Bar time 

Cursing council’s confusing Kettlehouse curfew

Several years ago, when I became a regular at Flipper’s Casino to fulfill the requirements of my writing degree, I often said it was the best bar in the city that did not serve liquor. I drank whiskey then, for roughly the same reason that certain Missoula residents spend all winter in shorts. I would order beer, immediately remark that I wanted whiskey, and then sort of glance around for someone to admire my ruggedness. Then I would go throw darts into the wall next to the dart machine.

One of the many advantages of Flipper’s is that Donnie will be nice to you no matter what a jackanapes you are. It’s the institutional culture. After I’d spent months there drinking Pabst and lamenting the lack of liquor, someone finally pointed out that there was a church pretty much across the street.

“Seriously?” I said. “A church?”

I had to go outside and look. It turned out that First Presbyterian was not only within sight of Flipper’s but approximately one block away from my house. One block from Flipper’s also puts you in reach of the Missoula Gospel Assembly, the Clark Fork Christian Center and the Missoula Valley Baptist Missionary Church. All of these establishments were figuratively invisible to me when I walked to Flipper’s, and literally so on the way home.

I mention this because I—like many residents, including City Councilman Adam Hertz—was baffled by the Missoula City Council’s decision to impose a 10 p.m. curfew on the proposed Myrtle Street Taphouse.

The Myrtle Street Taphouse is presently the Kettlehouse taproom. Because state law prohibits a brewery that sells over 10,000 barrels a year from operating a taproom, Kettlehouse co-owner Tim O’Leary has decided to separate the popular tasting bar from the brewery itself. They are literally building a wall between the two businesses. The taproom will be owned by O’Leary’s mother, Helen, and his wife, Suzy Rizza, will become sole owner of the Northside Kettlehouse, henceforth the Northside Brewing Company.

It’s possible that these two taprooms, operated by O’Leary’s wife and mother and selling the beer he makes in his brewery, will wind up functioning as one business. It’s a lot of cosmetic but operatively meaningless restructuring to satisfy an arguably arbitrary statute, but the important thing is that the law is appeased.

That same philosophy of government seems to lie behind the council’s 10 p.m. curfew, which cites the potential disruption a beer and wine license might cause to evenings in the neighborhood. That’s reasonable, except it completely ignores that there is a beer and wine license serving until 2 a.m. one block up the street.

“To me,” Hertz told the Missoulian, “it just seems incredibly unfair that we would single out just this one business.”

The council is not playing favorites, of course. It is doing the opposite of that, which is why it has so unfairly singled out one business. I think it’s ridiculous that the state would make O’Leary build a wall between his brewery and his (mother’s) taproom, and then the city will only let him have two more hours of business.

A bar is legal or it’s not, and the city should not impose its last-call law on a bar-by-bar basis. Also, 90 percent of the laws I care about apply to bars. It’s a symptom of my lifestyle. If I lived on Myrtle Street or went to church there, I would probably feel differently; I suspect I would view the expansion of the taproom as an unqualified disaster. The argument for letting the Myrtle Street Taphouse stay open late would be equally compelling to me, but in the opposite direction: Why is it necessary to expand the availability of beer in that neighborhood when there is a perfectly good bar 50 yards up the street?

kettle_house_.jpg

Tragically, both positions seem right. Only the council is mistaken. In their understandable desire to satisfy their constituents, they have arrived at a solution that placates all and pleases none.

O’Leary has a beer and wine license waiting at the finish of his end-run around state law, but the council has only given him two more hours of taproom operation. One wonders whether, between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., it will feel worth it to have built that wall and restructured his business. Meanwhile, life on Myrtle Street will not be measurably improved by closing the taphouse at 10 and letting Flipper’s serve for another four hours. If anything, residents will be awakened by a slightly different class of drunks.

For this we have stifled a growing business. It’s a good compromise in theory and a strange one in practice. We elected the council to simultaneously please half of us and enrage the other, to choose bars over church-filled neighborhoods and vice versa. It’s a thankless job, but we need them to do it. To try to satisfy each of us is to disappoint us all.

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