As the annual marathon craft-brew taste-off, Bend BrewFest, got underway in the Old Mill District on Thursday night—an event that draws more than 60 breweries and 140 individual beers and, according to one Source staffer (after a few plastic mugs full), "a lot of f***ing people"—crowds of tourists spilled into downtown after the 10 pm event closure. Outside the event, another staffer noticed a twenty-something female facedown on a public table, presumably taking a short booze snooze, BrewFest cup still in hand. Backwards hats bobbed up and down the streets, punctuated with the sharp clicking of high-heeled shoes and shouted slurs, and a noise that seemed to crescendo with each passing minute; it was a scene that more closely resembled the aftermath of a Ducks football game in Eugene than a bunch of craft brew tasting connoisseurs enjoying a summer night in Bend.
An hour later, the crowd had flowed from the Les Schwab Amphitheater into downtown, and was still going strong, drunk and loud. In fact, around 11 pm, a full-on street brawl broke out outside of Corey's Bar and Grill at the center of downtown's divey Bar-muda Triangle. According to Lt. Chris Carney of the Bend Police Department, the case notes suggest there were around 10 subjects involved; the fight ended with two arrests, and witnesses confirmed at least one person went to the hospital to be treated for a broken jaw, which apparently will need to be wired shut for his upcoming wedding.
"It sounds like it was a large crowd," said Carney. "Lots of people yelling at one another."
One witness from the scene said that a man was thrown against the window of Corey's, startling a group singing karaoke inside. And, what's more, according to Carney, the post-BrewFest brawl isn't completely out of the ordinary on a Friday or Saturday night.
"We've been doing extra patrols downtown for years because we've know that's where the problems were," said Carney.
And, recently, concerned about what they see as "general disorder" in downtown Bend, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) deepened its partnership with the Bend Police Department; specifically, OLCC Regional Manager Katie Siefkes highlighted "fights, pissing and vomiting."
As downtown rowdiness intensifies (at least from the perspective of the OLCC and Bend police)—and, more keenly, a year before Oregon State amps up Bend as a college town with the addition of thousands of OSU students—the Source asks whether the city could tip(sy) towards an Animal House party town?
Just Add Students?
While US News & World Report may provide the definitive ranking for the country's best academic colleges, Playboy Magazine sporadically announces the "Best Party Schools," an unscientific yet telling survey about colleges' social scenes. And, what should make Bend residents, city officials and police officers sit up a bit straighter is that two years ago, the magazine placed University of Colorado-Boulder at the top of its list, bumping out well-known frat-happy schools like Arizona State and hard-drinking Penn State for this notoriety.
In publishing their decision, Playboy editors pointed out two primary indicators for their choice: First, in an indicator distinctly similar to Bend, the ranking was based in part on UC-Boulder's proximity to recreation and non-academic distractions, like world-class skiing (the magazine also gave points to schools like University of California Santa Barbara for their proximity to beaches); and, second, the editors indicated that the city's four brewpubs contributed to that school and city's party scene—a number that seems almost laughably small compared to Bend's breweries.
Certainly beer is part of the equation for a party town—and in that column, Bend shames most cities: With nearly the same population as Boulder, Bend has 20 existing breweries, and five additional ones planned (Oblivion Brewing Company, North Rim Brewing, Bridge 99 Brewery, Juniper Brewing Company and River Bend Brewing); and a beer per capita ratio that pencils out at nearly a six-pack per person more in Bend than Boulder.
But the equation for party town is not such simple arithmetic as adding students to beer.
Traditionally, Pacific Northwest college campuses have been relatively staid, with major institutions like the University of Washington better known for their lackluster football and Gonzaga for its Cinderella basketball teams than for partying. But, in perhaps an early signal of changing campus cultures in the region, earlier this month, for the first time in recent memory the University of Oregon broke into this year's US News & World Report ranking for top 20 party schools (20th). (That campus was the setting for the filming of the quintessential college party movie, Animal House, but the movie's script was based on the early '60s frat houses at Dartmouth College.)
"With the expansion of OSU—which will have many positive impacts to be sure—more young people will be converging on downtown," says Chuck Arnold, the executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association. "And with that there will be more shenanigans—which means more vandalism, more graffiti, more small quality-of-life crimes that our association will have to deal with."
Moreover, Bend Police Department has been chronically understaffed and underfunded. The common rule of thumb for basic public safety—that is, keeping the order and managing off-campus antics—is about 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents. With only 84 sworn officers in a city with a population of about 80,000, Bend has only two-thirds as many officers as public safety experts advise. Lt. Carney wonders, What do you do when you add thousands of college students to that equation?
Polite Beer Drinkers?
But the president of Visit Bend, the city's tourism bureau, sees it differently.
"There is a difference between being a renown craft beer destination, and being a crazy party town," Visit Bend President and CEO Doug LaPlaca wrote in an email to the Source. He continued, "People visit Bend to have fun, and our awesome craft beer culture is a growing part of Bend's fun equation. So is Bend a party town? Yes, I would say it is a party town and has been since it initially became a tourism destination over 50 years ago."
LaPlaca, though, makes the important distinction between drinking town and party town—and says the two do not always equate to the same outcome. "While Bend has proven to be among the best craft beer destinations in the country, it's definitely not a crazy party town like Las Vegas or Daytona Beach. It's a far more laid-back party scene here and I think it's a natural and healthy balance to the active outdoor lifestyle that attract visitors and locals to Bend."
As for Bend's abundant breweries—20 and counting—LaPlaca says they're a critical element as a tourism draw. For one, they help differentiate Bend from other mountain towns. But they also diversify Bend's offerings and help attract tourists during the shoulder seasons and winter months, LaPlaca notes.
And he's not worried about beer-crazed OSU-Cascades students disrupting Bend's balance.
"It will add approximately 5,000 additional residents to our community," LaPlaca adds. "In a city with a population of 80,000 permanent residents that hosts over 2 million tourists annually, I don't believe 5,000 students will have any negative impact on our community."
"Fear," he adds, "is natural with any kind of change, but in this case I believe the fear is unfounded."
Q&A with Eric King, city manager
SW: Does a beer city mean we're a party city?
EK: I don't think so. The movement is similar to what happened to the wine industry a while back. It's less about the drinking per se, and more about the experience. You're there to taste the unique flavor that a micro-craft brew has to offer. The ultimate goal isn't partying or whatever that means; it's more about the whole experience.
What role does beer play in Bend?
We have a symbiotic relationship with beer in the Northwest. Every community wants to have some type of distinguishing character. If beer is it for Bend, that's great. That's what people are wanting from a tourist perspective—a place to hang out and experience what Bend is about, not just an extreme adventure. They want to slow down and take in the surroundings and beer is part of that. I really don't think people go to Yamhill County to party.
Will the addition of Oregon State University affect the "party" vibe?
That is its own thing. It will compliment some of the Beer Town USA type of atmosphere, but I also think that college is a time for people to have fun as well as study.
What does beer add to the town?
There's a sense of community. The local pub is a place where people meet and discuss business, their lives, the community is the more indirect impact.