The landmark restaurant and lounge in downtown Molalla has been closed for more than a year

by: PIONEER FILE PHOTO - The White Horse had a reputation for good food, good drinks, live music and dancing before the landmark restaurant and lounge closed a little more than a year ago.If things fall into place for Matt Kieling of Canby, the doors to the White Horse restaurant and lounge that have been closed for a little more than a year may soon re-open.

Kieling is one of the principals that has applied with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for a liquor license at the landmark Molalla establishment on the corner of Molalla Avenue and Main Street at the heart of downtown, but there’s a catch.

A second, unidentified potential buyer currently has the inside track on breathing new life into the 49-year-old former honky-tonk.

Kieling said he spent significant time negotiating with the lender that owns the White Horse on a lease with an option to buy. However, the day before he planned to sign the agreement, a second buyer made a full offer on the property, reducing Kieling’s proposition to what amounts to a contingency plan.

The unidentified prospective buyer has a signed contract and is “in the process of doing their diligence,” a spokesperson with the lender said, adding that a final decision on that deal is expected within the next two weeks.

If the second buyer’s offer were to fall through, Kieling’s deal would gain traction.

“A full offer usually means that you’re going to do a bunch of inspections and then make a much lower offer,” said Kieling, who works at the Longbranch Tavern, which is on the other side of Molalla Avenue from the White Horse. “If that’s the case, the bank may not go for it.”

Kieling’s interest in the White Horse surfaced two weeks ago when a notice regarding an application for a liquor license with two names — Kieling and Sarah Quier — was posted on the front door of the bar.

“We had to keep our interests pending, because if the other buyer drops the ball, we didn’t want to waste a bunch of time getting back in the game,” Kieling said. “We’d have to go through the OLCC to do anything, anyway. Them and the city.

“If the other offer drops out, then the OLCC approval puts us closer to our goal. Otherwise we’d be pushed back too far. And the person that’s going to open The White Horse, they really kind of want to do it before the Fourth of July, you know?”

The building at 106 E. Main St., was home to three separate businesses in the 40s and 50s — a butcher shop, a small restaurant, and the OK Tavern. The OK Tavern became the White Horse in 1970 and soon expanded into a 5,250 square-foot establishment that had a reputation for good food, good drinks, and live music and dancing during Molalla’s heyday as a logging town.

In April 2013, the business closed and the property went into foreclosure. At about the same time, there was talk of a developer renovating the property into a plaza or mall, but those plans never materialized.

Currently, one Facebook page that mentions the White Horse includes this status: “May Be Permanently Closed.”

Tim Bilyeu, owner of Passadore’s Pizzeria on Main Street, said he’d like to see the White Horse rejoin the downtown business community.

“If they opened it with a little more class than it closed with, it would be fantastic for this town,” Bilyeu said. “We’ve got some good restaurants to give people a choice when they come into town. If we can give people choices to keep coming this direction, it does nothing but help everyone else.

“Hopefully someone is interested in going into the White Horse and doing what we did here -- cleaning it up and giving this town more than what some people say Molalla deserves.”

Certainly, the White Horse needs work done, but Kieling said the interior of the building is in better shape than some might suspect.

“It looks good,” Kieling said. “It’s just … it’s empty. It’s interesting. The White Horse has quite a history in town. People hate to see it go away. There’s potential for getting the Horse back, so … we will hope.”

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