OAKFIELD, Maine — Oakfield residents voted down a businesswoman’s request Thursday night to sell beer, wine and liquor in a biker bar and restaurant she wanted to move there from Houlton.
More than 160 people packed into the Oakfield Community Center to vote on two town articles that would allow the state to issue licenses for the sale of liquor to be consumed on premises. Residents rejected on-premises liquor consumption on Sundays with a vote of 124 to 15, and consumption with the exception of Sundays, 119 to 20.
The special town vote maintains Oakfield’s status as partially dry, which means alcohol can be sold but sale and consumption at a bar or restaurant is banned.
Lori and Ernie Spaulding opened the Handlebar Saloon on Market Square in Houlton last fall. It is the first biker-themed restaurant and bar in the area, and its decor is black and orange, the same as Harley-Davidson motorcycle company.
The Spauldings have been involved with the United Bikers of Maine Aroostook County for many years. During Thursday’s meeting, Spaulding tried to dispel myths and quiet rumblings in the room about the organization.
“We are not the Sons of Anarchy. We are not a motorcycle gang,” she said. “We were established in the 1970s, and we are 2,000 strong in Maine. We pay for every ride we take and give that money away for breast cancer, autism, toys at Christmas, winter coats.”
Several voters asked Spaulding pointed and sometimes misinformed questions related to the Handlebar Saloon, which is closing at the end of the month because its six-month lease was not renewed.
In response to a question, Spaulding said that Houlton did not shut the bar and restaurant down, but Oakfield residents accused her of not being honest.
“You are the victim of gossip,” Spaulding said.
The Houlton town manager and police chief both said last week that Houlton did not close down the restaurant. Town Manager Marian Anderson and Police Chief Tim DeLuca said they did not know why the biker bar was leaving and that they support Houlton’s businesses.
Nonetheless, Oakfield voters, who appeared to have already formed opinions about Spaulding and her business, did not appear convinced and pressed her on issues related to the Handlebar Saloon, how she runs her bar and how that will affect the Oakfield community.
“Do you have underwear hanging from the ceiling?” one resident asked.
“How will you keep the riff raff and drugs out?” asked another.
One resident threatened to close the snowmobile trail that runs through her property if the town approved Spaulding’s request.
“Effective Friday, the trail is closed if this passes,” she said. “I own it and I can close it.”
Another said that the noise and hours of operation were unacceptable because it would disturb her time outdoors at night by the campfire.
Spaulding said that there had been two fights at the Handlebar Saloon.
“Each time it was a personal family thing,” she said. “I take responsibility for that. We never serve anyone underage, and we never let people leave drunk and drive. I would lose my license. Maine has very strict laws.”
Spaulding and Donna Rich, a supporter of the restaurant, tried to reassure residents that it would be a place for families.
“We want to coexist with our fellow Mainers. There are not many places to congregate, to have a burger and a beer, a space where you can come together,” Rich said.
Spaulding talked about jobs, about giving area families a place to eat and asked the town what it needed in response to a resident’s question about what the Spauldings would do for the community.
“I want to do good things, I want to contribute to every organization you have, I will do things for the school,” she said. “I want families to come here. I want families to sit down at a table, have a good meal and not feel like they just got their arms twisted when paying the bill.”
Following the vote, Spaulding said she intended to still open a restaurant in Oakfield.
Spaulding has experience with businesses that serve the public. She and her husband have operated sporting camps throughout Maine; her husband’s grandfather was the owner of Dick’s Diner in Ellsworth.
Spaulding said for the last 10 years, she had been raising her grandson who graduated from high school and is pursuing post-high school studies.
“I very excitedly thought to make my dream come true to have my own little restaurant,” she said. “And it’s been wonderful, everybody loves my place and it’s very respectful. I wish everyone had been there because then you would know.”