March 4, 2010

Vote lets Shakespeare stay on Wharf Street

DENNIS HOEY

— By

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Actors will be allowed to continue reciting sonnets and plays from Shakespeare in an Old Port bar.

The City Council voted 8-1 Monday night to exempt the Wine Bar & Restaurant on Wharf Street from a city regulation that prohibits two bars within 100 feet of each other from having entertainment licenses.

''I don't feel that public safety is being affected by 'Naked Shakespeare,''' said Portland police Cmdr. Michael Sauschuck, who urged the council not to repeal the 100-foot rule. ''I don't see culture and the arts on Wharf Street. I see blood and fights and my officers being put in harm's way.''

In a separate vote, the council voted 5-4 to preserve the so-called 100-foot dispersal rule, which was enacted to prevent large, rowdy and potentially dangerous crowds in the Old Port.

The rule would have been repealed in September 2010 by a sunset provision that was introduced at Monday night's meeting.

The coupling of the two issues produced a long debate about the merits of controlling crowds in the Old Port.

At a meeting in August, the council voted to renew the Wine Bar's liquor license but rejected the owners' request to approve Naked Shakespeare performances.

In September, Naked Shakespeare performed in Monument Square in an effort to build public support.

To continue the spoken-word-only performances, the Wine Bar would have needed an entertainment license, but it couldn't get one under existing rules because another bar within 100 feet already has one.

The owners of the restaurant said the city notified them in March that such activity must cease.

The production is called ''Naked Shakespeare'' because the actors don't use props or costumes. The fully clothed performers recite their lines while people in the audience sip wine and nibble cheese and crackers.

Councilors agreed that the 100-foot rule was having an unintended negative consequence on the bar and on the Westbrook-based ensemble -- Acorn Productions. The council allowed the exemption, provided the entertainment is not amplified.

Sauschuck said he believes the 100-foot dispersal rule has been effective and makes officers' jobs safer.

Councilor John Anton joined David Marshall, Kevin Donoghue and Dan Skolnik in supporting a repeal of the rule.

''I think enforcing our existing laws is the right road to go,'' Anton said, referring to bar owners becoming more adept at not serving patrons who have had too much to drink.

''I don't think dispersing entertainment fixes our problem. I think more active enforcement (of liquor laws) is the fix,'' Donoghue said.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman argued to keep the 100-foot rule.

''It did what it was intended to do. It dispersed the bars,'' Leeman said. ''It would be a huge step backward if we were to repeal this ordinance.''

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.comThe production is called Naked Shakespeare because the actors don't use props or costumes. The fully clothed performers recite their lines while people in the audience sip wine and nibble cheese and crackers.

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