The Portland City Council voted 5-4 Monday night to deny a liquor license for Sangillo’s Tavern, a workingman’s bar on Hampshire Street that police sought to shut down for incidents including a shooting outside the bar in January.

The vote came after several councilors said they were conflicted about making a decision that could close a bar that has been in Portland since the 1960s and at its current location since 2000. Councilors lamented the owners’ inability to accept responsibility for the troubles at the bar and correct problems.

Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who represents the district and patronizes the bar, said he cast his vote to deny the license with a “heavy heart.”

“I heard nothing to give me any confidence” that things would improve, Donoghue said. “It’s not the bar that is incompatible with the neighborhood – it’s the management.”

Harry Center, the attorney representing Sangillo’s Tavern, said after the meeting that the owners will appeal the city’s decision to the state liquor board. The bar would be allowed to continue operating during the appeal process.

“We’re very disappointed,” Center said. “We’re grateful for the four councilors who supported the license.”

Danielle West-Chuhta, the city’s attorney, said she will draft a formal denial letter that will need approval from the council. Once that letter is approved, Sangillo’s can file an appeal with the state liquor board.

The bar will likely remain open for months until the appeal is resolved, West-Chuhta said.

On March 17, the council heard hours of testimony for and against the liquor license renewal. Manager Kathleen Sangillo blamed many of the police calls on patrons who were walking home from bars in the Old Port. She struggled to answer a question about whether minors were allowed in the bar, and admitted that no one on her staff had formal server training.

Councilor David Marshall said Monday, “I could not come here today and in good conscience vote for this liquor license. … My confidence in the ownership and the management has only decreased, the more I learn about this.”

Several councilors were willing to give Sangillo the benefit of the doubt.

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, who supported the license along with Councilor John Coyne, said it’s difficult to hold a bar responsible for problems that happen in the surrounding area.

Councilor Jill Duson, who voted in support of the license, tried to convince the council to postpone its vote on the license to give the bar’s owners more time to work with police.

“It’s not unprecedented for the City Council to provide an opportunity for the police department to work with a bar owner,” said Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who voted in support of the license.

But Mayor Michael Brennan, who voted to deny the license, said councilors shouldn’t allow a dangerous establishment to continue operating. “I’m not willing to take on that risk or that responsibility,” he said.

For some councilors, it came down to trusting the police department or Center, who represented the bar.

Police noted that there were more than 20 calls for service to the bar in less than a year, including 11 for fights, three of which involved large groups. Police have also cited the bar for allowing minors to drink.

In January, a man was shot and paralyzed in front of Sangillo’s. Police said the shooting was the result of an altercation inside the bar.

“I do believe there is enough information there to back our request for denial of this liquor license,” said Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

Center, meanwhile, said the council could not hold the under-age drinking allegations against the bar because they have not been adjudicated. Also, very few of the police calls could be traced to the bar or its patrons.

“(The police department’s) argument should not be considered evidence. This is important because they made arguments that were beyond the actual data that was presented to you,” Center said. “The data supports our arguments.”

That argument was not enough to sway Councilor Jon Hinck, a former patron of Sangillo’s Tavern who had “mixed emotions” about the vote.

“I don’t see any reason to discount what the police department told us,” Hinck said.

Councilor Edward Suslovic also voted against the license, saying it would be a “slap in the face” to responsible bar owners.

 

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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