Behind the 8-ball
City tries to deny Icehouse licenses for food and games
By Chris Busby
Having unsuccessfully attempted to yank the Icehouse Tavern’s liquor license, city officials are now trying to stop the West End neighborhood bar from serving food and having a pool table on the premises.
On Nov. 1, Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen denied the bar’s request to renew its food service license and its license to have “amusements” – in this case, a billiards table. Patrons have been allowed to play pool and eat there while the decision is being appealed, but Cohen set other limits on the establishment’s operations in the meantime. Those include stipulations that the tavern close at 10 p.m. every night and post an employee outside “at all times” the bar is open “to prevent more than four patrons from congregating outside The Ice House and to control their behavior.”
At a hearing held this morning before local attorney Stephen Bither, whom City Manager Joe Gray appointed to consider the Icehouse’s appeal of Cohen’s decision, Icehouse attorney David Turesky called the City Clerk’s denial of the licenses a “backdoor mechanism” to shut the bar down.
Turesky noted that the city has no evidence the tavern misused its food license by selling mislabeled food or maintaining an unhealthy kitchen, and neither has it any evidence the pool table is the source of problems. He suggested Cohen may have been “embarrassed” earlier this year when her office failed to notice that the state had already renewed The Icehouse’s liquor license before the city attempted to deny it.
City attorney Gary Wood, in defending Cohen’s decision, citied complaints from neighbors that Icehouse patrons allegedly disturb the peace and harass them outside the bar.
Testimony given, under oath, by neighbors during an Oct. 25 hearing before Cohen describes Icehouse patrons staggering, fighting, vomiting and urinating in the street outside the bar, often in plain view of the public park across the street. “The ‘F’ word was mentioned by more than one resident as being constantly used in loud tones that, on more than one occasion, were directed directly at the residents,” Cohen’s ruling reports.
Despite stepped-up enforcement and unusually high scrutiny, especially in the past few months, police have found no liquor violations on the premises this year. This appears to be the first time the city has denied a food or amusement license on grounds that food or games contribute to problems in a surrounding neighborhood.
The Icehouse lost its entertainment license in 2003 “because of excessive noise coming from inside the bar,” Cohen noted in her report. The bar’s request to have this license reinstated in order to host a handful of karaoke nights this holiday season was denied by the City Council last summer. The Council also dictated that the tavern cease using its patio for any purpose last summer, but testimony indicates smokers have been allowed to stand there since.
As The West End News reported earlier this month, The Icehouse is for sale for $875,000. Co-owner Jane Orne said this morning that the bar’s been on the market for the past year.
Orne noted that the neighborhood and the bar have changed since her husband, Bernie, took over the establishment, then called Popeye’s Icehouse, in the early 1990s. “I never dared to go to Popeye’s 15 years ago,” she said, but the bar has since cleaned up its act and spent thousands of dollars on video cameras and soundproofing to address the concerns of neighbors, police and city officials.
“We realize the neighborhood is changing,” Jane Orne said. “We don’t want to be pushed out. We want to work with the neighbors…. We do plan on getting out, but let us bow out gracefully,” she implored Bither.
In her Nov. 1 decision allowing the bar to offer food and billiards pending appeal, Cohen noted that co-owner Jeffrey Orne has said the bar’s value would decrease if it’s closed prior to its sale.
Bither said he will rule on the bar’s appeal by noon this Friday.