Taylor’s: Is this the end?
In the nearly 100 years since Taylor’s Bar and Grill opened its doors, it has been known for rambunctious energy. One owner drove a motorcycle through the bar. Another fought off a man who bit his thumb.
But recently, Taylor’s has come under fire for allegations of more serious offenses than general debauchery: sexual assault, drugging drinks and overcharging patrons. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission cited Taylor’s for 29 offenses in 14 months, and has recommended along with the city of Eugene that Taylor’s be stripped of its license to serve alcohol.
Taylor’s current owner Ramzy Hattar recently requested a hearing to make the case for why the bar should keep its license. A judge will then decide whether Taylor’s license will be renewed, restricted or revoked entirely.
If the bar loses its licence, the most popular off campus party destination would never be the same. Taylor’s has a storied past, and its legacy is at stake.
A ‘65 Honda motorcycle, a blackjack club and an FBI raid
Father and son duo Fred and Herschel Taylor built Taylor’s in 1922 after hiring a lawyer to break Eugene’s former building moratorium. The bar was originally called, “Ye Campa Shoppe” before the name was changed to Taylor’s soon after Prohibition ended in 1933.
“In Fred’s autobiography, he wrote, ‘Had I known the Great Depression was around the corner, I’d have never bought the place,” said Herschel’s grandson Todd.
The ownership moved from Fred, to Herschel, to Herschel’s son Rod after he returned from service in World War II.
Todd still remembers the wackiness his father brought to the place. He said Rod once drove ‘65 Honda motorcycle through Taylor’s.
“He opened the door, and shot through just, ‘Beep beep! Beep beep!’ Just because he could.”
At the time, Taylor’s was not allowed to serve alcohol because the OLCC had imposed a 1,000-foot “dry zone” around the UO campus. This was to limit students’ access to alcohol — particularly those returning from war, according to Todd. With the bar’s primary income source stripped away from the family, Rod had to come up with different ways to pay the bills.
“Rod became,” Todd said, between chuckles, “the biggest bookie between San Francisco and Portland.”
Todd said Rod took bets from several high profile Eugene community members, including the former district attorney. The FBI ended up busting Rod, but not before the DA secretly called ahead to warn Rod the cops were on their way to his home.
“He got a little phone call that said, ‘Hey get rid of everything. You’re going to have a knock on the door in a while.’ And sure enough they did,” Todd said. “Well, [Rod] forgot to take something out of his car that showed like a betting line, odds, stuff out of Vegas. And so they popped him.”
Rod eventually gave control of the bar to Jon LaBranch — the current owner of Rennie’s — in 1977. The bar regained its liquor license during LaBranch’s tenure, but only served beer and wine. After LaBranch’s lease was up, Todd took over the bar from 1980 to 1983.
During that time, the atmosphere was a far cry from the nightclub-like environment that exists today. Todd hired live bands playing blues music. The bar was half the size it is today; nevertheless, wild stuff still occurred.
“One time I got attacked at Taylor’s when I was running it,” Todd said. “A drunk guy came in, and he was all jacked up on something.”
Todd said he noticed the guy bumping people on the dance floor. He tapped the man on the shoulder and asked what he was doing. The man sprung on him, grabbed Todd’s neck with two hands and threw Todd to the ground.
“I go for his eyes is what I do. I try to thumb him in the eye,” Todd said. “He’s all jacked up — so quick it was like a cat, and he just went ‘Arrgh!’ and he bit my thumb.”
Todd said the doorman came over to drag the guy out, but Todd’s thumb was still hooked into this guy’s mouth and Todd was dragged along. The thumb-biter wriggled away from the doorman and ran down the street, but Todd was right behind with vengeance.
“I was going to even the score. He had my blood now,” Todd said. “I have a lead-weighted blackjack and I go [demonstrates an overhand swing of his club] and I was just going to take his collarbone out.”
The guy turned around as Todd was on his downswing, so instead of breaking bone, the club struck the man in the chest and knocked him down. It was enough to scare him off, and the police later caught the phantom thumb-biter in the nearby hospital.
“The worst part of the story — the guy had syphilis,” Todd said. “So I couldn’t touch my wife for like a month. That was the worst part of the deal.”
But after that, Todd had had enough of the day-to-day operations of Taylor’s.
“It’s a lot easier being a landlord than it is being the actual guy on the front lines,” Todd said.
From smoky blues bar to the modern Taylor’s
From 1983 to 1999, Taylor’s was passed from owner to owner until then 22-year-old Chuck Hare took the reins. But back then, he said it was a small, scary place. Women were reluctant to visit the bar.
“It was a smoky little blues bar,” Hare said.
He set out to turn Taylor’s into a place where college students wanted to go, rather than Eugene locals. Hare hired a younger staff and more workers from Greek life, revamped the menu and promoted the bar to college students. Eugene’s older crowd drifted to other establishments.
Hare took over three next-door businesses to expand the bar in 2001. The acquired space was able to accommodate a growing UO student population. According to data from the UO Office of the Registrar, the UO student population increased by 37 percent during Hare’s time running Taylor’s.
“As the student population grew, we became one of the big bars on campus,” Hare said. “Business got better.”
Hare even installed a bed in his basement office to sleep at Taylor’s so he would be up on time to prepare the bar in the morning after working until 2 a.m.
UO students of that era echo the rising stature of Taylor’s in the early 2000s. Jen Humphrey, a UO student from 1997 to 2001, said Taylor’s was a huge fixture in her and her friends’ lives.
“It became the go-to meeting spot,” Humphrey said. “Whether it was in between classes and you had some lunch out on the patio, or you went there before or after a game to celebrate a victory.”
Bronson Oahu played football at UO from 2011 to 2015. During his junior and senior years, Oahu said he frequented Taylor’s, where he met several of his closest friends to this day.
“Even when you have people from out of state coming to visit you for school,” Oahu said, “they all want to go to Taylor’s and have a good time. It’s an experience.”
These testimonies reflect a changed Taylor’s. A bar focused on college students above all else.
Hare said he looks back fondly on his years running Taylor’s. He said he learned more about business and life in the first month of running Taylor’s than he did spending five years at UO.
He ultimately outgrew his own creation, selling the business in May 2017. While great for business, Hare said the DJs and “dance club” environment were never his personal scene.
Reflecting on a recent visit he had made to Taylor’s, Hare said, “I didn’t miss it.”
Taylor’s today, and beyond
The current owner, Ramzy Hattar, was drawn to Taylor’s for a variety of reasons, nostalgia being a primary one. Hattar is a UO alumnus with memories of his own at Taylor’s. He also runs other bars and restaurants around Oregon, such as the River Pig Saloon. Hattar said he anticipated certain challenges when he bought Taylor’s, but not the “bad” media coverage the bar has received over the past two years.
Previous reports by the Emerald and the Register Guard in 2016, while Hare was still managing, revealed Taylor’s was repeatedly accused of overcharging credit cards and accused of multiple drug-related incidents, including a bartender being accused of drugging patrons.
Hare said he did not condone any of the alleged incidents under his watch, and although he can’t be sure whether they happened, he rules out the possibility that anyone he hired was involved.
“But to say that that never happened — people come in off the streets,” Hare said. “And there’s creepy people in this world and there’s bad people in this world.”
The OLCC’s notice in August 2018 cited 29 incidents of poor compliance with liquor laws — not including the incidents above — and a history of “serious and persistent problems” that happened under Hattar’s ownership, including incidents of excessive intoxication, disorderly conduct, theft, assault and sexual assault.
Since the OLCC issued Taylor’s the notice on Aug. 22, the bar has seen at least two reported assaults and one dispute, according to Eugene and UO police logs.
Hattar has implemented several changes to try to address some of the issues raised by these various reports, including implementing a cover charge for non-UO students. But Eric Clarke, current general manager of Taylor’s, said they felt it was alienating alumni customers.
One change that has stuck is banning a beloved drink called “Fuck-it buckets” because the larger containers they are served in were at a higher risk of being drugged, according to Hattar.
“I cannot and I will not ever have that tied to anything I own,” Hattar said of the drugging allegations.
Hattar also noted the capacity and popularity of Taylor’s, saying that the volume of people is greater than most other bars, so the rate of incidents is inevitably greater.
Matthew VanSickle of OLCC said he recognizes that the capacity argument is easy to “lob out there,” but he argues that all bars should be held to the same standard.
“The commission’s position is you can’t hold one institution, one bar, above anybody else,” VanSickle said. “Everybody has to live up to the same standards of supporting public safety and community livability.”
Hattar said he questions if other campus bars are being held to the same standards as Taylor’s. He also said he is not worried about Taylor’s losing its license as long as he works with the appropriate authorities.
“I know what I expect my standard to be at my bar,” Hattar said. “I expect it to always be under control.”
Regardless of the liquor license controversy, the future of Taylor’s is up in the air. Todd Taylor and the Taylor family still ultimately own the property on which Taylor’s is built. And they have plans to fundamentally change the Taylor’s building.
“Change is inevitable,” Todd said. “[The building] is not going to be there forever. It’s not a pyramid. It’s got an expiration date. We spend a lot of money each year just to keep that thing from falling down.”
Todd said his ultimate vision is to have a massive block party on 13th Avenue during Taylor’s 100th year of operation that is coming up in less than three years. After that, he wants to build a brand new building. Initial drawings for the building show at least three stories of growth, with a modern design (shown above). Todd wants to include a rooftop bar, student housing, and incorporate aspects of the current building such as the signature spire and the sign. He put the chances of this new redesign happening at 50-50.
“We need a new building,” Todd said. “That thing is 100 years old. It’s been patched together 100 times.”
Because of Taylor’s fascinating and complicated legacy, many people have vested interests in the future of the bar. It is a fixture as well-known to students as the university itself, and a campus without Taylor’s is difficult to imagine for many.
“Some people love it, some people hate it,” Chuck Hare said. “Taylor’s is what it is, it can’t be necessarily all things to all people. For a lot of people, it’s some place that’s really special.”
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