WESTBROOK – Owners of the Skybox Bar and Grill will have six months to prove they can run the Brown Street tavern without being a problem in the neighborhood.

Westbrook’s Municipal Officers voted Monday to renew the bar’s liquor, food service, poolroom and pinball licenses on the conditions that the bar closes earlier on weeknights and that owners Allen and Lynn Moore come back to city officials for a review in October.

The Municipal Officers, which include the seven councilors and the mayor, were charged Monday with determining whether the Skybox had met standards outlined in a comprehensive ordinance for granting city licenses.

Last year, the officers denied the Moores the licenses based on the fact that the bar was causing a nuisance in the neighborhood, due to police activity. The Moores sued the city, claiming that councilors who voted against the license were biased against the bar. Last week, a judge ruled that Councilor Dotty Aube was biased because she stated during public meetings that she felt a bar didn’t belong in the neighborhood and that she would vote the way she believed her constituents would want her to vote.

Aube, as well as Council President Brendan Rielly and Councilor John O’Hara, who also voted against the licenses last year, recused themselves from the vote Monday on the advice of their legal counsel.

In order for the remaining officers to determine whether the bar was a nuisance, City Solicitor Bill Dale asked police Capt. Tom Roth to review the calls for service to the Skybox during the past year.

The Moores took over the operation of the bar last year from the building’s owners, Tom and Ellen Dore. The Dores had fought with the city over their liquor license for years. Though a state board previously had overturned the Municipal Officers’ denial of the license, when the officers denied it again in 2008, the Dores decided they were tired fighting the perennial battle.

According to Roth, since the Moores reopened the bar, officers were called to the Skybox about a dozen times for incidents that included fights outside the bar, patrons leaving and driving under the influence, and loud, disruptive behavior late at night.

David Lourie, attorney for the Moores, argued that most of the incidents couldn’t be attributed to the bar or considered the responsibility of its owners. Furthermore, he said, the city was unfairly scrutinizing the Skybox and holding it to higher standards than it does for other Westbrook bars.

“These are common incidents that happen at every single drinking establishment in this city,” said Lynn Moore.

Police Chief Bill Baker, however, said the number of times officers were called to the Skybox during the past year “exceeds by far” the number of times they’d been called to any other bar in the city.

“I’m dumbstruck every time I hear this presentation,” Baker said about the Moores’ defense.

Despite some lingering tension between police and the Moores, all agreed that their relationship has improved, which has helped lessen the problems at the bar in recent months.

“We’ve weeded out the bad seeds,” Lynn Moore said. “We really have tried to go above and beyond.”

A few Skybox patrons spoke in support of the bar. Some of them said it was a place they never would have gone inside years ago, when it was Andy’s Tavern.

“I was afraid to walk in the place,” said Yvonne Dyer.

But since the Moores have run the Skybox, she said she’s become a regular. Dyer said she even had Easter dinner at the Skybox on Sunday because her children are grown up and had their own plans.

Misti Munster, a neighbor of the bar, agreed that the Moores have tried to improve the place but said, “there’s still a lot of negative activity in that area.”

Even if the incidents that happen around the Skybox are similar to those that happen at any bar, Munster said, “the difference is this establishment is in a residential neighborhood.”

But Michelle Demers, a bartender at the Skybox who grew up in the area, pointed to the fact that the bar has been there for decades and that should be a consideration for people before they move into the neighborhood.

“You know when you move in there’s a bar on the corner,” she said.

Dale recommended the Municipal Officers approve the licenses, but on several conditions, including closing at midnight on weekdays, fixing violations found by the code enforcement officer, continuing to work closely with the police department and coming back to the Municipal Officers in six months.

“We’re all tired of dealing with it,” said Councilor Michael Foley, who made a motion to approve the licenses. “I ultimately think we’re moving forward with this situation.”

The Municipal Officers voted 5-0 to grant the licenses, and the decision was met with a round of applause from the Skybox owners and patrons.

Lourie said, despite the favorable vote, the Moores lawsuit against the city won’t be resolved until the city changes its ordinance, which he said is unconstitutional because it gives city officials the ability to shut down any business based on their belief that it causes a nuisance – a power that, he said, is not in their purview.

The Skybox Bar and Grill on Brown Street in Westbrook has been a controversial bar for years. (File photo)

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