Despite claims of inaccurate record, Portland council takes final step to strip Sangillo’s Tavern of liquor license

Patrons enter Sangillo's Tavern on Hampshire Street in Portland on March 17.
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Patrons enter Sangillo's Tavern on Hampshire Street in Portland on March 17. Buy Photo
Posted May 06, 2014, at 5:27 a.m.
Last modified May 06, 2014, at 6:16 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council on Monday night approved a written decision denying a liquor license for a landmark neighborhood bar near which a January shooting left one man paralyzed.

The approval was largely procedural — representing an official notification of the denial — and cemented the council’s 5-4 vote on April 7 to strip Sangillo’s Tavern of the right to sell alcohol.

The move would effectively force the family-owned bar to close after nearly 60 years as a mainstay in the India Street neighborhood.

However, representatives of the tavern have pledged to appeal the city’s decision to the state liquor board, and the business will be allowed to remain open while that process plays out, potentially for months.

The bar’s liquor license was due to expire in late February, but continued to get reprieves as the council in March delayed action on its renewal by three weeks, then postponed its vote of the written denial by another week after Sangillo’s attorney Tim Bryant argued he wasn’t informed that public comment would be allowed on the finalization move.

That written denial was given its final approval on Monday instead, although even as a largely procedural step, it didn’t come without debate.

Bryant said the written document included factual errors that would be enshrined in city record if approved by the council. For example, the document claimed Sangillo’s employees “don’t have proper training” and that bar managers admitted to that.

The attorney clarified that bar manager Kathleen Sangillo only told the council her staff hadn’t had so-called TIPS — Training for Intervention Procedures — alcohol service training, but that the employees had taken other similar trainings.

Bryant also said that by the April 7 meeting at which the council denied the liquor license, the bar’s workers had all taken the TIPS training.

“If you made this decision based on the fact that there was no TIPS training [as the document states], that would be factually inaccurate, or if you made the decision based on the fact that there was no training at all, that would be factually inaccurate,” he said.

The Portland Police Department urged the council to tear up the bar’s liquor license after a year of what police officials called dangerous fights and other incidents nearby.

In a report delivered to the council prior to the March 17 meeting, police Lt. Gary Hutcheson wrote that police responded to 23 calls for service at the bar or in its vicinity between Feb. 26, 2013, and the end of January.

The highest profile of those calls was a Jan. 28 incident in which a 24-year-old Portland man was paralyzed by a gunshot wound outside the establishment just after closing time. That case, in which a shooter has yet to be charged, turned a spotlight on a venue where police say they’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the previous year.

The 23 calls for service include a May 18 incident in which a woman was reportedly grabbed by the hair and pulled to the ground by an unknown male while trying to leave the bar, and a Jan. 10 case in which a man told police a Sangillo’s patron had forced him to buy $200 worth of cocaine.

But representatives of the bar — such as manager Sangillo — have countered that they’ve done everything police have asked to try and address the safety concerns and described the police data as overblown.

Among the steps taken by the tavern are: A pledge that all tavern staff will take alcohol training classes annually; the hiring of two doormen to work seven nights a week; the addition of night managers to be on-hand every night; maintenance of a 16-camera security system; proposals for more outside lighting and the offering to host monthly neighborhood meetings at the site to field new questions and concerns as they arise.

Sangillo has argued publicly that patrons of other Old Port bars often travel up Hampshire Street after closing time, and many cases of unruly activity can be attributed to people who weren’t Sangillo’s customers.

Bryant told the council Monday that only a fraction of the police’s 23 incidents in question were serious enough to generate reports.

“If you actually delve into the police record, there are only eight police reports,” Bryant said. “In five of them, there’s no evidence that any Sangillo’s patrons were involved. Now you’re down to three of them.”

The family-owned tavern was founded by Italian immigrant Pat Sangillo in 1960.

In late 2012, the food and culture publication Cocktails + Joints lauded Sangillo’s Tavern as one of Portland’s destination “dive bars,” using the term endearingly to describe places with “cheap booze, strong drinks and good atmosphere.”

In the Portland Phoenix’ 2014 “Best Of” readers’ survey, Sangillo’s was in the running to be named the city’s best bar, best dive bar and having the best bartender.

 

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