By DAMIAN MANN
A Medford nightclub owner warns that more shenanigans may be in store for the downtown if a tattoo shop owner opens a pub in the location of a former notorious bar on Riverside Avenue.
C.T. Wallace, one of the owners of Havana Republic on West Main Street, sent a letter to city officials, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Medford police chief criticizing the reopening of a nightclub at the former Shenanigans location by the owner of Phat Kat Tattoo, which is also on Riverside.
“Some of us have a million invested in downtown and don’t want to see that happen again,” Wallace said.
Jeff Rahenkamp hopes to open The Pub, a more modest version of the kind of establishment that propelled the popularity of Shenanigans — a multi-bar operation that drew huge crowds but went belly up after it ran afoul of the OLCC for a series of violations.
Rahenkamp questions Wallace’s motives in raising the issue and suggested it was motivated in part by concerns about competition.
The Pub will feature just one indoor bar at 17 S. Riverside Ave. connected to an outdoor patio area that won’t be accessible to other businesses. An indoor nightclub next door will be used only for occasional concerts.
Shenanigans featured four indoor bars connected to the patio area and gained notoriety when the OLCC imposed restrictions after the nightclub garnered the most driving-under-the-influence arrests in the state in 2011.
In his letter to the city, Wallace refers to Rahenkamp’s arrests for soliciting prostitution in 2005 and for theft in 1996.
“Mr. Rahenkamp has continuously displayed his disrespect for rules and laws,” Wallace wrote.
Rahenkamp’s misdemeanor prostitution conviction has since been expunged, according to court records, and he served two years’ probation after pleading guilty to the second-degree theft charge.
Wallace said downtown Medford became notorious when Shenanigans was in operation. Fights, drunken behavior and drunken driving were all associated with the former nightclub.
“We don’t want to be on the news every night with something going on in downtown Medford,” Wallace said.
He said he remembers the nights when Shenanigans was in operation and its drunken patrons would bar hop.
“We’d see the zombies coming down the street,” Wallace said. “They’d head to our place, and we would turn them away and then they’d end up getting into a fistfight out on the sidewalk.”
Rahenkamp said he takes issue with Wallace’s characterization of him.
“It’s written by a small-minded boy,” Rahenkamp said. “It’s funny because up until recently, he had nothing bad to say about me. If I’m a bad person, why would he let me in his bar?”
Rahenkamp, who wants to pattern The Pub after the success of McMenamins pubs, said he thinks Wallace wrote the letter because he fears the competition.
About four blocks west of The Pub, Wallace’s Havana Republic restaurant and bar also operates multiple venues in the same building, including the Sky Bar, The Uptown Grill and The Grotto Patio Bar.
Rahenkamp ran Pub Ink on Main Street around the corner from The Pub location, but closed it down after less than a year because of a dispute with the building owner over the lack of a smoking area in the back.
During the time he operated Pub Ink, Rahenkamp didn’t run afoul of Medford police or the OLCC, he said. The OLCC confirmed Pub Ink had no alcohol-related violations.
Rahenkamp said he hopes that track record will persuade the OLCC not to place the same type of restrictions on his operation as it did on Shenanigans.
“I think it’s a little unsavory to put restrictions on somebody who has for 11 months been doing the right thing,” he said.
Rahenkamp said he already has used the nightclub and patio area for special events without running afoul of the police.
“I don’t feel there should be any restrictions on me,” he said.
Rahenkamp has advertised an early June opening for The Pub.
David “Howiee” Hawkins, owner of Howiee’s on Front, said he has nothing against Rahenkamp, although he thinks it’s a little optimistic to think The Pub could open as quickly as June.
Hawkins said Shenanigans made it difficult for everyone in the downtown while it was in operation for three years.
“Whether Jeff can make something happen down there, I don’t know,” Hawkins said. “He’s a businessman like everybody else. I know what it’s like to take your own money out of the bank to make things work.”
OLCC spokesperson Christie Scott said she couldn’t speak about an application for a license that is under review. The Pub’s license application with the OLCC was filed May 9, and it currently takes on average of 67 days to process. The city of Medford will have a 45-day window to respond to the application.
Scott said any new tenants in the former Shenanigans building would have to abide by the same set of restrictions unless the applicant shows cause why the restrictions should be lifted.
Restrictions on the site include allowing the sale of alcohol in the adjacent nightclub only on Fridays and Saturdays, only allowing one alcoholic drink at a time for each customer and not allowing reentry to customers who leave the premises after midnight. Security personnel would be required to monitor all customers to determine their level of intoxication.
Rahenkamp apparently will have some work to do in persuading the City Council to support his application.
“Mr. Rahenkamp’s track record has yet to be established,” Councilor Bob Strosser said. “Thus far, I’m unimpressed.”
When Rahenkamp earlier sought a liquor license for Pub Ink, the council expressed mixed feelings about his application, voting 5 to 1 to not send any recommendation to the OLCC.
In particular, the council told Rahenkamp that he failed to finish the exterior of his tattoo shop on Riverside Avenue, a completion that was promised to the Historic Preservation Commission in 2010.
“Does he keep his commitments?” Strosser asked. “I’m waiting to see if he fulfills them.”
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.