Note: This story was updated at 1:30 a.m. Oct. 22.
Lincoln’s Sports Grille has shut down, citing economic conditions. The closure was announced in a sign posted on a front door of the four-year-old restaurant and bar on Monday and in a press release on Tuesday.
The popular restaurant and bar on South Illinois Avenue had had a series of five sometimes-contentious show cause hearings before the Oak Ridge Beer Permit Board. In the last show cause hearing on August 28, members revoked Lincoln’s permit.
Lincoln’s regained the permit after a temporary agreement imposing new conditions was worked out with the city and Beer Board and approved by Anderson County Chancellor Nicki Cantrell, pending an appeal of the Beer Board’s revocation.
But in an interview earlier this month, Scott Green, one of Lincoln’s owners, said the inability to sell beer between late August and early October had a substantial impact on the business. The restaurant and its staff had also been hurt by the bad publicity, Green said.
“It’s been a significant hit on us,” he said.
Observers, including a few Beer Board members, had noticed that the parking lot at Lincoln’s wasn’t as full recently as it had once been.
“Lincoln’s has been a proud supporter of Oak Ridge and the athletic teams around the area,” said the sign posted Monday. “Because of economic conditions, Lincoln’s is closing its doors. We would like to thank everyone that has supported us, and we will miss all of you.”
“We always wanted Lincoln’s Sports Grille to be a place that a fan could enjoy great food and beverage while watching their favorite team play,” the restaurant’s owners said in the press release Tuesday. “It was a joy to be an extended part of the families and teams in Oak Ridge.”
Two of Lincoln’s five show cause hearings had been called after alcohol was sold to underage customers in state stings, and others were called after the Oak Ridge Police Department responded to disturbances. The revocation during the last show cause hearing on August 28 went into effect immediately. That revocation followed an earlier two-week suspension of Lincoln’s beer permit in June.
Lincoln’s also faced a one-week beer permit suspension in September 2013 for selling beer to a minor in March, but the suspension was lifted after the business proved that all servers and bartenders had received certification by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Lincoln’s paid a $1,500 fine in May 2013, according to state records.
No action was taken against Lincoln’s during two other show cause hearings, one in March 2013 and the other in December. Concerns in those hearings included reports of a fight or disturbance and two arrests for public intoxication.
In documents filed in Anderson County Chancery Court after the August 28 permit revocation, Lincoln’s said it had been hit with a “more substantial penalty than similar establishments have faced with similar conduct.”
During the August 28 hearing, Lincoln’s consultant Roy McKinnon testified before the permit was revoked that a beer permit suspension coupled with a possible temporary state suspension of the restaurant’s liquor license for its second sale of beer to a minor could effectively shut down the business.
“The economic impact would be great,” McKinnon said. “It would finish Lincoln’s.”
But Beer Board member Theresa Scott said then that the “general public is fed up.”
“Lincoln’s has been called up here five times in 16 months,” twice for underage sales, she said.
“This is getting crazy,” Scott said. “It’s against the law to serve a minor.”
Lincoln’s and its representatives had argued that the restaurant was making changes, becoming more corporate, securing its patio, limiting its musical entertainment, and hiring a 30-year restaurant consultant, among other things, and writing in a letter to the editor that public safety was its highest priority.
Lincoln’s opened to a packed house on March 15, 2010. Since then, the restaurant had featured a mix of family friendly entertainment, music, comedy, community events, and food and drinks. Owners and managers had recently said they were trying to become more of a restaurant and less of a bar.
Lincoln’s was a popular place to watch sports, and among other things, the restaurant hosted a Wednesday night call-in television show featuring Oak Ridge High School football coach Joe Gaddis. The staff also hosted community events such as pancake breakfasts.
In June, Lincoln’s attorney Allen E. Schwartz said the restaurant paid roughly $250,000 in taxes last year.
More information will be added as it becomes available.