Sunday, July 5, 2009

O'Brians: Luck of the Irish

Do you know what the Gaelic word for "luckiest son of a bitch of the face of the planet" is?

Apparently it's Ostertag.

When we first heard that one of the bars at the strangely named "four corners" area of Irving and Main (or "Rocket Corners" to the older cats) might lose it's liquor license our first reaction was to just let the place be. That was before we knew anything about the situation. Then we heard Police Chief Scott Greuel's presentation to the city council, after which we were pretty much all about hanging the bastards.

Greul's presentation was exceptional. He methodically and dispassionately laid out a very convincing case that O'Brians was not simply a neighborhood nuisance, but a public safety hazard. If there is so much "over service" that kids are getting beaten to a bloody pulp just from drunken brawls in the parking lot, then how many other patrons are driving home plastered out of their gourds? How many sexual assault stories (that probably aren't getting reported) start out with "So we were at O'Brians..." Probably a few. It was a stellar performance that gave us a lot of confidence in Chief Greuel. He was like Joe Friday at the hearing: just the facts -- and the facts were fundamentally damning.

The only thing missing was the "Bad Cop" foil to Greuel's Good Cop. We're not suggesting that someone pull a Samuel L. Jackson, but the city's case would have been bolstered tremendously had someone appended the Chief's (the real Chief, not my my poseur ass) testimony with some good old fashioned visceral outrage.

Our impression was that the council members who voted to allow O'Brians retain its license did so because they never got over their predispositions to just let someone run their business. We actually think that's a good impulse, but in this case it was clear that Ostertag is running a poor man's Fight Club and defrauding his customers for a cover charge. The clincher for us was when Greuel described how contemptuous the staff was when the police were on the premises. OPD is extremely professional in these instances -- they tend to work with businesses to correct issues before they start cracking heads.

In this case, however, we wouldn't have blamed them for doing things backwards.

Ostertag's testimony was remarkable for it's candor. Here is a guy who very clearly had no idea or inclination how to incorporate best practices into his business, despite unconvincing protestations to the contrary. Were it not by the grace of his lawyer (who looked about half the age of your typical John Grisham protagonist), Ostertag would have probably never even found the Council chambers let alone offered a remotely cogent justification of his business. And we mean barely cogent -- it was painful to see the dude struggle.

And yet we somehow weren't able to muster up any pity for the guy.

The "empty business on Main Street" argument for letting O'Brians keep its license doesn't hold any water. By that same logic we should just throw some urine-soaked mattresses in the empty spaces downtown and turn them into crack houses and opium dens. That's essentially what we're doing by letting O'Brians continue to operate under the current ownership.

If the police make an average of two visits to the bar a week, then the only thing that will probably save this bar in the future is to close it down a completely remodel and rebrand the place for a clientele that doesn't get excited about "Drink til you Drop for $30 Night." That's not going to happen with an owner that's diluting his booze and essentially slinging black market smokes from behind the counter. (Notice how we haven't even brought up the fruit flies yet?)

Most cities would have Ostertag's head on pike by now, but Oshkosh has decided to put him on a short leash instead. The problem with this scenario is that the city must now baby sit someone who gets to monopolize a much coveted liquor license that another business would likely use more wisely. There's little reason to suggest that O'Brians will keep it's license through the next year when the bar is back up for renewal. Let's just hope the place closes before anyone gets seriously hurt.

MORE: Man, I just had a good laugh at the obscene number of spelling errors that were in this post. Let me just chalk that one up to a long weekend at Sawdust Days.


CJ said...

Say it with me. WTF!!??

CJ said...

An empty builing would have been a huge improvement in the neighborhood.

The whole sceario begs the question--
What DOES it take to revoke a liquor license?
I mean, WHAT? What do you have to do that's worse than what Chief Gruel laid out to get shut down?

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