The bar had run out of its popular Jell-O shots an hour earlier, when doorman Emerson Boxill was sweeping up broken glass on the floor and found a small plastic medicine cup filled with blue gelatin.

The lid on top was still sealed and that was enough for Chris Buerkle to pop it open, dig in with his pinky and lay claim to taking the last Jell-O shot Sangillo’s Tavern ever served.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said his friend, Joe Watts.

After 62 years in operation and three generations of owners, the beloved neighborhood bar rang the brass bell mounted on the wall for its final “last call” just before 1 a.m. Sunday.

The jukebox, strong drinks, friendly people – and the alcohol-laced Jell-O cups – were hailed by the wall-to-wall crowd in the tiny wood-paneled bar tucked away on Hampshire Street.

The closure comes 10 months after the Portland City Council recommended against renewing its state liquor license based on the number of times police had been called to the area, including for a shooting outside the bar in January 2014.


The state’s liquor board upheld the city’s decision last month, and the bar’s owner decided not to appeal, meaning it would have to close in 30 days.

The time came early Sunday morning.

The Hampshire Street bar had been busy all week as the end approached, and it was busy as soon as it opened for the last time Saturday morning, said third-generation owner Dana Sangillo.

They came from all corners of the bar’s eclectic clientele, which includes retirement-age regulars from the neighborhood, lobstermen coming off the ocean in the morning and servers who had just finished their work shifts at trendy restaurants nearby.

Some parked themselves at bar stools, savoring the final hours. Others came in for a drink or two to commemorate the closing.

Ashlee McLaughlin, 28, of Brunswick, said Sangillo’s is usually where she ends a night of drinking in the Old Port. On Saturday, it was her first stop.


“Maybe it will be the last,” she said.

McLaughlin said she likes the small bar because “it lacks a lot of the pretension that other bars have.”

John Howard, 65, of South Portland agreed.

He and his wife had to cut their weekend in Bethel short because of the blizzard, but he was glad it gave him the chance to visit the bar he’s enjoyed over the years one more time. They kept their coats zipped up, sitting at a small counter by the door.

“There’s plenty of yuppie bars,” said Howard, who sipped on a can of PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon beer) while his wife drank a white Russian.

“I can go have a martini somewhere else,” he said.


One of those places might be Eventide Oyster Co., a seafood and cocktails hot spot across the street – and the workplace of some of the most devoted Sangillo’s customers.

Eventide owner Arlin Smith said Sangillo’s has been more than a bar where cooks and servers go after work. It’s where they have birthday parties, hatch out business plans and say goodbye to parting employees.

“We cherish this. This is our safe haven,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Jeff Crane, 51, who lives in the neighborhood, has also been at a loss. He comes into Sangillo’s three times a week for rum and Cokes.

“It’s almost the only bar in Portland that’s just a bar,” he said.

It’s not about watching sports or eating food here – unless, he said, “you count the Hot Pockets,” an offering from the sparse snack menu.


“This is part of the community,” said Crane.

As the end of the night approached, there was barely room to squeeze through the crowd to get to the bathroom or the bar. Two young women found extra space by standing on a bench that had been holding coats. They danced and chanted, “one more night.”

Throughout the evening, glasses were raised and cellphones captured selfies to document the end of an era. The jukebox blasted everything from high-energy pop to sentimental country songs.

The hugs and tears didn’t come until after last call.

For Mark Lee, the night was all about his mother, Andrea, a Sangillo’s bartender for 37 years who died in November.

“If she was alive today, it would have killed her,” he said about seeing the place close. “It was basically her life.”


Sangillo didn’t know what to say, other than to offer his thanks for the support he’s gotten.

“You see how much this means to so many people. It’s humbling,” he said.

Bartender Janessa Emmerton handed two handfuls of beer bottles to a customer over the bar when the clock struck 1 a.m.

She looked out to the crowd and swiped her hand across her neck.

“Done and done,” she said.

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