photo by Scott Toefer

The fiery emails started as soon as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) sent out its bland annual email reminding neighbors that the liquor license for Safari Showclub was up for renewal.

"There are frequently people coming out of the place drunk and high. I for one would like to see it go," one neighbor wrote to the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood email list. "Before saying 'okay' to the license, think if the Safari Club helps our community or hurts it," wrote another.

The Safari has long been an icon on the stretch of SE Powell near Cleveland High School—a street that is dotted with strip clubs—but in recent years, its relationship with neighbors has gotten rough. During the summer, loudspeakers on the patio let neighbors three blocks away know exactly which dancer was up next.

Pat Herrington, who bought a house close to Safari because it was a rare affordable property in Portland, complains about customers driving erratically near the club. "[Customers] come racing out over the curb, right past my house, yelling obscenities," she told the Mercury. And in the last two years, 13 drunken drivers in Portland have said they had their last drink at the Safari according to OLCC records.

Neighbors living near clubs and bars that serve alcohol often prize their ability to leverage good behavior from rowdy establishments by complaining to the OLCC during the annual license renewal process. But right now the OLCC is considering changing its rules, allowing businesses to renew their license every two years instead of annually.

The change will cut paperwork and costs for well-behaved bars, but neighbors fear it could whittle down their power.

"We want neighborhoods and the city to be involved year-round, we don't want them to wait until renewal time to let us know there are problems," explains OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott.

The Safari is a key example of how clubs might clean up their act without threats from the OLCC. The previous owners, Stars Cabaret, sold the place to new owners who moved in last Sunday, November 9. Paul Le, the new manager, started his career 15 years ago as a doorman at the Safari. He says he is committed to improving the Safari's image.

"I'm coming in here trying to clean up all the mess left by the Stars people," says Le. The Safari's mess isn't just its crummy relations with neighbors—Le had to deep clean the carpets.

"I'm very open to working with neighbors," Le adds. Le suggested putting up a fence on the edge of the club property to shut down the wild drivers.

Herrington was relieved to hear the new manager's tentative plan for a fence. "That would eliminate a lot of the problems," says Herrington.

The heated email discussion between neighbors eventually cooled off, too. Rather than pushing to shut the Safari down, the final email exchanges between Creston-Kenilworth residents discussed taking a "neighborly approach" to the club.

"They have a right to have a business and there are other ways we can address issues when they come up," wrote one neighbor.