Local pub comes under fire from Council, public

Kathy McCarty, Special to The County
10 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE — Bou’s Brew Pub, a Main Street bar, has two weeks to make some changes or face the consequences, following City Council’s decision Monday night to require the business to provide a plan of action to make improvements before councilors will consider renewing their liquor license — possibly at Council’s April 21 meeting, provided all necessary paperwork has been submitted and issues of concern have been adequately addressed.

    Bou’s current liquor license expires April 10. Unless they can obtain an extension from the state, this means come Friday, the bar would not be able to serve alcohol. April 15 marks the expiration for Bou’s music and entertainment permit; after that date if the owners have not obtained a renewal, that too would be prohibited.

    Councilors spent nearly two hours discussing the matter, with the public — including citizens and downtown business owners — expressing their concerns. Darrell White, chief of the Presque Isle Fire Department, and Matt Irwin, police chief, provided input from a safety perspective.

    “Council has two options. If you feel they’re operating consistently with Chapter 41-A (special amusement ordinance, which provides framework for the issuance and therefore the revocation), you can vote to take no action and allow them to operate. If not, you could meet with them, requesting they meet requirements within a set period. You don’t have the authority to revoke the liquor license but can make a recommendation to the state of Maine,” said City Manager Jim Bennett.

    “You don’t take final action tonight. But if you desire to revoke, you’d spell out your desires/reasons, then make a final decision in two weeks. Then the final decision would go on to the state,” he said. “That’s the process I’d suggest.”

    Irwin explained the nature of the calls the police department has received concerning Bou’s over the past year.

    “We had 11 calls documented that were fight-related. Those sorts of calls are a violation of Title 28 (liquor license). Eight calls were directly related to noise complaints, which violates Title 28 in my opinion. Twelve calls related to unidentified or unspecified disturbances — a Title 28 offense. Patrons/employees are essentially causing disturbances or breaches of peace that affect others in the area,” Irwin said.

    “Two of the fight calls — one had a knife we didn’t find and another had a gun which resulted in an arrest. All calls were between 10 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. A lot of these calls last many minutes up to many hours,” continued Irwin.

    Irwin said “the problem in the end seems to be the tendency on the part of management or ownership not to do anything until threatened to be closed down or a cease and desist order is in place. They’ve done that with the fire marshal, health (inspector) and neighbors,” said Irwin. “There’s a certain deliberate indifference to people’s problems and their (other business owners and residents) attempts to have peaceful operation of their businesses and life.”

    White followed, advising councilors that Don McAllister, the state health inspector, had found Bou’s in violation last April because they lacked food preparation certification, with another inspection in July finding them still not in compliance. The owners have since paid fines and back fees and are now in compliance.

    “It’s the same with the fire marshal when they applied for a dance permit. Violations were noted and correction letters sent, with a time frame to address. Months went by before they corrected the issues and paid related fees,” said White.

    White noted other issues of concern included management not knowing if the sprinkler system worked and having too many people in the establishment for what is allowed by law.
    “A couple times fire officials have had conversations about attendance — occupancy load has been too high a number of times and is an issue as well,” White said.

    Kylie Oliveria, co-owner of Bou’s, told councilors they’re working on moving to a larger location by June 1 but need time to raise the funds to do so.

    “I know we’ve caused problems for hotel guests. We knew the music was loud, but as far as not responding to code enforcement, we’ve always responded in a timely manner — sometimes they didn’t get back to us,” Oliveria said.

    She said her bouncers “take it upon themselves to address” issues but “as far as vandalism, it could be from elsewhere.”

    “We do care. Everyone’s trying to bring us down because we’ve made mistakes. New Year’s 2013 we were over capacity. Now I personally count every night. We have counters. I know I messed up and have learned from it,” said Oliveria. “When we go in the bigger place we’ll have to apply for a liquor license. We’re renting space at the VFW; they no longer want to sell liquor and want to get back to their roots.”

    “Everything takes time. I can’t just snap my fingers and have everything done,” she said.

    Oliveria said she’s had to deal with taking over a spot (Bou’s was formerly the site of another bar, Freddy P’s) with a bad reputation.

    “There were drugs, sexual assault and all sorts of things before. We’ve done everything we can to make it better. The problem is everyone’s focusing on the negative, but we have people in there sober; it’s a place to get away, hang with friends, meet new people,” said Oliveria. “I’m sure you want to build Presque Isle but you need to accept change. We throw a lot of events.

    “We’re evaluating management to make it better. We’re working to fix and re-evaluated ownership too. I’m working on acquiring new business owners, including Inkredible Tattoos of Caribou,” she said.

    Jim Ashby, a Main Street resident, said he’s “seen all kinds of drug dealing and destruction of property.”

    “After years of asking people in the alley (next to Wilder’s Jewelry) to shut up and getting flipped off, I took letters from other businesses to the owners of Bou’s. But once they saw the letters, their response was once patrons leave the bar it’s not their responsibility,” said Ashby.

    Cathy Beaulieu, owner of Wilder’s, said she’s seen vomit and urine in the alley on several occasions. She’s also installed cameras to deter vandalism.

    “I’m not saying it’s entirely Bou’s fault and I’m not against an active bar scene. But if the music’s too loud, turn it down. It’s good to have an active nightlife downtown; it raises money, people look in our windows and may come back and shop. But when it stops guests from booking rooms — I’ve lost two tenants because of it,” she said.

    “I think there are very simple fixes. If you have to move to address, I prefer to not wait until June,” said Beaulieu.

    Robin Doody, manager of the Northeastland Hotel, said first and foremost “we’re a hotel, we sell sleep.” But she’s received several messages from guests advising they won’t stay again, as a result of noise and other issues pertaining to Bou’s and its clientele.

    “We’ve gone so far as to close at midnight. We don’t allow people to come in the lobby from Bou’s — tell them to go around (to get to the back parking lot). Having a lounge, we’ve been there and understand. We’ve had to change things. But when you have a liquor license, you have to address things immediately. We charge premium prices and don’t do dollar shots. Those are the people who start fights and try to rip sinks off the wall,” said Doody.

    “We’re happy that you’re moving and happy you’ll be off Main Street,” said Doody.

    Attorney Luke Rossignol, representing the Northeastland and its owners, the Hedrichs, cited a case elsewhere in Maine where an establishment’s liquor license was revoked for one violation.
    “No one here is challenging their (Bou’s owners) sincerity. It’s clear they’re trying but failing miserably. They keep saying ‘they’re trying,’ but it only takes one time for a sprinkler system not to work and people can’t get out, or one client can’t sleep and doesn’t return to the hotel,” said Rossignol. “It only takes one time for a business to be damaged irrevocably.”

    Karen Henderson, a Bou’s patron, said “they tried to grow too big too fast” but thinks “they deserve a chance.”

    Councilor Randy Smith, acting as chair for the evening, said he was very concerned about surrounding businesses and the effect it’s had on them.

    “I’m not sure we can wait any longer. I really believe that if these folks have a chance, this is the last call; this has got to stop,” said Smith.

    Councilor Mike Chasse said he’s never wanted to make a decision that impacts someone’s livelihood, “but I’m an example of what one small mistake can do. It only takes one‚ when you see guns and knives” at a business.

    Councilor Bruce Sargent made the motion that Bou’s come up with a plan of action to work with the city to “get them in line” and operate as a business should.

    Councilor Craig Green said he was concerned about allowing them to operate beyond the date the license expires.

    “I’d be comfortable they be allowed to come back with a plan of action, but not comfortable (allowing them) to operate beyond the license expiration. They’ve been given opportunities to correct any number of times in two years but it hasn’t happened. At this point I’m willing to re-work business guidelines but not sure how to do so in two days,” said Green, as he made the motion to amend, allowing the owners to come up with a plan of action but not allow operation beyond the license until it can be proven they meet specific guidelines.

    Green suggested establishing a dress code might be a good place to start. One of Bou’s most recent events was called an ABC (anything but clothes) party at which patrons were encouraged to wear anything from curtains to duct tape as costumes rather than traditional attire.

    Councilors voted 5-0-1, with Councilor Dick Engels abstaining, to work with the owners on a plan of action, with all meeting to continue discussion on the matter on April 21.