After a year-long investigation, the state is proposing canceling the liquor license for the Vault Bistro and Lounge, alleging “a history of serious and persistent problems;” the Vault’s owner denies the allegation and will appeal the proposal.
The June 26 notice, from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, proposes to cancel the Vault’s license and remove the licensee from the responsible vendor program.
Licensee Michael Leash, president-director-stockholder of Park Avenue Jones, Inc., doing business as The Vault, said Monday the Vault would stay open for business during the appeal process.
“Obviously, it’s business as usual,” he said. The Vault has 20 employees.
He said in an email to the Chronicle Monday, “We contest all of the charges; will be requesting a hearing and look forward to our day in front of an Administrative Law Judge.”
He has until July 16 to request a hearing.
The entire process before a final decision is made could take perhaps six months, said Christie Scott, a public affairs specialist with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
The investigation began in June 2012, following a large fight outside the Vault that resulted in charges of rioting against six patrons. The Dalles Police Chief Jay Waterbury requested the investigation by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
The Vault has been on a provisional license since last fall, and Waterbury just recently recommended The Vault be approved for a liquor license.
“I personally have not seen anything going on that I think justified denial,” Waterbury said Monday.
The notice of proposed license cancellation said, “There is a history of serious and persistent problems involving disturbances, unlawful activities or noise either in the premises or involving patrons of the establishment in the immediate vicinity of the premises, including but not limited to fights, altercations, harassment and trespass.”
The notice goes on to list 59 “serious” incidents in the 17-month period between October 2011 and March 2013, and stated, “The ongoing serious problems indicate that licensee has neither the willingness nor the ability to adequately control the license premises and patrons’ behavior in the immediate vicinity of the premises.”
Leash said in his email, “About 12 months ago, we developed a control plan with the OLCC and The Dalles City Police; from that, we put in place policies and procedures for the Lounge. During our meeting with the City Police and the OLCC, we discussed the possibility of an increase in calls to the police, as the long-term goal would be to minimize the number of incidents. We keep a comprehensive log of what happens in the lounge and how we manage patrons that behave in a way that is not becoming to being in a public place or business.
“In an effort to minimize incidents at the Lounge, we have made it standard procedure to remove those that are behaving in a manner not conducive to creating and maintaining a fun and enjoyable environment for all of our customers. Those that cannot follow our house rules are asked to leave, and will not be allowed re-entry to the premises.”
The state notice said, “of the serious incidents, 50 were fights or the threat of violence, including one where licensee’s security employee kicked a patron in the groin and threw ice at a co-worker. At least 25 of the incidents involved patrons who became very intoxicated at the premises. It should be noted that many of the patrons involved in the incidents were known by their names to employees of the premises and licensee; this indicates that they were regular patrons, that licensee is familiar with their behavior and that licensee has been unable or unwilling to exclude these individuals from the premises.”
The notice from the state also notes that in November 2012, the commission charged the licensee with permitting unlawful activity because he permitted three people to provide private security as professionals when they were not certified to do so. Leash accepted responsibility for the violation and paid a reduced penalty.
The 59 incidents described are based not only on calls for police, but also on entries from internal log books that the licensee is required to maintain.
Examples of entries include patrons throwing up on the bar, kicking stools out from under other patrons, throwing bottles outside at passing cars, openly smoking marijuana on the back deck, urinating beneath it, breaking bottles on each other’s heads in the back parking lot, throwing drinks, and people being found injured and unconscious outside after being ejected.
Others note police officers responding and noting patrons are visibly drunk, or have an “overwhelming odor” of alcohol, or arresting drunk drivers who had come from at the Vault.
The charge of “history of serious and persistent problems” is a Category 1 violation, which is the most serious of five categories of violation, said Scott, the public affairs specialist with the Liquor Control Commission.
“It can take longer to schedule this hearing because they like to have several consecutive days blocked for the hearing for History of Serious and Persistent Problems since there are so many factors to consider,” Scott said.
“The office of administrative hearings typically books about three months out, but again, looking for several consecutive days may push it out further. Once the hearing is over, the Administrative Law Judge issues a proposed order and there is a comment period for both sides. The proposed order then goes before our board of Commissioners for them to issue a Final Order.”
The liquor control commission has issued 10 tickets for “history of serious and persistent problems” so far in 2013, and issued 15 in 2012, she said.
She said only twice since 2008 has the commission overturned a decision in favor of the licensee.
She said, “It is also possible for a business to settle to a lesser charge. However, we do not do that very often for History of Serious and Persistent Problems cases.”