Portland police want the city to shut down a bar where they were called 23 times in less than a year for incidents including a shooting outside the bar in January that left a man paralyzed.
On March 17, the City Council will consider the department’s recommendation to deny a renewed liquor license for Sangillo’s Tavern on Hampshire Street. “We feel public safety is jeopardized by the continuing operation of this establishment,” says the department’s recommendation.
Sangillo’s, a staple of the neighborhood just east of the Old Port, is known for its cheap prices, stiff drinks, Jello shots and jukebox.
Some residents and workers in the area said Monday that they have no problem with the bar, while police said the number and severity of complaints from the neighborhood have increased in the past year.
“It culminated in the shooting, which really highlights the danger in the neighborhood and the danger to public safety,” said Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch.
Police have released few details about the investigation of the shooting, which occurred at 1:20 a.m. on Jan. 28 and left a 24-year-old man paralyzed.
However, Malloch said Monday that police are “confident that the victim and perpetrators in this, whoever they may be, were all patrons in the bar.”
He did not provide any details. No one has been charged, and police are still investigating.
Harry Center, the attorney representing the tavern, said the shooting happened outside the bar after it closed.
“The Sangillo family strongly believes that the incident of Jan. 28 is the driving force behind the recommendation to deny, which has nothing to do with Sangillo’s,” Center said Monday.
Kathleen Sangillo, who manages the bar owned by her nephew, declined to comment.
Malloch said the department’s recommendation is “certainly not based on one single event.”
From Feb. 26, 2013, to Jan. 30, police responded to reports of assault, fighting, theft, a drug sale, public drinking and suspected drunken driving connected to Sangillo’s, according to the police liquor license review.
Sangillo’s was one of 22 Portland businesses cited for selling alcohol to a minor during a compliance check in October. And during a review of surveillance video for the shooting investigation, police identified a 19-year-old man in the bar and issued a summons to Sangillo’s for allowing a minor to remain on the premises.
Police first met with Sangillo’s management in July and suggested installing security cameras and hiring a doorman to improve safety, the police review says.
In a letter to Malloch, Center said the bar has installed 16 security cameras, hired a doorman for Friday and Saturday nights, started scanning identification cards and stopped selling two brands of cognac, Hennessy and Remy Martin, because “the purchase of these liquors was related to detrimental conduct.”
Center said Sangillo’s bans patrons for “conduct as minimal as racial slurs to as serious as fighting,” and keeps a notebook with their names.
He said the bar’s management proposes to have a doorman and a manager on duty every night, install lights outside, have the staff take server training and post a “no firearms” sign.
Malloch said those changes would not affect the police department’s recommendation. “Our concerns were raised last summer,” he said. “There was no progress made.”
The police department has recommended denying new liquor licenses or license renewals about a dozen times in the past 10 years, said Janice Gardner, the city’s business license administrator.
The council has followed some of the recommendations, as in the case of the former Cactus Club on Fore Street, and gone against others, as it did in granting a new license to Outliers Eatery in the West End.
Sangillo’s liquor license was supposed to expire on Feb. 26, but was extended by the city until March 28. If the council denies the renewal, Sangillo’s will appeal to the state Department of Public Safety’s Liquor Licensing Division, Center said. Malloch said the bar would be allowed to stay open during the appeal process.
Sangillo’s opened in the first of two locations on India Street in the 1960s, Center said. The expansion of Micucci Grocery in 1996 forced the bar to close for a few years before reopening a block away on Hampshire Street in 2000.
“It’s sort of an institution in the ’hood,” said Dean Bingham, owner of Dean’s Sweets, across Middle Street from Sangillo’s.
The chocolate shop is open until 11 p.m. on weekends, and Bingham said he’s never had a problem with the bar or noticed much noise.
Police said most incidents have occurred after closing time, which is 1 a.m. every day. Sangillo’s opens at 8 a.m. every day except Sunday, when it opens at 9.
Carmela Difazio of Hampshire Street has never been inside Sangillo’s but has lived two doors down from the bar her whole life.
“There’s hardly any problems, only every once in a while,” she said. “I don’t see any reason why it should have to close.”
Around 2 p.m. Monday, about a half-dozen patrons sat at the small, dark bar. A bartender would not comment and did not allow a reporter to interview customers in the bar.
Michael Wiley, who lives and works on Middle Street, said Sangillo’s draws an eclectic crowd, including employees of nearby restaurants after work. “It’s a dive bar. It’s got grit,” he said.
Wiley, a chef at nearby Hugo’s, said it’s popular among employees of nearby restaurants. He’s been in many times.
“I love Sangillo’s,” he said. “I don’t want to see it go anywhere.”
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: