Dry days are over for PCMH

Booze or bust
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 28, 2009

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It's an all-too-common scene here in Portland: A local music venue is ready to rock, but liquor inspectors (or fire inspectors, or some kind of inspectors) haven't yet signed some important piece of paperwork.

So learned the Port City Music Hall, the new 600+ capacity venue on Congress Street that has the local music scene abuzz. The grand opening show, scheduled for January 17, had to be postponed until January 24 because, yes, there was no liquor license yet — and things weren't looking good for that January 24 date either.

As a January 22 Sonic Bids showcase night approached, there was still no license. "We couldn't keep canceling because of no alcohol," says Ceci Gibson, the venue's publicist. "It was chem free ... people were buying their three-dollar bottles of water and leaving five-dollar tips because they felt sorry for us, but they were supporting the bartenders regardless."

That no-booze Thursday show was enough of a wake-up call, however, that owner Rob Evon stepped up his efforts. Frustrated by a difference of opinion between his legal team and the state liquor inspectors, he called up state senator Justin Alfond and asked for help. "We're fighting to get a Class 1 Auditorium license," says Evon, "which would allow 18+ events with designated service areas for drinkers." As the PCMH reads the law, they function as an auditorium and should be licensed like one: "People pay a fee to come see music, speech, dance, or theater," Evon explains. "The law doesn't say anything about what it's supposed to look like."

However, when the state liquor inspector (Evon says city officials have been incredibly supportive) showed up to check out the venue, he said, "'This doesn't look like an auditorium,'" Evon reports. Thus the delay and the eventual call to Alfond. Good news: "On Friday, I spent multiple hours working with a state liquor inspector to forge a solution," Alfond wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix, "which is to get Port City Music Hall a temporary Class A lounge liquor license." He succeeded Saturday, in time for the rescheduled "grand opening" show to have booze. The bad news? The Class A license means no 18+ crowd, which is a major part of PCMH's plan.

"The 18+ crowd helps with a key component of our business," says Evon, "which is box office ticket sales, and in order for us to bring through these national artists, we need to be able to offer them 18+ events," such as the upcoming show by radio rockers OK Go.

But there's a bigger reason for the 18+ designation. "That demographic is our future customers," Evon says. Alfond agrees: "Portland lacks sufficient venues open to the 18+ demographic; I will continue to help the owners work with state officials to obtain an Auditorium License."

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