2005-12-01 / News

Narragansett Cafe will get makeover after last week’s fire

By Donna K. Drago

Narragansett Cafe will get makeover after last week’s fire

Jamestown volunteers seach for the origin of last week’s fire at the Narragansett Cafe. Photo by Desdemona Burgin Jamestown volunteers seach for the origin of last week’s fire at the Narragansett Cafe. Photo by Desdemona Burgin Club owner Dan Alexander sat in the dark emptiness of the Narragansett Cafe Monday, surprisingly optimistic and grateful, despite the Nov. 23 fire that closed his popular watering hole and rock and roll venue.

He looked around at the drooping ceiling tiles and pink insulation hanging like giant tongues from above, the holes in the roof and in the wall between the bar and the kitchen. The smell of wood smoke obliterated the familiar barroom smells.

“Of all the possible scenarios, this was the best one,” he said of the situation that had the fire occur when just five people were in the building on a weekday afternoon.

Alexander said that he wasn’t in the Cafe, which he has owned since 1987, when he got the unfortunate call. “I was in a meeting with an auditor,” he noted.

“This could have happened on a Saturday night,” Alexander said. Just last weekend, the club was at its full capacity of 156 to see the final concert of rockabilly legend Jack Smith, and “they were lined up out the door,” he said.

When the fire began, a bartender, the cook and “three regulars,” were at the bar when they apparently heard a “popping sound,” followed by smoke coming from the ladies’ room, Alexander said.

One of the bar patrons, a tugboat operator, who Alexander said had some fire training, grabbed a fire extinguisher and attempted to get the blaze under control. But it was too much to handle, and the group soon evacuated the building, Alexander said. It was a real smoker,” he added.

The sound came, apparently, from an exhaust fan in the ladies’ room, which has not been changed since “before I got here,” Alexander said. Some renovations were made to the club about 1984-85 and the fan was probably installed at that time, he said.

As of the last time the club was inspected by the local fire marshal, he was in compliance with all necessary fire codes, including the new Class A fire alarm system, which he installed just last year, after Rhode Island’s fire codes became more strict in the aftermath of the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, Alexander said.

“It worked just as it was supposed to,” he said about the new alarm that automatically calls the fire department when the sensors detect smoke or heat.

Fire Chief Jim Bryer said that based on interviews with the people present at the bar at the start of the blaze, “We’re 99 percent sure” that the exhaust fan was the original source of the problem.

He said the fire was a tough one to put out because it was in the attic space above a dropped ceiling and firefighters had to go through the roof and remove parts of the ceiling to get to the fire.

“There’s a lot of charred rafters and joists up there,” Bryer said about the damage the fire caused.

Bryer said “we were very lucky” to have so many firefighters in town on a weekday who could respond to the blaze in short order.

About 30 firefighters in all, including several of the retired ones, participated in controlling the blaze, and while they called for mutual aid to standby, they were not called in to help, Bryer said.

Engine companies used hoses to keep the blaze from spreading east to the building that holds House of Pizza, Paws & Claws and offices, and to the private home just south of the Cafe.

There was no damage to either structure, Bryer noted.

In all, it took less than 45 minutes to get the blaze under control, according to the fire chief.

Bryer reiterated what Alexander had said, that the Narragansett Cafe was in full compliance with all current fire codes. He noted that bars of that size must have sprinkler systems in place by July 2006 to meet future codes.

Alexander said that an insurance adjuster was due to inspect the damages on Tuesday, but at the time of the interview, he did not have an idea of what it was going to cost to get the “Narry” up and running again.

He figured, at the least, he’d have to repair roof rafters and sheathing on the southeast corner of the building and then strip and reshingle the entire roof.

Going, too, are the cigarette yellowed dropped ceiling and possibly the floor and sub-flooring, which have been through decades of spilled beer and dancing feet.

The club has three fulltime bartenders who will be out of work while the club is closed. His cook, Alexander said, will act as project manager and help to get the club back open. The rest of his employees are part-timers who only work one night a week and have other jobs, Alexander said.

He said that he’s received countless calls and messages from people offering their support and help to get the Cafe up and running again. “Everybody wants to help. It’s overwhelming,” Alexander said.

He would like to reopen the club in time for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day —both big days for the club, but he can’t commit to a date at this point, he said.

“Obviously, we’ll open as soon as we can,” Alexander said.

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