the future of Tess’ Lark Tavern remains unclear, one thing
It might seem strange that a bar fire would inspire laughter,
music, art and altruism across an entire city. Yet that is
exactly what has happened in the wake of the smoke and flames
that consumed one of Albany’s most popular venues early last
month. The outpouring of support for its owner, Tess Collins,
seems to be a genuine expression of appreciation and affection.
Erica Rangel was a regular at Tess’ Lark Tavern for years.
She attended numerous benefits as a patron and, when she became
president of Amnesty International at Albany Law School, she
began throwing her own fund-raisers there. “Several years
ago, my best friend Jackie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Tess helped her throw a fund-raiser to benefit disease research.
It was an all-day event. Tess provided drink specials and
helped to make it a real success. So naturally she was the
first person I went to.”
According to Rangel, Collins never hesitates to volunteer
her time and space.
Fund-raisers at the Lark Tavern have raised money for local
artists, international refugees, wells in Afghanistan and
(ironically) an art gallery that caught fire last year.
of that fund-raiser, we were able to have the gallery that
we have today,” said Samson Contompasis, adding that the money
Collins raised paid for the walls of the restored gallery,
which is also his home.
So, when a fire broke out at the Lark Tavern early last month,
effectively gutting the historic building and destroying a
stage where many local performers have stood, it was no surprise
that Contompasis and many others leapt at the opportunity
to return the favor.
Although it is unclear whether Collins and her tavern ever
will reoccupy the now-gutted buliding, a flurry of fund-raising
events already has raised tens of thousands of dollars for
her and her displaced employees—and more are scheduled for
this month. Longtime friend Matt Baumgartner, who owns Bombers
Burrito Bar and Wolff’s Biergarten, was the first to respond.
After receiving a phone call from Collins the morning after
the fire, Baumgartner immediately put up a Web site inviting
people to donate money to the bar and its owner. The Web site
raised close to $5,000 in the first few hours.
So far, between all of the fund-raisers, her supporters have
donated roughly $60,000.
our way of giving back a little of the love that Tess has
given us,” said Mike Eck. “Tess has been really unique in
trying to foster the arts and cultural scene in Albany. This
money is for her, for all that she has done for us.”
In conjunction with other tavern resident musicians, many
who got their start on Collins’ stage, Eck and his band, Ramblin
Jug Stompers, will hold a fund-raiser at the Linda this month.
“The money that we raise is going directly into Tess’ hands,
to do with as she sees fit,” said Eck.
Collins has already paid rent this month for her full-time
employees and says that her part-time workers will be getting
bonuses. And while she is still paying bills on the burnt-out
establishment, she states that she has yet to touch the money
that has been raised on her behalf. “I don’t like the attention,”
she said. “It’s hard for me. People are trying to hand me
checks and I don’t want to take them. Legally, I’m being careful.”
didn’t ask for this,” stressed Baumgartner, pointing out that
the Web site specifically states that all the money raised
would go directly to Collins, not the restoration of the building.
“We raised all this money without asking Tess and we’re not
going to ask her how she’s spending it.” To date, the site
has raised more than $22,000.
The future of the building, owned by local optician Mike DiNapoli,
remains uncertain. “I told Tess that it was my intention to
bring the building back to its original condition,” he said.
“A lot of goods still have to come out before we can assess
the full extent of the damage and, obviously, a new lease
would require new terms. No commitments have been made on
DiNapoli said he does not expect any of the fund-raising money
to be offered for restoration work on the building, and that
he would not want it anyway.
Although nothing has been decided concerning the building,
Collins has stated that she intends to open back up as the
Lark Tavern, “wherever that has to be.”
love that space,” she said. “I’m devastated not being there,
but I don’t know the amount of the damage, what is going to
happen or how long it will take. I miss my employees. I miss
loose ends this week-