After hosting a series of epic till-4AM parties, the food carts at 12th and Hawthorne have gotten in some hot water with neighbors and the city noise enforcement officers. The scene at the carts on the corner of Hawthorne has heated up during the last year, with the arrival of vegan poutine slinging Potato Champion last spring and the recent opening of Twittering pie cart Whiffies.
But the food is just part of the draw. "The party atmosphere of this place is really what people love," says Whiffies-owner Gregg Abbott. After several complaints from neighbors and visits from the police and noise control officers, Whiffies and the other carts have ditched their usual habit of playing amplified music at the corner as customers pile in late at night.
This past Halloween and New Years, the carts threw raucous parties that lasted till 4AM but didn't go through the trouble to get a noise permit (technically called a "variance.") Potato Champion owner Mike McKinnon decided to make things clean and legal for a May 1st show with DJs and three bands at the carts but, says noise control officer Paul van Orden, the party went on way longer than scheduled.
Two neighbors turned up at the carts, complained and then called the cops. "Extremely loud music. Group did not adhere to conditions of variance. Did not reduce noise upon request. Did not respond to police officers as per variance," reads the official complaint. Abott and McKinnon say that's bunk — they say they walked out into Ladd's Addition during the middle of the party and couldn't hear the music over the sound of a passing bus. According to police records, the corner had three noise complaints from neighbors in April and May of this year — last year during the same time there were none.
Either way, now the carts' landlord and police are pushing owners to stick within the law — that means no music louder than 55 decibels at the property line after 10PM. Fifty five decibels is slightly quieter than conversation between two people.
"We've been pushed pretty hard by the police bureau to recognize this as a problem area," says van Orden. "They weren't self-policing themselves." He says his office is definitely not going to issue variances for music past ten for a while.
"It's not a very logical thing for us to keep issuing permits. It's costing the taxpayers money to keep babysitting these events," says van Orden.
Whiffies owner Abbott says the carts are trying to be good neighbors, but that some noise late at night is essential to keeping the corner exciting. "We’re totally willing to be reasonable about 'Let’s not a lot of noise late at night or on weeknights' but this place has really become a really cool place for people from all Portland’s communities to come and hang out. You see people really coming through and hanging out from eight until two in the morning."
The quiet policy will certainly be tested to its limits this weekend as Whiffies and Potato Champion have promised free food to naked bikers on the World Naked Bike Ride this Saturday. Potato champ is kicking in 50 small fries and Whiffies will has 50 vegan fruit pies on hand for anyone who shows up after midnight, naked, with their bike. Hoot! Holler!