Newberg pub loses liquor license for defying COVID rules
A Newberg business has found itself on the wrong side of state and county government after refusing to adhere to health and safety standards issued to fight the pandemic.
For the past several months Old Town Bar & Grill on First and Blaine streets has operated as a "members association" and allowed its patrons to imbibe, socialize and enjoy live music in tight quarters with little or no social distancing. The business's continued operation caught the attention of state agencies after complaints were lodged that it remained open while other restaurants and drinking establishments were shuttered after Gov. Kate Brown's "Stay Home, Save Lives" order was issued in November in reaction to a dramatic uptick in cases and deaths from the COVID-19 coronavirus in the state.
"Restaurants, bars, taverns, brew pubs, wine bars, cafes, food courts, coffee shops, clubs or other similar establishments that offer food or drink may not offer or allow on-premises consumption of food and drink," Executive Order 20-27 said. "Establishments may offer food or drink for off-premises consumption (e.g., take-out or drive-through) or for delivery."
The owners of the business, Joe and Kristina Boley, announced early their intention to ignore the order, characterizing their decision as their patriotic duty to "stand up for our freedoms and God-given rights," the business's website said, and continue to serve "likeminded individuals."
Kristina Boley initially agreed to provide background and comment for this story, but then declined to respond to our repeated subsequent attempts.
The Boleys have taken to the Internet to argue their case.
"Right now it is more imperative than ever for us to stand true to our rights and freedoms and continue to push forward with our cause," they wrote on the business's website. "We are now embarking on the legal battle to fight against these unlawful mandates …"
The Yamhill County Public Health Department issued a cease and desist order in December. The business ignored it and continued to host patrons. The business's restaurant license lapsed in December and the Boleys have refused to renew it, according to Lindsey Manfrin, the health department's executive director.
Then the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the state agency that licenses businesses to serve alcohol, got involved. On Feb. 10, the OLCC suspended Old Town Bar & Grill's liquor license "for not following public health social distancing and face covering requirements," a release from the agency said. "The business, which holds a full on-premises sales license, is not allowed to sell any alcoholic beverages."
The release explained that the agency had "received a wide range of complaints that the operators of Old Town Bar & Grill were allowing for the indoor consumption of both food and alcohol" and that the business was hosting live music events.
"OLCC enforcement staff contacted the operators of Old Town Bar & Grill to provide education and verbal instructions about the complaints that it received," the release said. "During those conversations it became apparent that the licensee had no intention of modifying the operation to come into compliance with public health requirements."
The OLCC responded by dispatching staff to the pub "to monitor the activity and observed patrons consuming food and beverages inside the bar with no social distancing and not wearing face coverings," the release said. The agency notified the business that its liquor license would be suspended if it failed to comply with state mandates as Yamhill County was still within the extreme risk category of virus spread recognized by the state.
The pub's activities continued unabated.
The OLCC received additional complaints and staff witnessed more live music events, a lack of social distancing, no face masks and patrons consuming food and drink, prompting the agency to take action.
"These continued violations represent a disregard for the public health restrictions and resulted in the commission issuing a (suspension) on Feb. 10" to Seamlessventures LLC and managing member Kristina Boley, the release said.
The OLCC's investigation into the business is continuing and the pub could face additional charges of liquor rule violations. The Boleys can request an administrative hearing to argue their case if they wish. It appears, however, that they will take a different tack.
"We have launched a GoFundMe to help with legal fees as they accrue, also as we gear up for this fight," the couple said on Facebook in December. "Our plan as we pioneer through this is to hopefully set a precedent for our fellow bar and restaurant owners with how to navigate these state agencies as they come down on us and share funds raised to help support them making their stand also."
As of Feb. 18, the GoFundMe account had raised $3,440 of its $50,000 goal.
History of controversy
After an 18-month renovation process, Old Town Pub & Grill opened in November 2019 in a former photography studio, but then was shut down in March 2020 due to state COVID-19 restrictions. The business, according to a December post on social media, cooperated with the state "up until this winter when they reached their breaking point knowing that this new 'two-week freeze' was another ploy for a government overreach, and they have decided to make their stand for those they love that rely on them and for the community to come and exercise their freedoms."
On the pub's GoFundMe site, the Boleys remarked on the "badge of honor," the cease and desist order, and the directive from the OLCC to discontinue serving alcohol on the premises.
"We are gearing up for this battle in court," the post continued. "We plan to continue to keep our doors open and follow our hearts and beliefs to the fullest. We strongly believe a government official who has not lost one dollar of their paycheck cannot take ours away from us and those that rely on us to feed themselves and to live. We are all essential and will not tolerate to be told any differently."
State developing a uniform response to violators
Manfrin said the Newberg business is not unique in refusing to adhere to the government's edicts, nor has the state adopted a uniform process of addressing those who violate the state order.
"This is a new set of rules in a government process; many agencies are working on the situation," she said. "Because this is a government process it is going to take some time to move forward and resolve the situation. This does not mean that we are not keeping an eye on the facility, though."
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