The Booze Lords of Salem

Hats off to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Legislature, as it appears they have mastered the art of handing down shortsighted rulings intended to create additional problems down the road in order to justify their existence.

Just thinking about the OLCC and Legislature and their unnecessary draconianism makes me quiver with fury and chuckle with fatalistic resignation. Very few entities are capable of this, so I really have to hand it to them.

Nice job, fellas. Keep up the good work.

The latest bureaucratic clown show from the Booze Lords of Salem (BLoS) involved an effort to further regulate bars by severely limiting the hours they could keep open outdoor patios.

According to a story posted on the Oregon Public Broadcasting website, the BLoS was set to vote on a rule that would stop bars and restaurants from playing music on a patio or sidewalk past 10 p.m.

In addition, the rule would cut the hours bars were allowed to serve alcohol in outdoor areas. If the BLoS adopted the rule, bars would have to stop outdoor sales at 11 p.m. during the week and at 1 a.m. on the weekends.

Fortunately, the BLoS came to its senses (can I die in peace now?) and decided not to restrict the hours. The vote came down Thursday afternoon, but not before the BLoS put a fresh scare into bar owners across the state.

Some bar owners spoke out against the rule, saying it would have bitten into profits that already have taken a hit in the tough economy.

The BLoS argued that people and businesses that exist near these bars have complained of noise and shenanigans that come with a mass of intoxicated people carousing in the open air.

Fair enough, but let's take a step back and ask ourselves, how did we arrive at this perilous juncture in Oregon drinking history?

I seem to remember the Legislature handing down a ruling some years ago barring people from smoking in all bars across the state.

You could argue that the BLoS was looking out for our best interests. After all, secondhand smoke is probably bad for you and the bar staff.

Yet, just because you can't suck down an American Spirit blue in the bar proper does not mean you can't slip outside for a quick smoky treat on a patio or a designated smoking area outdoors.

I rarely go out these days, but when I do I notice a lot more people milling around the sidewalk outside of bars, smoking and chumming it up with their bros and sistas.

Also, many bars, such as the Trophy Club here in Medford, have invested in nice outdoor seating behind their businesses in order to house this overflow of smokers and those who simply enjoy tossing back a beer under the stars.

The BLoS found this unacceptable. Basically, the state has hammered the bars with a ruling governing the behavior of adults by barring smoking.

The bars, seeing a steep loss in sales as smokers chose to buy a half-rack of Old Milwaukee on their way home from work to drink at home instead of heading down to the local watering hole, decided to invest in outdoor patios in order to bring back business.

And now, the BLoS considered further regulating these bar innovators by chopping out the strategy they created to counter the problem initiated by the BLoS in the first place.

To my mind, this would have created a virtuous cycle for the BLoS in which it gets to create issues it regulates with reckless aplomb on the way to destroying Oregon's bar culture.

But what would the BLoS have done once adult folks had nowhere to openly socialize on the weekends? I'm assuming its crack team of bureaucrat pencil necks would have drafted plans to shift the BLoS focus to inspecting kite strings to make sure they were not too sharp. And if they were, the person using the banned string would face a $13,567 fine and be barred from the park in which the nefarious string was utilized.

I'm not opposed to all forms of regulation. Far from it. I happen to think the Environmental Protection Agency is a pretty good idea.

However, agencies such as BLoS, which is, as far as I can tell, among the most heavy-handed liquor commissions in the country, are hurting businesses and adult folks who just want to enjoy those ever-so-brief moments when they aren't at work, with little benefit to the public at large.

Also, one of Oregon's most endearing qualities is the weather during the summertime. I don't want to think about losing the ability to enjoy a warm, clear summer evening with my friends, with beers in hand under the stars.

But lost it we almost did.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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