Updated June 10, 2021 - 6:44 pm
As Hogs & Heifers Saloon fights to secure its fate on Third Street, attorneys for Downtown Grand have accused the bar’s owner of orchestrating the lawsuit to get out of her lease.
“It’s about a setup, to get a buyout, to get out,” Adam Bult said in closing arguments Wednesday in the civil trial.
The civil case pits the saloon’s owner, Michelle Dell, against her landlord, Downtown Grand, which transformed Lady Luck and opened under the new name in 2013.
The bar sued Downtown Grand and its business entities in 2019, alleging that the landlord breached their lease agreement and was illegally attempting to evict Dell’s business. The Downtown Grand countersued the bar later that year, alleging Hogs & Heifers violated the lease.
Hogs & Heifers, where bartenders in sparkly cowboy boots dance on the bar and shout into bullhorns, has been a tenant on Third Street since 2005, when it was courted to the city by then-Mayor Oscar Goodman.
A central issue in the case is the portion of Third Street, between Ogden and Stewart avenues, that separates the two properties. For 13 years, the saloon held charity events and festivals on the street in front of its establishment.
But Hogs & Heifers hasn’t been able to host events since 2019 because the Downtown Grand is using it solely for valet parking despite it being identified as a common area in the lease, Dell’s attorney, Robert McCoy said.
The stonewalling flatlined their revenue, which had hit the $4 million threshold in 2018, and Downtown Grand got a cut of it.
The plan to use Third Street as a pedestrian mall for businesses to host large-scale events was central to Dell’s lease agreement. In 2004, she worked with her original landlord to present to city officials a plan for how that space would be used, including for events in front of Hogs & Heifers.
“They commandeered the street for their own personal use and excluded Hogs & Heifers from using the street,” McCoy said. “What’s clear from this case is that they were making their decisions with respect to what was best for the Downtown Grand and not of their capacity as a landlord.”
McCoy argued that issues arose when Downtown Grand first came onto the site in 2012 and started making designs for an “Urban Cowboy” bar.
“The Downtown Grand plans did not include Hogs & Heifers,” he said. “The Downtown Grand clearly doesn’t like it, but that’s what they bought.”
But Bult, who represents the Downtown Grand, argued that his clients did not outright deny use of the street and weren’t obligated to give Dell updates on construction.
He said the bar violated its lease by not providing the proper prerequisite for holding a St. Patrick’s Day event in 2019 and blamed the patrons at Hogs & Heifers for a fight on the sidewalk and an accidental gun discharge.
He also said that Dell defamed his clients, painting them as unpatriotic by suggesting the Downtown Grand denied parking to a Gold Star family.
“The idea was to put out an event that was so emotionally charged, that it was so sensitive, that if we didn’t handle it exactly right, we were going to get pounced on,” Bult said.
McCoy denied those claims, saying that the lawsuit was filed only after the bar was served with two default notices for violating the lease.
“The evidence does not suggest that the tenant wanted to abandon its 14 years of operations,” he said.
Dell is seeking compensation for lost funds and sponsorships. She also wants the right to use the street. The Downtown Grand wants to terminate the 20-year lease, and Bult asked the judge for more than $500,000 in damages for defamation.
The judge is expected to announce the verdict June 18.