Note: This story was last updated at 6:45 p.m.
The Oak Ridge Beer Board has suspended the beer permit of Lincoln’s Sports Grille for two weeks starting at midnight today (Monday).
The 14-day suspension will end just before midnight June 23. It was approved by Beer Board members in a 4-3 vote on Monday afternoon. Liquor and food sales are not affected.
Beer Board members said they weren’t satisfied with the remediation plan presented by Lincoln’s following a May meeting after an April fight.
“There is a cultural change that is occurring, but it has to occur faster,” Beer Board Chair Randy Tedford said.
One of the primary concerns raised Monday was a patio gate that Beer Board members thought was supposed to prevent access to and from Lincoln’s parking lot. It was now supposed to be used only in emergencies, Beer Board members said.
Lincoln’s claimed in a May 30 letter that an alarmed “crash bar” has been installed on the gate. The goal was to keep people from going to their cars to drink small bottles of alcohol.
But based on reports from the Oak Ridge Police Department, which said patrons and employees were observed using the patio gate on Friday night, the crash bar is obviously not alarmed, Tedford said.
“It’s indicative of empty promises,” he said.
Beer Board members were also concerned about the reaction of a Lincoln’s manager who reportedly became very upset and berated the ORPD when Police Chief Jim Akagi stopped to investigate why the gate was being used on Friday night.
“I don’t think it’s fair for our officers to be berated like that,” Akagi said.
Lincoln’s representatives said they are making serious attempts to address the Beer Board’s concerns, but they acknowledged that the crash bar is not alarmed. They apologized for the error in the May 30 letter. They said they have ordered the $800 alarm, and it could arrive within two weeks.
They also said they’ve made other changes at the restaurant, hiring security people, patrolling the parking lot, installing the patio gate, replacing managers, and cutting off bands at 1 a.m., rather than at 2 a.m. The restaurant has significant videocamera capabilities, and the staff is undergoing rigorous alcohol training, said Allen E. Schwartz, an attorney for Lincoln’s, and restaurant consultant Roy McKinnon.
“There have been substantial changes that have taken place,” McKinnon said.
The Beer Board agreed in May to suspend the restaurant’s beer permit for one or two weeks, depending upon improvements made before this week’s meeting. They determined the length of the suspension and the date it would start at Monday’s meeting.
During their May meeting, board members said restaurant patrons should not be allowed to enter and exit through the patio gate and they should be required to use the main entrance. The board wanted Lincoln’s to add eight surveillance cameras and at least two staff members to make sure the patio is adequately monitored.
Lincoln’s has previously avoided beer permit suspensions, including one after a November fight and another after a minor compliance check by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission in March. The restaurant had three show-cause hearings last year and has had one this year. Late last year, Lincoln’s said it had hired a 30-year restaurant consultant to help prevent the bar from appearing before the Beer Board again this year.
Voting for the two-week suspension on Monday were Tedford and Beer Board members Theresa Scott, Debra Solmonson, and Wendy Williams. Voting against it were board members Barton Bailey, Colin Colverson, and Darrin Osborne.
Earlier in the meeting, Bailey unsuccessfully proposed an 11-day suspension, and Colverson later said he could have supported that motion.
“I don’t see enough in front of me in terms of a documented plan” to bring about a culture change, Bailey said when offering his proposal.
Lincoln’s manager Sara Keenan, meanwhile, said she feels like the restaurant is being punished even though employees are trying to improve it.
Schwartz said the suspension imposed on Monday would result in a significant loss of business at Lincoln’s. He said the restaurant paid roughly $250,000 in taxes last year.
“We’re trying,” Schwartz said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.