License denied by state, Portland bar Sangillo's to close – Press Herald
The longtime neighborhood tavern, which police said had become a frequent source of problems, will open for the last time Saturday and close after last call Sunday morning.
Sangillo’s Tavern, one of Portland’s oldest family-owned drinking establishments, will serve its last drinks and Jell-O shots this weekend, its owner choosing not to appeal the state’s denial of his request to have its liquor license renewed.
The 62-year-old bar on Hampshire Street could appeal the state liquor board’s decision, but 30-year-old owner Dana Sangillo said Monday that he has decided to close after last call early Sunday morning. He said he hopes someone will re-open it someday.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Sangillo, who represents the third generation of his family to own and operate the bar. “When you’re around for 60 years, you become part of the community.”
Sangillo’s Tavern is known for its cheap prices, stiff drinks, Jell-O shots and jukebox. It first opened on India Street in the 1960s and in 2000 moved to its current location at 18 Hampshire St. It has wood-paneled walls, a 15-seat bar and three small tables.
Over the years, the small tavern, which opens at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. on Saturday, developed a loyal clientele from the neighborhood and has become attractive to a younger generation of customers who favor so-called dive bars – a term of endearment among millennials.
Customers Alan and Monica Rogers were sitting at the bar early Monday afternoon enjoying a coffee brandy as a light snow fell outside when they heard the bar would close.
“I like it here. It’s a small place. It’s cozy,” said Monica Rogers, who was wearing a light blue Sangillo’s zip-up sweatshirt bearing the slogan: “The friendliest neighborhood bar in Portland, Maine.”
The couple said they aren’t fond of other bars in the Old Port, but enjoy going to Sangillo’s every few weeks. “We love our special bartenders,” Monica Rogers said.
Linda Eaton was tending bar Monday, but said she was too upset to be interviewed.
Alan Rogers, a 49-year-old truck driver, said he doesn’t understand why state and city officials are set on closing the place.
“It shouldn’t happen to this place,” Rogers said. “We have never had any trouble here. It’s always been happy-go-lucky here.”
INCIDENTS INCLUDE SHOOTING
Last April, the Portland City Council voted 5-4 to recommend denial of Sangillo’s state liquor license renewal. The decision followed two public hearings, during which police expressed concern about an increase in crime and calls for service in the area. Incidents included a shooting outside the bar in January 2014 that left a 24-year-old man paralyzed. Police said the shooting was the result of an altercation inside the bar, although no one has been charged.
The owners appealed the city’s vote and blamed the disorderly conduct on patrons from other Old Port bars walking by the tavern on their way home. They also increased staff training, tightened security and even stopped serving two brands of cognac attributed to unruly bar behavior – Hennessy and Remy Martin – to address the city’s concerns.
The sate Liquor Licensing and Enforcement division of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operation heard Sangillo’s appeal over the course of two days last November. A total of 18 members of the public testified and Sangillo’s called nine witnesses, including the Rev. Michael Seavy, Catholic pastor and parish administrator in Portland; Justin Alfond, a state senator and owner of Bayside Bowl in the city; and Diane Russell, a state legislator and East End resident.
The liquor board determined that 10 of the police calls could reasonably be attributed to the bar, and under Maine law that number offers grounds to deny a license renewal. The board also determined that the bar’s servers were inadequately trained and that staff served a minor in one occasion.
In most cases, Sangillo’s “failed to provide by clear and convincing evidence that the city was without justifiable grounds to deny” the license, according to a written decision issued Jan. 16 by state liquor board.
Sangillo’s has remained open under a temporary license while the appeal process has played out. The bar has 30 days from the Jan. 16 decision to appeal or close.
Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch said he was pleased that the state upheld the council’s vote.
“We regret this action had to be taken, but we felt it was necessary for the public safety of patrons and residents in the area,” Malloch said.
Police have interviewed all suspects and witnesses in last year’s shooting, Malloch said, but no arrests have been made and none are imminent. “We haven’t closed the case,” he said.
SURPRISED BY DECISION
Dana Sangillo said he was surprised by the liquor board’s decision. He thought his attorney, Timothy Bryant, successfully rebutted police claims that calls for service in the Hampshire Street area were directly attributed to the bar and its patrons. The minor who was served, Sangillo said, was an undercover police officer who has busted more than a dozen other establishments.
Sangillo, who has owned the bar for the past six years, said he has learned a lot about his family from servers and patrons who have been going to the tavern for longer than he has been alive.
He fears that the rapid pace of development in the city will sanitize it of its character and history.
“I think that by closing us down the city is losing part of its charm,” he said. “It seems to me that the city of Portland has an agenda and we’re not part of it.”
Last April, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and Councilors Edward Suslovic, David Marshall, Kevin Donoghue and Jon Hinck voted against renewing the liquor license. Councilors Jill Duson and Nicholas Mavodones, Cheryl Leeman and John Coyne voted in favor of renewal.