Assembly tentatively approves plan for sale of Rumrunner's liquor license

Rosemary Shinohara
Bob Hallinen

An attorney representing the owner of T.G.I. Friday's, who wants to take over the problem bar Rumrunner's Old Towne Bar & Grill downtown and turn it into a restaurant, helped convince the Anchorage Assembly late Tuesday to agree to support the plan as long as the owner-to-be meets certain conditions.

The Assembly voted 8-3 in favor of the restaurant plan. Patrick Flynn, Harriet Drummond and Elvi Gray-Jackson opposed it.

The Assembly had a resolution before it Tuesday to give notice to Rumrunner's that it would protest the renewal or transfer of Rumrunner's liquor license. The resolution cited repeated calls for police assistance beyond what's normal, allegations that security personnel used excessive force, and an attempt to operate a second bar on the premises without proper permits.

The resolution would have set the stage for a hearing at least three weeks from now, to allow Rumrunner's a chance to argue its case. Then, the Assembly would have made a final decision on whether to protest the license. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decides whether to renew or transfer licenses.

Rumrunner's, at Fourth Avenue and E Street, closed Sunday.

Flynn, prime backer of the resolution, said an irresponsible bar owner should not be able to sell his liquor license and cash out.

But attorney and former Anchorage Assemblyman Dan Coffey, representing T.G.I. Friday's owner Bruce Burnett, told the Assembly that Burnett needs to move quickly if he's going to open a restaurant. It needs months of work, and would need to open in early summer to capture the tourist trade, Coffey said.

"If he can't be in operation in early June, he's not particularly interested" in carrying out the deal, Coffey said.

The restaurant might be another T.G.I. Friday's, or it could be another casual dining restaurant, Coffey said.

Coffey brought with him letters of support from the Downtown Community Council, the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and some downtown business owners.

A letter from the Downtown Partnership, which represents business owners, said the group's board is concerned that the closure of Rumrunner's would leave a vacant building downtown. "This outcome is not in the best interest of downtown Anchorage," the letter read.

The letter set out proposed conditions, which Coffey said his client would accept:

• That Rumrunner's not be allowed to re-open.

• That Burnett's restaurant be a bona fide restaurant, with no more than 25 percent of its gross revenues coming from alcohol sales.

• And that adult entertainment there be forbidden.

The Downtown Community Council proposed similar conditions.

The resolution finally approved says the Assembly is making a "conditional protest" to transfer and renewal of the liquor license rather than a straight protest. If all the conditions are met -- mainly the ones proposed by the community council and Downtown Partnership -- the Assembly will be OK with it, the resolution said.

Burnett has a contract to purchase Rumrunner's liquor license, fixtures and furnishings for $300,000, Coffey said. Burnett would lease the building with an option to buy it for $2.5 million, Coffey said.

Coffey said the Rumrunner's owner would still be losing money, not recouping several hundred thousand dollars in improvements that had been made to the building.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340