News: The Cuckoo Outgrows The Nest

Neighbors fly into a rage over bar's patrons

Like the namesake character made famous by Jack Nicholson, the attempt to lobotomize R. P. McMurphy's Irish Pub and Coffeehouse began Sept. 30.

The bar faces the operational equivalent of a lobotomy: the state of Ohio is considering taking away its liquor license through a process that began with a Sept. 30 hearing in front of the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.

Cincinnati City Council, the police department, the Oakley Community Council, the Wasson Road Neighborhood Association and at least 42 separate letter-writers have all lodged objections to renewing R.P. McMurphy's license.

The bar operates out of a circa-1900 house on Wasson Avenue, a relatively quiet street running parallel to the train tracks that form one edge of a small neighborhood in the Hyde Park/Oakley area.

When it opened eight years ago, a flier announcing R.P. McMurphy's arrival called it a "neighborhood pub" and "upscale pub and coffeehouse."

"We feel the neighborhood can support a small friendly gathering space," the flier says.

But now a lot of nearby residents say the flier was misleading and contend that R.P. McMurphy's turned out to be neither small nor friendly — and it might offer Hot Nuts, but it's not a traditional coffeehouse.

A form letter with dozens of signatures instead calls R.P. McMurphy's a nightly "drunk fest."

Steal this gnome
Michael Smith moved his family onto nearby Drake Avenue in 1989, drawn by the gas-lit, bucolic streets.

"My family is frequently awakened by hordes of drunks who are yelling, singing or fighting as they pass down our street," he says in a letter to the police department's district liquor supervisor and vice control.

Letter after letter from angry neighbors echo Smith. Residents say empty beer bottles litter their sidewalks and lawns, along with other trash including condoms. Both sexes have been caught urinating on lawns and against houses. Trash cans are overturned; holiday decorations are promptly stolen and "Support Our Troops" and "Breast Cancer Awareness" magnets disappear off residents' cars, they say.

R.P. McMurphy's doesn't have a parking lot, which leaves patrons to park along nearby streets. Another letter says parking is so scarce that residents who are planning to entertain have to rush home at 5 p.m. so guests can park in their driveways and not four blocks away.

Then neighbors who manage to find street parking run a high risk of having their cars knocked around by drunken drivers.

"I would say that a vehicle parking in front of my house will have approximately a 50 percent chance of being either hit or vandalized within a two-week period," says a letter from neighbor Katherine Haskell DiPaola.

Residents say bar patrons who don't make it to their cars sometimes even pass out on their lawns.

Alan Statman, attorney for bar owner George Dyer, says everyone's overreacting, prompted by the hysteria of a just a handful of residents.

"My impression is that a lot of the neighbors used to go to R.P., and as they've gotten older, they're less interested in the bar and more interested in staying at home," Statman says.

He says R.P. McMurphy's has made efforts to compromise with neighbors, such as suggesting different operating hours, hiring an off-duty police officer, spending $7,000 to better insulate the walls, forming a Sunday cleaning detail and hiring a sound expert to study the facility.

"We think we're going to be able to prove that the ambient cricket noise in the neighborhood is louder than the bar," Statman says.

Another thing the announcement flier said was that R.P. McMurphy's planned to specialize in flaming coffee drinks and offer live entertainment in the form of "one- to three-piece Irish sing-along bands."

But on a recent Thursday night, the strains of a four-piece Rock band's cover of "Sweet Home Alabama" swelled out of R.P. McMurphy's every time the door opened. A police officer watched from a nearby stool while one beefy guy checked IDs and another accepted the $3 cover at the gate.

When YPs go wild
R.P. McMurphy's would probably be considered tame on Main Street. But in Hyde Park and Oakley, the bar's relatively youthful, affluent partiers annoy the area's relatively older, affluent residents.

Neither side denies that the bar caters to young people of means, though Statman's estimations skew them older, and neighbors say they're younger.

"It's a peaceful, calm environment," Statman says. "It's definitely not a 21-year-old bar where everyone's doing Jell-o shots."

While there might not be any Jell-o shots, on this same Thursday night, there were a few shots going down at R.P. McMurphy's. Patrons leaned close or shouted to be heard above the band and picked peanuts out of baskets set around the bar.

It seems that what drove the bar's neighbors to act were its plans to expand. A 2002 zoning permit to build a small parking lot and a large porch for more outside seating is still tied up in appeals.

According to City Councilwoman Laketa Cole, chair of the Neighborhood and Public Services Committee, both hearings to determine if council should consider filing a formal objection were packed full.

"The whole community came down in opposition," Cole says.

She acknowledged Dyer's efforts to appease the community, though she says he hasn't joined the Oakley Community Council as he said he would. But Cole thinks it's too little, too late.

"The residents at this point are mad," she says.

The Sept. 30 hearing at City Hall was the first of what might be a few days of hearings before the state Division of Liquor Control. Melanie Reising, attorney for the city, estimates the city files six liquor license objections a year.

After the hearing officer files a report and the Division of Liquor Control makes its call, either party has 30 days to appeal, according to Liquor Control spokesman Matt Mullins.

The first appeal goes before the independent Ohio Liquor Commission. That decision can be appealed again to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

Statman says R.P. McMurphy's isn't intimidated.

"We will not stop until we are successful or until the Supreme Court of the state of Ohio tells us we're not allowed to be in business," he says. ©

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