For 20 years it was a hoppin' place; not a bad legacy

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Gary's Sports Bar owner Gary Hillsgrove during an interview in September. (Rochester Voice file photo)

When I think of all the good times I've had at Gary's Sports Lounge in the past 20 years one thing stands out.

The good-bye party for WCDQ, the legendary Mt. Rialto radio of Sanford, which made you feel more like you were listening to WBCN than some little station in southwest Maine.

WCDQ had such a cult following that the place was packed that night in I want to say 1999. They had all the DJ personalities there as well as some huge cutouts of same, which are probably in someone's man cave today.

Whenever you went to Gary's you pretty much felt like family, even if you didn't go in there that much.

Gary's has been the site of many fund-raisers over the years and featured iconic local bands like the Ron Jones band. (For the longest time his Mystery Girl was a staple on the Gary's jukebox.) Unfortunately the tavern was also the site of a tragic death when another beloved local musician, Jim Unfonak of Bang N Jane was killed in January 2016 by a single sucker punch from Eric Langlais of Barnstead, who is serving three and a half to seven years in state prison after being found guilty by a jury last November.

Just like people have good times and bad, it seems Gary's is just like most of us, flawed, imperfect, always trying to do better.

Gary Hillsgrove wasn't around when Unfonak was killed, but the impact on him was profound. He defended his bar staff and said they did all they could to prevent the tragedy, but told The Rochester Voice in September that the bar had suffered financially from the bad publicity surrounding Unfonak's death.

In hindsight, it's always easy to criticize; Hillsgrove doesn't' deserve it.

Gary's official good-bye party begins in about 15 minutes, at noon today. There will be a lot of people there to wish him well, not to mention 10 bands that will pay homage to his stewardship of the tavern the past 20 years.

The business will close its doors for good on Friday, in part due to Hillsgrove's health after suffering several strokes last year. Although he's recovering nicely and some would never realize he'd had health issues, I guess he just figured it was time to slow down a bit.

When WCDQ announced it was going off the air, they began playing nonstop music with no commercials for several weeks.

And then one day without warning the music just stopped.

In much the same way, this has been a similar long goodbye for Gary's, which first announced its intention to close several weeks ago.

For many, however, the real loss of Gary's won't be felt till football season. After all, there was no better place to watch a Pats game.

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