The Portage Common Council voted to hand a downtown bar a three-day suspension of their liquor license. Portage officials say the bar violated multiple ordinances dating back to 2019.
The Whiskey Barrel, 316 De Witt St., will have its liquor license suspended May 11, 12 and 13. The suspension was recommended by the city’s Legislative and Regulatory committee.
The Legislative and Regulatory committee met earlier in April to discuss five violations at the Whiskey Barrel over the last two years. The first pair of violations were in September 2019 when Zachery Ziegler was the license holder.
The committee reported two similar violations in 2019 where the license holder purchased liquor and beer from a non-wholesaler. The pair of violations was a total of 40 demerit points each.
“You cannot just buy (product) off the street and then resell it at a bar,” City Clerk Marie Moe said when explaining the violations.
Moe said city ordinances state after 100 demerit points have been assessed to a license holder, a three to 10-day suspension can be given. The Whiskey Barrel accumulated 145 points.
The third violation was in July 2020 when an underage person was on the premise. It was a warning so it was only half the points for 17.5 demerit points. These three violations were all while Ziegler was the license holder so the points were assessed to him.
HD Enterprises has held the liquor license for the Whiskey Barrel since August 2020. However, according to city ordinances if the owner of the property and equipment doesn’t change then the demerits stay with the business and therefore were transferred to HD Enterprises.
“As Mr. Ziegler still owns the real estate and the personal property, all accumulated demerit points transfer to HD Enterprises,” meeting records state.
Heath Fjorden of HD Enterprises told the Legislative and Regulatory committee he would not be contesting the complaint. He said he was unaware of the points accumulated by Ziegler and stated the bar and been run like a “fight club.”
Fjorden told the committee he is getting the right personnel in place and the employees that were causing problems have been let go.
A fourth violation was another warning when two people were on the premise after closing hours in December 2020. That was another 12.5 points. The fifth and final violation was when an employee was intoxicated while working in January 2021 and resulted in 35 demerit points assessed.
The committee reported the employee in charge of checking identification of patrons at the door was consuming alcohol and “resulted in him becoming intoxicated while working.”
Alderperson Eric Shimpach, who sits on the Legislative and Regulatory committee, said he would be voting against the suspension due to the “unjust” ordinance.
“I can’t support this suspension,” Shimpach said. “The actions of the previous owner of the license should not affect the current owner.”
Shimpach said he would vote against the suspension because it is unfair to the current license holder. He also voted against the suspension at the April 6 committee meeting.
The committee also got police call reports for 2020. They show 28 calls were made to the Whiskey Barrel last year. Two nearby bars, Unforgettables and Cottonwood had 26 reported police calls combined in the same time period.
The minutes of the committee meeting show the Legislative and Regulatory committee asked Fjorden what days he could serve the suspension. That is how the committee established the suspension for May 11-13.
Shimpach wasn’t alone in voting against the suspension. Newly appointed Alderperson Chris Crawley, of District 9, also voted against the suspension, however he did not provide any additional comment. All other members of the common council present at the meeting voted for the suspension making it a 6-2 vote in favor of the three-day suspension.