After years of police calls and neighborhood disturbances, Westbrook city councilors decided Monday they will no longer allow alcohol at the Skybox Bar and Grill.

The City Council voted Monday not to renew the Brown Street bar’s liquor license, along with four other licenses that permit the bar to serve food and have a pool room, pinball machines and music.

Skybox owners Tom and Ellen Dore say they plan to appeal to the state to retain their right to sell alcohol – the source of over 95 percent of the business’s income.

Among the concerns of the council were the number of calls to the bar received by police and its location.

A similar debate occurred two years ago, but the council ultimately renewed the license to the Dores, who have owned the bar for four years. In 1999, when the bar was known as Andy’s Tavern, the council denied a renewal to the previous owners, but the state approved the license over the city’s rejection.

The Skybox’s liquor license expires on March 19, but the Dores will be able to continue to serve alcohol until the state’s Liquor License and Compliance Division in the Department of Public Safety denies them the right to do so. Depending on the outcome of the state’s decision, the council may also reconsider the renewal of the victualer’s, amusement, pool and pinball licenses. According to the Dores, Skybox generated about $270,000 in alcohol sales this year and about $14,000 from food.

Much of the debate among the councilors centered on a list of calls for service to Westbrook police, presented by Capt. Thomas Roth. That list also included calls to Mill Side Tavern, Fajita Grill, Stockhouse Restaurant and Profenno’s Pizzeria and Pub.

From Feb. 19, 2007, to Feb. 19, 2008, 16 calls for service to Skybox were listed. However, Roth said, after a conversation with Tom Dore, he determined three of those calls, which were made after hours, were not related to the bar. In comparison, over the same period of time, seven calls were made to Millside Tavern, four to Fajita Grill, four to Stockhouse and nine to Profenno’s.

The calls included noise complaints and reports of fights and overly intoxicated patrons.

“This is a lot of calls – a lot of dangerous stuff going on in the middle of a neighborhood,” said Councilor Dottie Aube.

Councilor Ed Symbol, who was the primary supporter of Skybox throughout the debate, said he thought comparing the number of calls among bars was not a fair indicator of whether the license should be renewed.

“I think Skybox receives a lot of scrutiny,” Symbol said, adding that if the other bars were watched as closely, there may have been the same number of incidents recorded.

Symbol said he thought the difference between nine calls to Profenno’s and 13 to Skybox was “not huge.” If Profenno’s has the same number of calls when it comes up for renewal, he said, the council should be prepared to take the same course of action as with Skybox.

“I think a lot of calls in the neighborhood get attributed to Skybox,” Symbol said. “I don’t see enough here to deny a license.”

Bill Dale, the city solicitor, agreed that the number of calls was not enough to deny a license, offering the example of the “hyper-sensitive neighbor” who repeatedly calls the police. He advised the council to examine the origin of the calls and determine to what extent the bar owner is at fault for the incidents that occurred.

“I haven’t heard tonight enough of an evaluation of these calls,” Dale said. “I think you have to have some sort of more careful examination.”

Roth said the majority of calls came from outside of the bar and that no one person was repeatedly making calls.

Councilor John O’Hara said that the city had worked hard with the Dores to make sure bartenders would call the police when they saw trouble, before neighbors were disturbed and needed to make the calls themselves.

Symbol argued that “there’s no incentive” to self-report. As the list provided by police indicated, any call is “a ding against them,” he said. Symbol said 13 calls over the past year averages out to about one call per month, which “is not a lot.”

Tom Dore addressed different calls listed by police, saying the patrons involved in the fights have been barred from the establishment and that some were started by people who were never served at the bar.

“I’m down there every weekend…My wife’s down there most every night,” he said. “We’ve dumped thousands and thousands of dollars into the place.”

Councilor Drew Gattine asked Dale whether he thought the decision to deny the license could be based not on the culpability of the Dores, but on the fact that “we think the bar is a problem in that place.”

Dale said, in fairness, the council should find some fault with the Dores if it denies the license, but at the same time, “the Dores have always been charged with knowing” that it would be a difficult place to run a bar.

Symbol, who grew up next to Andy’s Tavern, said the location has always been a bar for a working-class neighborhood.

“Shutting that bar is not going to change the number of calls we get to that neighborhood,” he said.

Council President Brendan Rielly disagreed, saying he thought eliminating the bar “would make a difference to the neighborhood.”

“The people on Brown Street have as much of a right to sleep at night as I do,” he said. “If we do take this action tonight, we’re trying to help out the neighborhood.”

Conversely, Rielly said, if the council renews the license, it’s telling the people who have made complaints and calls to the police, “We still don’t care.”

The municipal officers voted 4-2 to deny Skybox’s liquor license, with Symbol and Suzanne Joyce backing renewal.

As the Dores left the council chambers, they said they planned to pursue an appeal to the state.

“The severity is very minor,” Tom Dore said referring to the police calls. “The bottom line is, they don’t want a bar in the neighborhood.”

Tom Dore, owner of Skybox Bar and Grill on Brown Street, defends his bar to the Westbrook City Council. Owners of the Skybox Bar and Grill on Brown Street will have to appeal to the state in order to retain their right to sell liquor. The city council voted not to renew its liquor license Monday.


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