Nauti Mermaid co-owner gives insight to bar’s downfall

It’s been months since the Kitsap Public Health District closed shop on the Nauti Mermaid, a once-popular restaurant and bar in downtown Port Orchard, for failing to have a “Valid Food Service Establishment Permit.”

Now the future of the eatery is in limbo after co-owner John Cann revealed numerous events leading up to its long-term closure.

Cann has been with the Nauti Mermaid from the start, being the second employee hired by original owner Tammy Jo Goodwin. When it opened in the summer of 2017, he quickly grew into the role of bartender, recalling how much he loved the intense energy the job required. “It’s just complete chaos,” he said. “Everything’s on fire all the time, and that’s when I get calm and thrive.”

The first year was not without its challenges, including a number of negative reviews brought on by legal feuds even before opening their doors. However, Cann met his soon-to-be business partner Howard Cartwright. Cann said he and a new DJ, “Steve the Bull,” contributed to a new wave of customers coming to the bar. “They came in with a following, and they really turned that place up to keep it alive.”

Cann said he and Cartwright took to each other like brothers and were often mistaken as such. That bond would be put to the test after Goodwin decided to sell the bar. Cann and Cartwright bought the bar Oct. 2, 2019.

Over the next few months, the bar thrived. Cann said it was pretty close to perfection.

“Honest to God, hands down, when we got along, Howard and I were the best team in the county for bartending,” he said. “It got to the point I could hold a glass out ‘cause he was hearing the orders, and he would just reach over, pour the beer, and we both knew when to stop, not missing a drop.”

Everything came to a halt when COVID shut down all restaurants and bars, causing Nauti Mermaid to lose its food inventory and months of income.

The pandemic also signaled the start of troubles between the two owners. “We began to disagree and separate in terms of how the place was to progress,” he said.

The target clientele also was confusing to the public. The Nauti Mermaid, though thought to have always been a gay bar, was opened as an “anything goes” bar, meaning all are welcome.

“We weren’t trying to be a gay bar. We weren’t trying to be a straight bar,” Cann said. “Everybody who wants to have a …… drink can come in here.”

Cann said people loved that, but it changed after Cartwright declared the Nauti Mermaid to be a gay bar “on a whim” one night. Cann criticized the move, saying it would have been fine had it been previously discussed but would now limit their numbers and damage their reputation as a bar for all.

“You can’t do that on a whim because now, you’ve just lost half of your customer base,” he said. “You even have gay people that won’t come here now because they don’t want to be associated with a gay bar.”

All of it came to a head last spring when Cann decided to step back and become a “silent partner,” telling Cartwright if he thought he could run the business himself, he could. Business was on and off for the next few months before the KPHD closed the bar Oct. 19, 2022.

Cann said it’s not likely the bar will reopen or that he and Cartwright will be business partners again.

Cartwright did not respond for comment.