Closing of Brunswick bar marks shift in Maine Street culture

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BRUNSWICK — A downtown bar whose short history was plagued by conflict with town government is now closed.

O’Shea’s Irish Restaurant & Cantina, which opened in the Lincoln Building just over a year ago, has shut its doors for good, co-owner Ryan Foley confirmed Tuesday.

The next business to move into the space is likely to be a family oriented restaurant, according Bill Moore, who owns the building. The change will end a string of establishments similar to O’Shea’s that have occupied the 94 Maine St. storefront.

But the end of O’Shea’s also illustrates a greater trend in the Maine Street business community, away from the rough-and-tumble bars of the 1980s and 1990s, and towards coffee shops and restaurants.

And it raises the question: are bars no longer compatible with downtown Brunswick?

Rob Jarratt, a former Maine Street business owner and founding member of the Brunswick Downtown Association, doesn’t think so.

“As long as they play by the rules,” he said, bars like O’Shea’s would be welcome on Maine Street.

“The way that operation was run is a misfit. And I’m not certain that it would have survived in any era of downtown Brunswick,” Jarratt said.

O’Shea’s ran into trouble with town government even before it opened. Town councilors and staff raised questions about the bar’s ownership last summer when they learned that Thomas Manning, owner of the Cactus Club in Portland, was involved. The Portland City Council had revoked that club’s liquor license after police linked the bar to rowdy, violent behavior in the Old Port.

In June, the Brunswick Town Council denied O’Shea’s a special amusement license after hearing testimony from a nearby property owner, George Glover, who claimed O’Shea’s late-night patrons were disturbing his tenants.

But the council later granted the bar a temporary license with the condition that the owners would limit the people gathering outside and hire a police detail whenever they provided live entertainment.

But O’Shea’s ran afoul that condition later in the summer, when the bar fell behind on its payments for the police coverage, which cost $172 per night.

Brunswick police officers also discovered that on Sept. 7, O’Shea’s had live music, DJs or karaoke without a police officer present. These incidents led Capt. Mark Waltz to write the bar owners a civil summons. He was about to issue another summons for a subsequent violation on Sept. 10, when the bar abruptly closed.

Ryan Foley, a 40 percent owner of O’Shea’s, said town staff forced him out of business. He said a town policy implemented Aug. 31 required him to pay for the police details in advance.

“That’s what buried us,” Foley said, adding that O’Shea’s was forced to cancel it’s band last Friday, forfeiting nearly $3,000 in business.

“They made it so we had to shut down,” he said.

But according to landlord Bill Moore, the bar was also regularly late on rent payments. Moore obtained a writ of possession, and gave the bar owners until the end of September to move out or be forcibly evicted.

Although Moore’s major beef with O’Shea’s was their late payments, in June he said other tenants of the Lincoln Building had complained about O’Shea’s patrons.

He said he has already found a new business to occupy the space, a tenant he says will be “quite a bit different” than O’Shea’s and will better reflect his “vision of downtown.”

That vision may not be compatible with bars like O’Shea’s, said Councilor David Watson, who worked as a police officer in Brunswick from 1978 to 2000.

“I think a bar could be compatible on Maine Street, but not the type of bar that’s been presented to date,” he said.

Watson said he doesn’t think it will be impossible for a new bar to open downtown, but said it would have to cater to a different clientele than O’Shea’s, one that better reflects the demographics of a changing Brunswick.

“I think it would have to be the type of bar that would cater to the professional type people,” he said, people who, “when they leave the bar, are still acting professionally.”

Councilor Margo Knight, who represents the downtown district, said bars like O’Shea’s don’t belong on Maine Street anymore.

“That is not what we need in Brunswick to keep it vibrant, and a place where we want people living,” she said.

She acknowledged there there is a demand for a business like O’Shea’s, but said the bar would have fit in better at Cook’s Corner or on Pleasant Street than downtown.

A successful downtown bar owner also said the Maine Street location made it difficult for O’Shea’s to operate.

T.J. Siatras, whose family owns Joshua’s Tavern, said 94 Maine has “had inherent problems as a late-night operation in the past. … It’s in more of a residential neighborhood of the downtown and that makes it difficult to try to pull that type of thing there.”

Siatras said many factors contributed to O’Shea’s decline, but he believes the economy and closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station were ultimately responsible.

“It’s definitely the wrong time in Brunswick to be going into the food business,” he said. “The Brunswick market will not support even what it used to, and that will not change dramatically right away.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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