[UPDATE: At its Nov. 17 meeting, the City Council postponed action on Slainte’s liquor license renewal to its Dec. 15 meeting to give owner Ian Farnsworth more time to respond to the police report.]
Cops urge Council to shutter Slainte
The Portland Police Department is urging the City Council not to renew the liquor license for Slainte, the small bar, restaurant and entertainment venue on Preble Street. In a report to councilors, who are scheduled to consider the matter this evening, Lt. Michael Sauschuck wrote that the department’s ongoing undercover sting operation managed to fool Slainte’s staff into serving an underage “decoy” three times over the past year. The department apparently made seven attempts to sting the business over that period.
Sauschuck acknowledged that owner Ian Farnsworth has made efforts to give his staff further training and recently added a doorman on busy nights to check IDs, but noted that Farnsworth has not fired the bartender duped by the decoy and has been resistant to paying a doorman on less busy nights. The establishment is open seven nights a week.
Farnsworth said he can’t afford to pay an additional staff member to work the door on slow nights, and has since had his bartender take an alcohol- and food-safety training course, which he has also taken himself since the busts. Asked why he didn’t fire the employee, as the cops apparently expected him to do, Farnsworth said, “I wouldn’t put the blame on her. It’s not her fault if I didn’t properly train her, it’s my fault. I take full responsibility that I didn’t give her all the tools to succeed.”
Sauschuck wrote that the fact the “offending bartender” is still on staff and a doorman will only be employed on busy nights “shows a lack of commitment to the safety of the City’s population of minors and the enforcement of State liquor laws…. [W]e cannot in good conscience recommend renewal of this liquor license.”
Slainte seems an odd target for underage drinking stings, as it does not cater to a particularly young crowd. The establishment hosts mostly acoustic music and jazz, with the occasional rock show, as well as a weekly open-mic comedy night. It does not promote low-price beer specials (most drafts are $4 or more), test tube or Jello shots, and does not allow dancing on the premises (its entertainment license is not the type that permits dancing).
Farnsworth, 38, is the son of former Democratic state Rep. Dick Farnsworth, and is active in city politics. He recently took the post of secretary of the Portland Democratic City Committee, and has hosted several events for political candidates of the Democratic persuasion, including one earlier this year for City Councilor-elect Dory Waxman, who will not join the Council until next month.
Farnsworth said he has personally contacted each councilor to make his case and is optimistic they will not deny his license request, a move that would surely kill his business. He added that given the seven liquor inspections his establishment was subjected to this year, he feels he “might be slightly targeted” by the PPD, for reasons unknown to him. “For some reason, they’re coming after me, trying to make an example out of me,” he said.
Were Slainte to close, Preble Street would certainly be less safe. The darkened Portland Public Market is across the street, and a number of social service agencies and shelters are located in the immediate vicinity. At night, Slainte is the only business open on the block. “I’ve got a light on,” Farnsworth said. “There are always people around to deter any crime on the street. With nothing being open, there are a lot of nooks and crannies, a lot of places where people can cause trouble.”
— Chris Busby
[Editor’s note: This report was corrected on Dec. 15 to indicate that three, not four, of the liquor violations were the result of the PPD’s sting operation.]