Portland Mayor Bud Clark is considering many ideas for his life after politics, but one could stir as much controversy as anything he did in office: opening a tavern that would cater to late-stage alcoholics.
“It sounds contradictory,” Clark said Wednesday. But he said the motive would be to help alcoholics, not to profit from their disease.
Clark has long been distressed by the sight of alcoholics drinking out of brown paper bags on the street. Since he became mayor, Clark has tried to fight the long-running plague with one policy initiative after another. In 1986, the city set a national precedent by banning the sale of fortified wine in Old Town.
Still, public drinking remains a persistent problem in Portland, as in other cities.
Clark’s latest idea springs from his experience in business. When he ran the Goose Hollow Inn, the tavern was frequented by a late-stage alcoholic. Clark would use a beer as “bait” to get him to eat a sandwich.
“I wouldn’t let him have anything to drink unless he ate something,” Clark said. In that fashion, he felt he was able to help the man.
Clark said his new tavern could operate as a non-profit enterprise based on the same principle. Operators could charge patrons “something” while trying to “encourage them to save their lives.”
“I wouldn’t serve anything more than beer and wine,” he added.
The idea is likely to raise concerns from people who think it would attract more transients to Portland or contribute to the decline of alcoholics. But Bill Naito, a prominent Old Town businessman, said he thought the concept was “marvelous.”
“Old Bud, he likes his fellow man,” said Naito, president of Norcrest China Co. Naito said that with “a little bit of guidance,” many alcoholics could “function pretty well.”
“Old Town drunks, they don’t take a bath, they look worse and worse, get rolled, mugged, a car runs over their toes,” he said. If instead they could drink a “couple glasses” of beer or wine, eat and get home, “I think that might work.”
Naito said Clark could offer “psychotherapy training” for bartenders who would work in the tavern. “That’s what a bartender is, a psychotherapist,” he said.
Clark did not mention a possible site for the tavern . He said it could face special licensing problems, and tried to play down interest.
“I’ve got these three lists” of projects for after he leaves office Jan. 4, Clark said. “And it’s one of those things on my list.”