Majority of councilors vote ‘neutral’ on bar

Sean C. Morgan

Despite advice from the police chief to recommend to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the denial of a liquor license for The Last Round, the City Council chose a “neutral” recommendation.

Josh Victor, who would own the new bar that would replace The Last Frontier, said changes are already in place to prevent some of the problems that have occurred at The Last Frontier, many of which, he said, have been outside the bar’s control.

The council regularly makes recommendations to the OLCC on liquor license applications, based on the police chief’s report of findings from a departmental investigation. Typically, the chief reports no reason to deny a recommendation to approve a license.

After eight alleged violations and a finding of a history of serious and persistent problems at the bar, The Last Frontier’s liquor license cancellation is pending with the OLCC, said Police Chief Bob Burford. The bar is owned by Jennifer Victor.

Jennifer and Josh Victor, who were considering a name change anyway, plan to close The Last Frontier.

Based on advice from their attorney, changing the name will make the violations moot, Josh Victor said. He hopes to reopen the bar as The Last Round, and he will own the new bar.

Jennifer Victor said she is no longer going to be involved with the business.

The OLCC denied a temporary permit to Josh Victor, citing his management of the bar during the time period that serious and persistent problems were occurring at The Last Frontier, Burford said.

“Based on the OLCC’s own findings of a history of serious and consistent problems associated with this business while under Josh’s management and the pending revocation process, I recommend that the city recommend denial to the OLCC,” Burford said. “Such a recommendation will not automatically prevent Mr. Victor from obtaining an OLCC license but will require (that) the OLCC conduct their own investigation to determine his suitability.

“There’s a lot more fights in that bar than there is any place else. My recommendation just really comes down to, we’ve had problems. OLCC has made a finding that it’s got a history of problems under Josh’s management. I’m not sure, with a straight face, I can recommend he become the new licensee based on that set of facts.”

In its notice of proposed cancellation of the liquor license for The Last Frontier, the OLCC has learned of 127 incidents at The Last Frontier.

Most incidents involve intoxicated patrons, according to the notice of proposed cancellation. “Fights fueled by intoxicated patrons are very common at The Last Frontier. Injuries have included stab wounds, bumps, bruises, pain, scrapes and bloody (possibly broken) noses. Patrons who cause proble ms are frequently allowed to stay on the premises and cause further problems.”

The incidents identified by the OLCC range from verbal arguments between patrons, a pen thrown at a bartender, a drug pipe in the smoking area, a broken car window in the parking lot, several physical altercations and minors in the smoking area to threats to kick another patron’s car, assaults, disturbances, harassment and a forgery by the owner of the bar.

The OLCC issued a license on Jan. 4, 2008. OLCC staff issued a warning for serving a visibly intoxicated person on Jan. 13, 2008. In July 2009, the OLCC held an intervention meeting with the licensee to discuss the history of problems, resulting in the development of a voluntary control plan, but problems persisted, according to the OLCC.

Among the eight violations alleged by the OLCC is the persistent history of problems. The second violation regarded an ongoing lack of certification for security personnel. Five other violations, including serving minors, making false representations and a forgery, allegedly occurred in conjunction with incidents during a fund-raising effort for cancer research.

Jennifer Victor was convicted in Linn County Circuit Court on June 7 for second-degree forgery, a misdemeanor.

The eighth alleged violation was against Josh Victor, the licensee’s employee, for permitting multiple persons to drink alcohol in the parking lot. The last violation occurred during the Oregon Jamboree.

Many of the ongoing incidents are minor, the Victors said.

“People at the grocery store talk politics and argue,” said Jennifer Victor. Ten to 12 of the incidents are probably worth mentioning, and probably 100 of them are ridiculous.

The night most of the eight violations occurred, she said, a team working to earn money to compete in the Hood-to-Coast Relay offered its labor to help in the bar to raise more money.

One team member worked for the bar for a night previously to get an idea what to expect, Jennifer Victor said. The volunteer’s 45-day temporary permit to serve alcohol had expired in the meantime. Victor admitted to filling out the form, the basis for the forgery charge. She said the volunteer had asked her to go ahead and just fill it out prior to police arriving at the bar.

The volunteer told police that she did not give permission to fill out the form, according to the Sweet Home Police Department report on the incident. Police also located a minor without identification who was drinking at the bar. He was cited for minor in possession.

Victor said the situation was not like she was signing a check over to herself.

“I told the police that night I filled it out. I felt I didn’t do anything wrong.”

But it resulted in several of the violations, she said.

Victor said any incident, even the most minor, that’s reported to the police ends up on the list. In a stabbing incident, a woman met her victims outside the bar and was not actually a patron. Other times, there are restraining order violations and warrants.

The minor in question has a fake ID, Josh Victor told the council.

He said he had seen the minor in other bars for months as well.

The person drinking in the parking lot did not get the alcohol from the Frontier, Josh Victor said, and it was a problem throughout town during the Jamboree.

Josh Victor told the council and The New Era that the Frontier has had a reputation for being a troubled bar, and they wanted to change the name to change that reputation and the bar itself, to reduce the problems there.

“I plan on being there pretty much every weekend,” said Josh Victor. “Obviously, we’ve got to have more of our employees DPSST (Department of Public Safety Standards and Training) certified.”

The Last Round, if approved by the OLCC, will have more trained people at the doors, he said. The bar already is stricter about cutting people off when they appear intoxicated or come in while intoxicated.

With the economy where it is, more people seem to be staying home and drinking then going to the bars to hang out, he said.

“I think we’re the busiest bar in town,” he said. “Being so, you just really kind of got to watch out more.”

The Victors said they have tried to meet with police to talk about what’s going on in the bar and what they can do about it, but the police haven’t talked with them.

The police don’t want to micromanage the bar, said Josh Victor.

The OLCC doesn’t want bars to have any incidents, but it insists that bars call the police, Jennifer Victor said.

Finding that balance and calling the police has been difficult.

“We haven’t,” Josh Victor said. “That’s why we’re where we’re at.”

Now, the bar will have less tolerance toward stupidity, Victor said, and changing the name along with operating procedures will help and get rid of the Frontier’s long-running stigma.

It’s not the Frontier any more, he said. “People expect it’s just a rough and rowdy place. I don’t want people to remember this or that. You haven’t been coming here for years and years. You’ve been coming to the Frontier for years.”

With the name change comes stricter policies, he said.

He is looking for a different clientele and implementing features to keep customers active with entertainment options, with contests, games, comedy shows, televised sports and more in a “great” atmosphere, Victor said.

“It’s a different place than it has been,” he said. “People should come check it out. It’s got lots to do.”

“Tell me what it is you want us to do, and I’d be more than willing to accommodate it,” he told the council Tuesday. “Give us a kind of a chance. Me and my staff are willing to do what it takes to keep everyone happy.”

Councilor Ron Rodgers gave Josh Victor credit for talking directly to the council.

Rodgers hadn’t been in the bar for years, he said, “It’s definitely a lot nicer place than it has been in the past.”

Councilor Scott McKee Jr. said he visits the Frontier once a year, during the Jamboree.

It’s always well-run, he said. He constantly hears employees asking patrons if they can see their ID.

It is the biggest bar business, and things will happen, McKee said. Anything can happen, behind the old White’s building for example, and it reflects on the Frontier.

Mayor Craig Fentiman said the council needed to focus on the facts.

“My thought is we make recommendations for approval all the time,” he said. “If we make recommendations to approve (based on the police chief’s recommendation), we need to make recommendations to deny.”

The council voted 4-1 to remain neutral on the liquor license application. Fentiman voted no on the motion. Greg Mahler, Eric Markell, McKee and Rodgers voted to remain neutral. Jim Gourley abstained.

The next step is for the OLCC to investigate and decide whether to grant a license.