Oh, Portland, where one vegan strip club isn't enough. Northwest Portland's Casa Diablo (which serves all vegan food and dancers have to eat vegan on the premises) will within a few months be opening up a new branch right next to the steakhouse strip club Acropolis on SE McLoughlin.
Neighborhood residents are planning a planning a protest of the new Casa Diablo, Acropolis, and the other strip club in the area, Blush, at 6PM tonight. According to a letter the neighborhood association signed on to, nearby residents have experienced "harassing behavior" from Acropolis and Blush and are worried about Casa Diablo setting up shop.
The letter from neighbors complains that "while you may consider Acropolis a Portland icon," customers have been urinating in public, stealing things, salaciously propositioning women, and having sex on neighboring private property. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission's (OLCC) official record on Acropolis doesn't really bear out those complaints—the club has had only six potential liquor law violations in two years and most of those are drunk driving.
"We always work with the neighbors, we have security here," says Demetrios Polizos, who's run Acropolis for 35 years. "You have some people who have nothing to do but complain."
But Oregon Liquor Control Commission Director Steve Pharo went so far as to meet with neighbors to flesh out their concerns about the strip clubs. The conclusion he came to is that most of their problems were potential city code violations, not liquor law violations.
And here's the crux of the complicated process of dealing with neighborhood concerns about bad bar behavior: There's two different tracks for cracking down on bars.
WARNING! The rest of this post is a lengthy discussion of city and OLCC policies for problem bars. It has nothing to do with strippers. If you want more about strippers, try Googling. /end warning
If the bar is potentially violating liquor law—like contributing to public intoxication and DUIs—the OLCC will investigate. If the bar is running into trouble with city code—like parking issues, noise complaints, littering—the city investigates. While citizens may think that repeated DUIs and assaults should impact a bar's operation under city law, it doesn't. That's OLCC turf. And though the agencies work together, they really only compare notes on specific bars once a year, when their liquor license comes up for renewal. (If you're interested in juicy police reports, I documented some of the more epically problematic Portland bars last winter.)
As OLCC Director of Licensing Farshad Allahdadi puts it: "There's two different tracks and they're not parallel and there's usually no overlap."
That's a big issue in the case of Casa Diablo, those luscious Northwest vegans. The Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League is hoping the OLCC will think twice about issuing the new Casa Diablo a liquor license based on problems at its current site. But in the OLCC's eyes, Casa Diablo is fine. There have only been four liquor law violation complaints against the site in two years, and one was unsubstantiated. From a city perspective, it's a different matter. Because of persistent noise and litter problems at the old Diablo, the strip club became one of only four bars whose operations the city intervened with in 2009. Since then, the restrictions have disappeared because the bar changed ownership.
While those behaviors will likely be discussed when the OLCC considers granting the new Diablo license in October, they're not under the OLCC's purview, really.
"If there's an issue with city code—noise, littering, parking—those are not regulatory concerns of the agency," saus Allahadi. "A lot of times interacting with a concerned public, there's a feeling that the OLCC should react more strongly to violations of city ordinances. I know that's a very big frustration for the public."
Coincidentally, this week Portland city council is considering changes to the city's time, place, and manner ordinance, the unique local law that allows the city to step in and change a bar's hours and type of operation if it repeatedly violates city code.
When "time, place, and manner" was passed back in 2004, many worried that it would be used selectively against bars with which the city had a personal beef or applied with such broad strokes that NIMBY neighbors could shut down any bar with a couple phone calls.
But in reality, stats on the city's enforcement of "time, place, and manner" has been relatively restrained. Here's how it works: If the bar has three documented nuisance activities in 30 days, the city could find the bar in violation and often asks the bar owners to voluntarily work with the city to fix the problems. If the problems persist, the city takes the bar to a code hearing, where the bar can be forced to do things like close at a certain hour, hire more security, or not host events.
Getting to the point where the city actually cracks down on bar's hours or activities is rare, it turns out.
In 2009-2010, the city evaluated 65 bars for violations, but only wound up taking four to code hearings (including Casa Diablo). Of those four, two closed or changed ownership.
In 2010-2011, the city evaluated 60 bars, took four to code hearings, and two closed.
The new "time, place, and manner" rules make it easier for the city to crack down on bars. They make it so a bar will be in violation if three nuisance activities occur in 60 days, not just 30, and adds a list of activities that will trigger an immediate violation (they're serious stuff like prostitution, homicide, sexual abuse).
Commissioner Randy Leonard, who spearheaded the time, place and manner ordinance back in 2004, says the city should take a more active role in using it to limit the operation of bars neighbors complain about.
"It has never has felt to me like it's been used to its logical limit," says Leonard, agreeing that the Office of Neighborhood involvement could use the time, place, and manner ordinance to target much the way Leonard crack down on bars the way his HIT squad comes down on fire code violations. That's despite the heat the HIT squad earned Leonard.
"The flack that I get is what you get when you enforce the code against people who operate places with reckless abandon," he says.