PORTLAND, Maine — Closed since the start of the pandemic, Dave Aceto and Nicole Costas-Rosa are trying to get their arcade-themed bar open again. To help, they’ve moved their pinball machines and vintage video games to larger, less cramped digs on Congress Street which used to house Port City Music Hall.
With renovations almost complete, Aceto and Costas-Rosa just need a liquor license to get the Arcadia National Bar up and running once more. But that’s costing them — a lot.
Just to apply for the license, they had to fork over $18,000 to the city. That’s $15,000 above what they paid in their old space.
“It makes no sense,” Aceto said. “It was the last of the funds we had to get this place going again.”
It all comes down to Portland’s amusement permit fees. To get a liquor license, bar owners must pay $153 per amusement — which includes things like pool tables, pinball machines and even 40-year-old video games.
“Some of these games won’t even make $153 in a year,” Aceto said. “As much as I love Missile Command, there aren’t that many people who are going to play it.”
Missile Command came out in 1980.
Aceto said their place is just as much a museum as a bar. Most of their games are older than the clientele.
Arcadia Bar rotated between 20 and 30 games in its old space on Preble Street and they paid in the region of $3,000 for a liquor license. That’s close to a typical liquor fee in Portland.
But Aceto and Costas-Rosa want to have around 100 games in the new place — 50 pinball and 50 video consoles. That skyrockets the fee.
The question of their liquor license is scheduled to come before the Portland City Council on Oct. 4. If approved, Aceto thinks they can open by the middle of the month.
At the same time, Aceto plans to ask the council to change their rules, capping the $153 fee at 20 games and make it retroactive to January 2021.
Portland city councilor Belinda Ray, who represents District 1, where Arcadia is located, said she hadn’t yet heard of the Arcadia Bar’s plight. Ray’s term ends in December, and she is not running for reelection, but she indicated she’d be willing to listen to Aceto’s argument.
“I would want to look into that,” Ray said. “But I do know other venues in the city have paid that fee in the past.”
She specifically mentioned Jokers, a former amusement establishment on Warren Avenue.
Aceto would like to see the city revisit all its permitting and licensing fees, especially as bars and restaurants struggle to survive while heading straight into the pandemic’s next phase.
“It’s insulting as we try and bounce back from a pandemic and it’s unreasonable for how much it already costs us to own and maintain games,” Aceto said. “Portland deserves cool things like Arcadia and the city of Portland needs to support small business.”