new manager had been hired, he called and asked Phillips to come to the police station. “He showed me the call log and said they came here every day,” Phillips said. “He said that the police department was responsible for approving the restaurant’s liquor license (or not) and he hoped the clientele would get cleaned up.

“We started ‘86-ing’ them (asking them to leave and not come back). We gradually got a better crowd.”

But that was perhaps the least of Phillips’ problems. The flood of February 1996 overtook downtown Tualatin, with the Tualatin River reaching a height of 126.3 feet above sea level, more than 2 feet above the 100-year floodplain.

“We came here by boat,” Phillips said. “When we got inside, the ice machine was floating upside down. We were closed for 25 days. The health department had to come in and give us a stamp of approval before we could reopen. “

The other big event in the restaurant’s history was a kitchen fire in 2017. “It was kind of funny,” Phillips said. “A kitchen guy came out to our manager Natalie, who was talking to a customer. He said to her, ‘When you have time, can I talk to you?’ The customer saw the fire in the kitchen (behind Natalie) and told her, ‘Your building’s on fire!’ Some customers wanted to finish their drinks, and some left without paying.

“We were closed for five months. For the flood, we didn’t have insurance, but we did have insurance for the fire. There were so many hoops to jump through, and it took so long. But when we reopened, we hit the ground running. We hit a record every week.”

A highlight in the restaurant’s history was closing down for a day for scenes to be filmed for a movie starring Jennifer Aniston. The movie was called “Management,” and as owner of the business, Phillips was paid $4,000.

“They wanted a dive bar, and they made it ‘div-ier,’” he said. “They took photos before they started and put everything back the way it was. It was a big operation. They came in and screwed everything up, and when they left, you couldn’t even tell they had been here. I have a signed picture of Jennifer Aniston.”

The restaurant also was shut down for three months during the initial Covid lockdown, and Phillips said he continued to pay his employees during that time. “If I had had to start finding new employees, I would have been toast,” he said.

Dave Phillips, owner of CI Bar & Grill, was once Bruce Springsteen’s brother-in-law, and he served pizza from his pizza restaurant to the national media camped out at his parents’ Lake Oswego house before Springsteen’s wedding to Phillips’ sister Julienne in the 1980s. Barbara Sherman/Tualatin Life

And now more change will be coming. Phillips explained that “I am 74, and I want to be out of here when I’m 75.” He plans to turn over the business to his employees, most of whom have been with him for more than two decades. “I am going to make it easy for them to become the owners,” he said. “They have been with me forever. I haven’t hired anyone in years.”

He added, “Food is our rock. We have a great menu – soups and salads, appetizers, breakfast, burgers, prime rib, chicken cordon bleu, chicken marsala, pasta, breakfast, sandwiches, salads – and we haven’t raised our prices in four years. I have as good a kitchen crew as anyone. Everyone gets along great.

“Loyce Martinazzi came in and wrote in Tualatin Life that CI has the best breakfast in town, and everyone came in for breakfast. We have what people come for – good food and drink, a nice menu with everything available all the time. You can have prime rib for breakfast or breakfast at night. We have a ton of regulars. People come who were coming before I got here. Kids can be in the restaurant side until 9 at night. We are family-friendly.

“On Saturday and Sunday, we are packed for breakfast. We will turn the tables two or three times. Lunch sometime is a hit or miss, and evenings are usually busy. We do well, and having no turnover in the staff is the key.”

Natalie Hess is the CI Bar & Grill’s manager and has been working at Dave Phillips’ restaurant for about 25 years. Barbara Sherman/Tualatin Life

Every Thursday evening, Ed Neumann & Friends hold a jam session, entertaining diners with classic rock and blues. “There is a core group of three, and sometimes different musicians from the Portland music scene come to play,” Phillips said. “On Friday and Saturday nights we have karaoke and a DJ who sings. Covid changed everything. When we first reopened, and the band started playing, everyone left. The band was too loud, and people just wanted to get together and talk.”

Phillips took a bit of a winding road to bar/restaurant owner: He was born and raised in Illinois and moved to Oregon at 17 when his dad got a job here. Phillips has always worked in the hospitality business, with his first job at Pizza Hut. “I learned how to run a business,” he said.

After selling real estate for five years, Phillips opened Pizza Rush, a take-and-bake pizza place in Tualatin with a new concept. He always knew he wanted to stay in the restaurant business, which led him to CI, which also is an Oregon Lottery location.

Owner Dave Phillips (left) stands in the kitchen with Eduardo Reyes, who has been a loyal employee for about 25 years and is one of eight cooks at the CI Bar & Grill. Barbara Sherman/Tualatin Life

And then there is Phillips’ connection with Bruce Springsteen. In May 1985, Phillips’ sister, actress Julienne Phillips, married the rock star in Lake Oswego, where their parents lived. When the national media got wind of Springsteen’s presence in quiet Lake Oswego, they lined up on the Phillips’ driveway and street. One night the grateful media reported that they had been served pizza. “That was from Pizza Rush,” Phillips said. “We gave them pizza and wine.

“‘Born in the USA’ was a big hit right then. One night I was able to sneak Bruce out of the house. It was me, him, his bodyguard and two friends. We went to a place in Portland and played pool, and we played his music on the jukebox. Bruce had a baseball hat on, and no one recognized him.”

On the day, or rather, the night of the wedding, the wedding party managed to leave the Phillips’ house without alerting the media and drove to Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church a few blocks away. “The church was dark, and inside there was only candlelight,” Phillips said. “Everyone got in place, and then they flipped on the lights, and we had a midnight wedding.

“I helped Bruce a lot during that time. I got him a house on one of the Lake Oswego canals for a few days, and I took him to the airport. He invited me to join his European tour that summer, and I flew with the band and saw 18 outdoor shows in seven different countries.”

The Springsteen marriage lasted for four years before the couple went their separate ways, but Phillips will always have his memories of this period and the unique opportunity to see the life of a rock star from the inside.

For those who want to check out CI Bar & Grill, it is located at 18786 S.W. Boones Ferry Road in Tualatin; for more information, visit cibarandgrill.com or call 503-692-2765.

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