The Fairbanks City Council may encounter some controversy Monday evening over a vote to protest local country bar The Spur’s liquor license. Councilmembers claimed the space is violent and exhausting city resources. Owners claim they’ve inherited a bad reputation, and have invited patrons to come speak on their behalf.
Dec. 2, when the bar’s liquor license came up for review, the council took issue with the number of police contacts in the past year — 89 calls and arrests.
They voted to protest the application with the state. However, their vote may be overturned on Dec. 9, as Councilwoman Valerie Therrien requested it be reconsidered.
At this week’s meeting, Councilwoman June Rogers stated she was disappointed that the owners of the bar were not present and that there were so many law enforcement calls to the address. According to Therrien, the bar owners were not formally notified because there were no department protests to the liquor license applications.
Spur owner Jori Clawson said she had just returned from traveling and had a sick child when the meeting was held. She was not aware she needed to be present and has since contacted each councilmember by email to apologize for her absence. Therrien said she’d asked for the reconsideration as a courtesy, to allow Clawson to come and speak to the council.
Lt. Greg Foster of the Fairbanks Police Department spoke to the council at length. He felt there was little change in the safety of the bar since it’s prior ownership. When checking weekend incidents as a watch commander, Foster said The Spur was more often than not a “gravity well for crime.” He described fights with over 20 people and one incident, prior to Clawson’s ownership, in which a patron was stopped just before entering the bar with a rifle.
Clawson said her bar was unfairly judged for events that occurred there under prior ownership. The Spur was called Kodiak Jacks prior to its purchase and renaming by Clawson, her husband J.D. and their business partner Nicholas Nyquist. She said that incidents in the bar had gone way down since she and her partners took over, even considering an influx of customers who used to go to bars like the Blue Loon, which burned down earlier this year.
Clawson feels that the business is entirely different than it used to be. Clawson said she and her partners worked closely with military leadership and proved The Spur was safe enough to lift the military ban that was in place for Kodiak Jack’s within about a month of the change in ownership.
“We’re trying to keep it safe,” she said.
According to Clawson, The Spur takes a number of security measures. She said patrons are patted down, and that purses and IDs are checked. There are 10 security guards on staff. The layout was also changed, to make it more open and prevent people from bumping into each other. The bar also has its own version of “the angel shot,” a drink code meant to prevent assaults.
“It is safe,” Clawson said. She invited friends via Facebook to come to the Dec. 9 council meeting to speak about the bar.
Further, she said, several of the calls to law enforcement came from The Spur’s staff, who have been instructed to call in incidents like drug deals.
Still, Clawson said, “It’s never going to be perfect. It’s still a bar.” She said she frequently traveled, and looked for ways in out-of-state bars to make The Spur safer and more fun.
When making his motion for the protest, Councilman David Pruhs said, “It’s violent over there. It gets violent over there. That’s what I’ve said. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.” He went on, “You just heard some pretty graphic testimony here.” He also said that he didn’t want to wait for a death or similar tragedy to occur at the bar and regret not protesting.
The council voted in favor of protesting the liquor license application for The Spur. If Therrien’s request for reconsideration doesn’t pass, the protest will be sent to the state licensing board. While there is no public hearing scheduled, the council may choose to hear from city staff, Clawson or the public.
Even if the vote is not overturned, as Councilman Jerry Cleworth pointed out, the state board may opt to renew the license anyway.
Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter @FDNMcity.