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Give new Ashland bar owners benefit of the doubt

Three enterprising business partners are poised to open a new Ashland nightclub in a location once well known for all the wrong reasons. Given the history of the previous establishment on Will Dodge Way, it’s understandable that City Council members and others in the community expressed concern about endorsing a liquor license for the new venture, the Trap Door. What’s not understandable is holding the new owners accountable for what went on under the previous management.

In the end, council members voted to approve the liquor license request with no restrictions. That was the right choice, and the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission should give the request final approval.

The previous establishment, known as the Vinyl Club, was the scene of years of disorderly conduct complaints involving drunkenness, public urination and violence, including one 2018 incident in which a Vinyl Club bouncer was charged with second-degree assault for beating a patron, inflicting serious injuries. Shortly thereafter, the OLCC told the Vinyl Club owner to surrender his liquor license for 28 days or pay a fine. He chose to close the business and sell it instead.

The new owners waited out the pandemic before seeking to open a new business, spending the time remodeling the space to accommodate a lounge and an upscale cocktail bar. They plan to limit occupancy to 59 people to maintain an intimate atmosphere, and offer craft cocktails and high-quality food.

Given the history of the location, the City Council considered approving the liquor license request with conditions, including limiting the amount of alcohol in cocktails, restricting the hours for live music and prohibiting serving drinks past 1 a.m. Councilors correctly decided not to recommend restrictions.

That would have been unfair to the new owners, who deserve the opportunity to show they can operate a completely new venture in a responsible manner. The OLCC reportedly is considering whether to pursue a report examining the previous problems with the location. If it does, the commission should not hold the new owners accountable for events that happened in the past at a location that has been closed for three years.

If problems arise in the future, the city and the OLCC can address them. Unless and until they do, the new owners should be given the benefit of the doubt.