Loyal Legion, Kurt Huffman's new 99-tap beer bar in the former PPAA building, had an opening weekend most bars can only dream of.
There was a line down the block Friday night outside, even before it opened for business. Last night, once you got in, you couldn't even find a seat at the bar. But don't expect to go there tonight. Huffman's all-Oregon-beer bar has closed, effective immediately, because it doesn't yet have a liquor license.
"These are people that left full-time jobs and that took a risk with us with this whole $15 an hour model," Huffman told The Oregonian. "It's such a huge disappointment to have to do this. But we have to respect the letter of the law."
For the people who left their jobs to work at Loyal Legion, it's surely a "huge disappointment" at the minimum—even as Huffman says he can place them at other restaurants in his mini empire.
Who's to blame? Well, The Oregonian says the license was "delayed."
But the OLCC says Huffman didn't apply for a liquor license in time, and should have known this was coming.
OregonLive's Michael Russell, writes that Loyal Legion was forced to shutter "after learning their liquor license application had been delayed."
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission says that's not true.
"The Oregonian article is inaccurate," says Christie Scott of the OLCC. "There is no hold up on the liquor license."
After an application is submitted, it goes to the City of Portland where it takes 45 days for the City to send the OLCC their recommendation. Steve Brinkhoff, a veteran license investigator with the OLCC who is handling Huffman's application for Loyal Legion, says, "No matter who you are, the City of Portland takes 45 days."
Huffman is a veteran of the business, so this is somewhat surprising. He's the owner of ChefStable group which backs restaurants you've definitely heard of, like Ox, Lardo, Foster Burger and St. Jack.
Since Huffman only applied for his liquor license June 1 (44 days ago), Brinkhoff says, "We don't have a recommendation in our hands."
If the City gives a negative endorsement, the OLCC is required to proceed with an investigation. Even though the OLCC doesn't yet have a recommendation, they have a pretty good idea of what it's going to be. The rule is that if there are over 50 crimes within 500 feet of a business within the last 12 months, the city denies a liquor license and requires an investigation from the OLCC. The number within 500 feet of Loyal Legion in the last 12 months? 124.
When Brinkhoff received Huffman's application, he knew this was going to be a problem.
"Within a couple of days I called the applicant and told them this was the timeline," he says. "I looked at the police numbers and knew that the city was probably going to deny—they knew this going in."
If the city recommends denying the license, as it most certainly will, it will be up to Huffman to prove to the OLCC board of commissioners that there is good cause to overcome the denial. Because that board only meets once a month, the earliest he could argue his case in front of them is the end of August.
Huffman says that the real reason Loyal Legion isn't getting its liquor license tomorrow, 45 days after they applied for it, is an unexpected surge in reported crime in the neighborhood. After he applied for the license he was surprised to learn about the high crime rate within 500 ft of his new bar. "Something changed statistically in the neighborhood," says Huffman. About 14 months ago, he applied for and got a license for Coopers Hall, his other property in the neighborhood, with no problems. About 9 months ago, Ken Forkish of Trifecta applied for a license just down the street and there were zero issues. "We applied just like we always do," says Huffman. He says with the 20-plus liquor license he's been involved with and the 13 he's applied for himself, he's never had this problem. "I blew it," he says. "It was on me to go in to the police and see if there had been a sudden surge in crime before applying for a license."
And though he was notified once he applied that there might be a problem, he did not realize that he wouldn't be able to go before the commission until the end of August. There's a meeting in July, he says, but the City is "too busy" during that meeting to hear from him.
Ultimately, he says it's nobody's fault: "The OLCC actually has nothing to do with the situationâitâs an administrative rule that everyone has to deal with."
"Kurt Huffman is an experienced licensee," notes Brinkhoff. "Heâs got a pretty good compliance record; heâs currently licensed at 13 places. Iâve worked with him in the past."
In fact, Brinkhoff adds, "We are actively working with the applicant to develop the kind of plans that would prevent problems in the neighborhood."
The problem may be that Huffman thought he could string together temporary liquor licenses longer than he was able. "Theyâve been operating under temporary licenses. You reach a point where you canât get any more," says spokeswoman Scott.
Still, no one shut them down and according to the OLCC the process is running exactly how it's supposed to.
In fact, Brinkhoff has been working hard to get this license up and working as quickly as possible.
"The applicant and us have been working together. Thereâs no bad blood between us, at least I didnât think so," he says. "Technically, weâre ahead of schedule."