Bourbon Haus owner in court over dispute about wooden bar

Meghan Goth
Meghan Goth
Meghan Goth is LINK nky's managing editor. Email her at [email protected]

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Attorneys representing now-shuttered Bourbon Haus owners Dave and Tammy Brumfield and their landlord, Kim Wolf, appeared in Kenton Circuit Court Jan. 17 for a hearing in a lawsuit that has been going on for almost a year. 

The Brumfields have been in an ongoing feud with Wolf and Paddy’s on Main owner Chris Estano, whose bar shares a common wall with the space where Bourbon Haus formerly operated. 

The feuds were put on full public display Jan. 1, when the Brumfields posted on Facebook that they would be permanently closing the bar. The Brumfields pointed the finger at Estano and Wolf in the post — but it turns out neither directly caused the bar’s closure. 

The exchange in court Jan. 17 between both parties’ attorneys was a microcosm of the ongoing dispute between the Brumfields and Wolf, which began when Wolf informed the Brumfields she wouldn’t be renewing their lease at 522 Main St. in Mainstrasse in January of 2022.

“Are they moved out?” Judge Mary Malloy asked the Brumfields’ attorney, Katy Lawrence, at the hearing, referring to whether the Brumfields had moved their business out of 522 Main. 

“They are with the exception of the bar,” Lawrence replied. 

“So does that mean they’re out?” said Ryan Hemmerle, representing Wolf. 

“With the exception of the bar,” Lawrence said. 

“So has possession been returned to JKB?” Hemmerle asked. JKB Properties is the LLC that owns the bar – that LLC is registered to Wolf. 

Lawrence said she didn’t believe so. 

“Either they’re out or they’re not,” Malloy said. 

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The physical wooden bar has been a point of contention as the Brumfields have closed Bourbon Haus. The Brumfields say the bar belongs to them; Wolf said, in court documents, that the bar is considered a fixture and, per the lease agreement, is part of the building itself. 

The hearing lasted minutes, and Hemmerle said afterward that he was “pleased the judge has vindicated our rights. We are looking forward to a speedy resolution.” 

Hemmerle said Malloy ruled the bar was a fixture, but Malloy will write her official decision in the next week or so. 

In a conversation with LINK, Tammy Brumfield said Wolf “was demanding that we leave our 150-year-old antique bar, which was deemed to be a piece of furniture that was owned by us.”

Now-shuttered Bourbon Haus owner Tammy Brumfield in court on Jan. 17. Photo by Alecia Ricker | LINK nky

Brumfield referenced a hearing in December in which she said the judge deemed the bar to be a piece of furniture. 

But Hemmerle said at the Jan. 17 hearing that the bar was ruled to be a fixture of the bar at that December hearing. 

The Brumfields’ original dispute with Wolf is centered around the Brumfields’ understanding that continuing to pay the $1,200 monthly rent as outlined in a November 2016 lease agreement after that lease expired in January of 2018 implied that the lease was extended for a year — and so on each January.

According to court documents, when Wolf advised the Brumfields in early 2022 that she was selling the building, the Brumfields’ attorney sent Wolf a letter stating the Brumfields had an implied yearlong lease and should be able to stay in the building until Jan. 15, 2023.   

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LINK nky obtained a copy of the original lease, which states that if the Brumfields wanted to extend its terms for another year, the Brumfields needed to give written notice to Wolf at least 30 days prior to the lease expiration.

In addition, the lease said, “In the event LESSEE (the Brumfields) remains in the possession of the demised premises after the term of this lease without exercising the extension option, he shall be deemed a tenant from month to month only.”

The only documented lease contained in court documents related to this case was from Jan. 15, 2017 to Jan. 15, 2018. It notes that if the Brumfields took the month-to-month option, they would need to give written notice and begin paying $1,500 per month in rent.

Wolf never received anything in writing, according to a letter her attorney wrote the Brumfields’ attorney in January 2022. 

“If your clients desired to extend the lease upon the expiration of the initial term, they were obliged to make that election in writing thirty (30) days prior to the expiration of the initial term,” the letter said. “They did not do so. In light of this fact, a month-to-month tenancy resulted.”

The Brumfields were forced to vacate late last year — but technically, it had nothing to do with Estano or Wolf. Since they didn’t have a valid lease agreement, the City of Covington didn’t renew their liquor license, making them unable to serve alcohol after Nov. 30, 2022, according to Dan Hassert, Covington’s communication manager.

Kentucky law requires establishments to have both a local and state liquor license. The Brumfields had a valid state liquor license, and Tammy Brumfield said they were under the impression that the state would overturn the decision at the city level.

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But, Hassert said, that’s not how it works.

“The city ordinance is pretty clear that it requires that they either own the building or have a lease,” Hassert said.

As for the Brumfields’ claim, later in their Facebook post and in a call with LINK, that Covington’s David Davidson was responsible for the decision not to renew Bourbon Haus’ liquor license, Hassert said no one person in the city makes those decisions.

The lease is “clearly something that you have to have in order to get one (a liquor license) and they didn’t have it,” Hassert said.

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