PORTLAND — Police will continue to ask the City Council to revoke the Cactus Club’s liquor license, even though their case is weakened by the state’s decision not to prosecute alleged liquor law violations at the club.

The city has been feuding with the bar and its owner, Thomas Manning, for years. On Feb. 7, police will reassert their position that poor management of the bar leads to safety problems and more police calls.

Manning says Portland police have it in for him, and his bar is no worse than others in the Old Port. He wants the council to grant his license and abandon next month’s hearing.

“If the police department wanted to perform this process fairly and without bias they would analyze, compare and contrast the Cactus Club’s calls for service to the rest of the other bars and taverns in the area,” Manning wrote in a letter to city officials dated Jan. 15. “They would find that we perform extremely well and that we are not a business that should even be considered to be shuttered and have real people’s jobs lost.”

Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said police do conduct fair reviews, and the Cactus Club is the cause of an inordinate number of serious problems.

Councilors voted to revoke the club’s license after several cases of underage drinking and a shooting were connected to the club in 2008.

The license was reinstated by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on a technicality – that the city had missed a notification deadline. The bar has continued to operate throughout the dispute.
In 2010, police said they responded to a domestic dispute, four fights and three general disturbance calls at the club on Fore Street.

Police responded to the bar or its immediate vicinity 32 times in 12 months. “We recognize the number of calls for police service to this establishment has decreased in comparison to the prior review period,” said a police memo to the council. “We remain convinced that the Cactus Cub presents an unacceptable risk to public safety.”

A key component of the case against the club was a series of alleged liquor law violations. In one case, a woman was found unresponsive outside the bar and was taken to the hospital for possible alcohol poisoning.

The woman’s friend, who also was very intoxicated, said the woman had been drinking “fruity drinks” in the bar.

The manager said the woman was sober when the two arrived, police said.

A doorman denied knowing anything about the two. They were put outside in thin, short dresses and no protection from the elements at 11 p.m. on March 12, police said. 

Another case involved a woman who passed out in the bar and later was carried out and put in the manager’s car, police said.

Assistant Attorney General Michelle Robert dropped the cases, saying the state was unable to find two key witnesses, presumably the women involved. Police will continue to press their case on Feb. 7, arguing that even without a conviction there is a clear pattern of poor management, which is grounds to deny the license.

They also say the bar will compel problem patrons to leave, essentially moving the problem from the bar to the street.

Councilor Ed Suslovic, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he thinks the police have made a good case so far.

“Certainly, I’ll keep an open mind, but based on everything I’ve read and my research, Mr. Manning’s operation certainly leaves a lot to be desired,” he said.

Suslovic said he does not believe the police have singled out Manning’s bar for enforcement.

“His style of operation is what has attracted the attention,” he said. “There are enough bars that don’t cause problems. That, to me, is all the proof I need to know someone can run a bar well in Portland and make a buck.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]