FOR A TOWN with 2,900 licensed liquor vendors, Portland keeps itself pretty calm, clean, and under control. Only a tiny fraction of those licensed boozeries—19, to be exact—have had the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) threaten to revoke their licenses in 2009 or 2010. So how does a bar get on the OLCC's hit list? Eleven of those businesses got in hot water for liquor law violations, like serving someone without checking ID or over-pouring—with one bar actually losing its license. The OLCC argues that the other eight have a "history of serious and persistent problems."
HOW TO SHUT DOWN A BAR
Actually revoking a bar's license takes a year or more. If a bar gets a lot of complaints from cops or neighbors, a city official sits down with the owner and works out a "compliance plan." If complaints continue, the city asks the OLCC not to renew the license. Then the city sits. And waits.
Unless the city demands an immediate suspension, the OLCC waits until the bar's license is up for renewal, sends a letter proposing cancellation, and then sets a hearing date for six to nine months later. If the bar hasn't made progress by the hearing, another two to three more months pass until the OLCC makes a final decision. After all that, the bar can still appeal and keep on serving while its case lingers for months or years.
If the bar changes ownership mid-process—as some do—the old owner is held liable for the complaints, so the bar continues essentially with a clean record.
"It is absolutely frustrating," says Theresa Marchetti, Portland's liquor licensing specialist. "We're dealing with problems at a much more local level, we're on the ground here. But the OLCC has a rather long and bureaucratic process. There's no real light on the horizon for it ever going faster than it is."
Even OLCC regulator Linda Ignowski says the process is too slow: "It is frustrating, but sometimes these bars get their act together and the problems stop." Almost always, unless they close shop, bar owners work out a plan with the OLCC involving fines, new rules, or temporary suspensions. Only three Portland liquor licenses have been canceled since 2009.
Portland legislators have taken up the issue in Salem, proposing the Public Safety and Liquor Control Act (HB 3295) that would allow police and city governments to immediately shut down bars for up to 72 hours if they're deemed a threat to public safety ["Drunk and Disorderly," News, Feb 24]. The state bar and restaurant lobby opposes the bill.
Below are some of the bars most indicative of this intensive process.
The 720 Room
(720 SE Hawthorne)
Owner: Michael Pifher
Number of Incidents: 90 serious incidents in 55 months
Type of Problems: Frequent fights, assaults, public intoxication arrests, and DUIs along with two incidents of shots fired at the club and one reported rape of an intoxicated minor in the club's bathroom in October 2009.
Outcome: When the OLCC moved to cancel its license in May 2010, the club closed.
Read the File: The 720 Room
(503 W Burnside)
Owner: David Kiraz (soon to be Kiraz's brother, Daniel)
Number of Incidents: 36 serious incidents in 26 months
Type of Problems: Crimes reported run the gamut, from several assaults to cocaine dealing and sex abuse. In eight incidents, the club's security guards caused injuries by punching, pushing, or pepper-spraying patrons.
Outcome: The city and OLCC have threatened to revoke their license in 2008 and cancelled it in 2009, but the strip club appealed the decision and remains open. Now owner David Kiraz's brother is planning on taking over, which means any rulings and/or fines won't stick with the club.
Read the File: Cabaret
(31 NW 1st)
Owner: David Elliott, Key Largo Associates, Inc.
Number of Incidents: 20 incidents in 13 months
Type of Problems: This dance club also hosted poetry nights, but things would often get a little wild at closing time. Multiple minor assaults occurred, along with two large crowd fights that police described as "riots."
Outcome: As the OLCC moved to revoke its license, the bar closed.
Read the File: Ohm
LV's Sports Bar Restaurant and Lounge
(3530 N Vancouver)
Owner: LaVon Van
Number of Incidents: 29 incidents in 20 months
Type of Problems: Police seemed to target the bar as a known place for drug deals; in the spring of 2008 they arrested people in the parking lot for possessing cocaine and crack. The club suffered from vandalism (an angry patron threw concrete through the window) and fights. In October 2008, a fight involving 75 people broke out and drew 20 police cars. Officers Tasered multiple patrons.
Outcome: The bar's license was not canceled and it seems to have calmed down recently. "I haven't heard anything, so that could be good news," says Marchetti.
Read the File: LV's Sports Bar
Gold Coin Garden Restaurant
(3016 SE 82nd)
Owner: Min Hong Chen, Gold Garden Restaurant, Inc.
Number of Incidents: 18 serious incidents in 14 months
Type of Problems: A bartender complained repeatedly of harassment by customers and there were many vicious assaults (including one involving a key to the face), several robberies, a prostitution bust, and two incidents in which cops bought meth and marijuana at the bar.
Outcome: A new owner took over the lounge in 2009 and seems to have cleaned it up. "It's much more of a restaurant and catering business now," says Marchetti.
Read the File: Gold Coin
Club 915(915 SW 2nd)
Owner: Frank Chin, Jin's International Entertainment, LLC
Number of Incidents: 19 serious incidents in 12 months
Type of Problems: A series of drunken fights and minor thefts at the club reached a fever pitch on New Year's Day 2011, when bouncer Ruben Mata was shot and killed. Six weeks earlier, a 22-year-old patron was kicked out and not allowed back in to collect his coat and backpack. He died of exposure that night in Waterfront Park.
Outcome: Six days after the shooting, the bar's license was suspended. Its case is pending.
Read the File: Club 915
(11525 SW Barnes)
Owner: Anthony Gianopoulos, Tzakis family
Number of Incidents: 23 serious incidents in 18 months
Type of Problems: Several assaults and fights, including a "big brawl" in November 2007, along with minor crimes like open containers and public urination. Also failed a health inspection.
Outcome: The restaurant closed in July 2010 before its license was canceled, but the Tzakis family has a new place, Antoni's in Beaverton.
Read the File: Santorini West
Exotica International Club
(240 NE Columbia)
Owner: Ghassan Samander, North House Enterprises, LLC
Number of Incidents: Four liquor law violations in July 2008
Type of Problems: This strip club on NE Columbia is an unusual case in which liquor law violations led all the way to a cancellation. On three nights in July 2008, inspectors saw that security wasn't wanding all customers, drink specials were promoted after midnight, a bartender was drunk, and another served two drinks to one person.
Outcome: License canceled in April 2010, but Exotica has appealed.
Read the File: Exotica
(1332 W Burnside)
Number of Incidents: 24 incidents in 28 months
Type of Problems: Compared to the other bars on the list, the Crystal is tame (as anyone who's ever been there for a Bright Eyes concert can attest). Police smelling marijuana, a fight that broke out when a DJ tossed his headphones into the crowd, numerous patrons needing to go to detox, and someone getting hit in the head with a basketball fill in around slightly more serious fights and assaults.
Outcome: In February 2010, the venue paid a fine and kept its license.
Read the File: Crystal Ballroom
OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott asked to clarify that the "compliance plan" worked out with bars is part of the OLCC process, not just a city endeavor. Also, the OLCC can enact an immediate suspension of a license on its own, not just at city request.