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Grey's Anatomy: What Ever Happened to Joe the Bartender?

TV Guide investigates Grey's Anatomy's Gunther.

Liz Raftery

Grey's Anatomyhas certainly seen its share of characters come and go over the years, but no one's departure has been as abrupt and as unexplained as that of Joe the bartender (Steven Bailey).

Remember Joe? The owner of Emerald City, later renamed "Joe's Bar"? The one who poured so many drinks witnessed so many breakups and hookups firsthand, and listened to so, so many stories of professional and personal woe from the Grey Sloan Memorial/Seattle Grace doctors and interns over the years?

Joe was enough a part of the Grey's family to be included in the famous Season 3 "boys' trip" episode, when the guys -- including Joe and his partner, Walter! -- all go on a camping trip. He and Walter were once invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at Meredith's (Ellen Pompeo) house. He was even interviewed by a film crew for a documentary on Seattle Grace!

He's basically Grey's version of Gunther from Central Perk and yet, he hasn't been seen since Season 7. SEASON 7!

Grey's Anatomy: All the Characters Who Have Left

So what in the world happened to Joe?

"I know everyone had hoped Joe would be an easter egg but... Joe has moved on, the character and the actor," Grey's showrunner Krista Vernoff tells TV Guide. "We keep him alive through his namesake bar."

TV Guide caught up with Bailey, who told us that in reality, it was that old Hollywood roadblock -- contract negotiations -- that sealed the character's fate.

"They didn't find enough value in my character to continue," Bailey said. "It was amicable. It was just one of those things that, after I did that many episodes, I kind of hoped for a little bit more, and they didn't want to do that, and there you go. That's Hollywood."

Vernoff, who was promoted to showrunner and head writer earlier this year ahead of Season 14, says she imagines Joe "has a busy life as an entrepreneur or something." Bailey, who says he still gets stopped on the street by fans who recognize him from Grey's, speculates that Joe and Walter may have relocated with their twin boys.

"Maybe they moved to Montana or something," he muses. "They've got a whole bed and breakfast thing going now. Who knows? But I like to think he's still out there somewhere."

In terms of the narrative, it makes sense that the doctors, who are now older and wiser (well, older at least) and have things like spouses and children to attend to, no longer make it a habit to hit up the bar every night after their shift. But it seems odd that they would permanently abandon the place where they spent so many nights.

Bailey says he'd be happy to return as Joe, perhaps in a cameo for the show's series finale, whenever that happens. Until then, he's continuing to work as an actor, finding steady work with small TV and film roles. He recently appeared on I'm Dying Up Here and will also be seen on an upcoming episode of Shameless.

"Someday I'll be the star of my own show," Bailey quips. "Joe's Bar. It'll explain all this back story of where I went."

Grey's Anatomy returns with new episodes in 2018.

Additional reporting by Keisha Hatchett