Oregon bar defies closure order on St. Patrick's Day
Everyone is Irish inside the Rainbow Cafe — especially on St. Patrick's Day.
On that day comes an explosion of Irish sentiment and celebration. The breakfast crowd drinks Irish coffee and the patrons only get rowdier as the day progresses. Irish whiskey flows like the River Shannon. Customers wear Kelly-green top hats and leprechaun beards and green shamrocks hang from the horns on the mounted buffalo head. There is nonstop blarney and roughly 20 straight hours of live music. The world's shortest parade proceeds slowly across Main Street from the other side of the street, the length of a crosswalk.
But not this year.
The party was quashed because of the governor's order to close all restaurants and bars in an effort to fight coronavirus. The Rainbow, however, opened as usual on Tuesday morning in defiance of the moratorium.
By midmorning, word had gotten out about the Rainbow rebellion. Cafe employees served Irish coffee and green beer to a dozen customers. In the kitchen, Megan Jakabosky, wearing a Kelly-green tutu adorned with shamrocks, cooked bacon. Irish music spilled from the jukebox.
At one table, Donna Bradbury and Deena Pitcher sipped Irish coffees. Bradbury waved a bottle of hand sanitizer with a grin. Both wore flashing shamrock pins and shamrock necklaces. If Rainbow owner Joanne McGee got penalized for opening the Rainbow, they said, they would start a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay the fine.
McGee, chatting cheerfully with other customers, left to take a call and got off the phone in tears. It was someone from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Even so, McGee didn't intend to close.
"They're going to have to come and physically shut me down," said McGee, who bought the restaurant 20 years ago with her husband Steve, who died in 2017.
Reports of the Bow's revolt reached the ears of Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts. He called the OLCC and Oregon State Police to see if they knew specifics about enforcement in the case of a business that operates in defiance of the moratorium.
They did not, so Roberts made more calls. Finally, he was advised that an executive order validating the restriction had not been written or disseminated. The governor's public safety advisor asked for an hour or two to create and vet an order.
The eventual order imposes a civil penalty not to exceed $500 a day per violation and lays out other details.
Roberts said in the email to business owners, government officials and others that his officers will follow the law.
"I am extremely empathetic to the burden such restrictions will place on local families, employees, businesses and the economy, but I am obligated to fulfill my oath to uphold the laws of the State of Oregon," he wrote. "Therefore, as of 5 p.m., this evening, Tuesday, March 17, owners/proprietors of local businesses found in violation of the condition(s) spelled out in Governor's Order 20-07 will be asked one time to cease and desist before being criminally cited. I am very hopeful no one will need to be cited as a consequence of this unfortunate development."
Shortly after Roberts sent that email, the crowd at the Bow continued to grow. One foursome took a selfie of themselves in the iconic Irish bar. Sharman Sams said she started out with a green beer and a Jamison Irish whiskey.
"This is family tradition," she said.
Across the table, Alaskan Roger Purcell said they'd come to celebrate before the Rainbow closed down. He said he worries about the financial fallout of the moratorium.
"I'm worried about the economy," Purcell said. "I want to see people feeding their families and not going into bankruptcy."
McGee said she'd fielded two more calls from the OLCC since the morning.
"At 5 p.m., the OLCC and the Oregon State Police are coming to shut me down," she said.
She breathed out in frustration, but seemed resigned to closing. She would chase everyone out at 4:45 p.m.
"I don't want to lose my license. I don't want to get in trouble with the Lottery," McGee said. "This place has been in business for 137 years."
She allowed herself to grin wryly, thinking of all the food purchased for the St. Paddy's Day bash.
"We have so much corned beef back there, it could sink a ship," she said
Just as quickly, she was downcast, saying she worries for her employees.
"I'm concerned about the people that work here," McGee said. "They need rent money. They need food money. They need gas. I can't let them down."
McGee said she doesn't know what she'll do tomorrow.
"I can't fix this," she said. "I'm just frantic. I've worked so hard for this place."
This story by the East Oregonian was shared with the Pamplin Media Group as part of a new collaborative project covering COVID-19.
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