Embattled Portland bar owner hopes to do business in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — A bar owner who has been fighting an attempt to revoke his liquor license in Portland plans to open a new establishment on Maine Street.

Thomas Manning, who is challenging the Portland City Council’s decision last year to revoke his liquor license at the Cactus Club in the city’s Old Port district, will be a co-owner of O’Shea’s Irish Restaurant & Cantina at 94 Maine St.

According to his application for a special amusement and liquor license, Manning, a Falmouth resident, owns a 75 percent share of O’Shea’s. The other 25 percent will be owned by Joseph Cyr, who has now received a liquor license and special amusement license from the Town Council.

His requests have been unanimously approved by the council. However, Manning’s involvement was questioned during a public hearing June 7 for O’Shea’s special amusement license.

Town Manager Gary Brown asked Cyr about a recent newspaper report on Manning’s attempt to appeal the revocation of the Cactus Club’s liquor license, a battle that has reached Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Cyr told Brown that Manning was only an investment partner and that Cyr himself would be managing O’Shea’s. Brown’s inquiry triggered additional questions from councilors who sought assurances from Cyr that the new establishment would be a good neighbor.

Cyr’s answers were short. When Councilor Margo Knight asked him about what kind of live performances O’Shea’s would host, Cyr replied with one word.

“Bands,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Cyr’s cool testimony appeared to concern some councilors, several of whom informally discussed Manning’s history in Portland after the meeting.

On Wednesday, Cyr repeated that Manning “is just an investor. (The questions) didn’t mean anything to me one way or another.”

He said the Brunswick license application for O’Shea’s is incorrect, and Manning would be a 25 percent minority investor in the business, not the majority owner.

Cyr also said he does not have any involvement in the operation of the Cactus Club. He sought to distance himself from Manning and said “I don’t want his stuff drug into my business. It has absolutely nothing to do with my business, what he does.”

Manning’s battle over the Cactus Club license is his most recent run-in with Portland officials and police. He has owned several different establishments over the last decade.

The Cactus Club license revocation was supported by the City Council, which relied on incident reports from the Portland Police Department linking the bar to rowdy behavior in the Old Port.

According to a report from last year, police said the bar generated 62 calls for service over the course of a year.  The year before, the Cactus Club was the site of more than 50 police calls.

The most recent incident report, as well as allegations of over-serving and serving minors, has been refuted by Manning’s attorney, David Turesky, who said most of the calls couldn’t be linked to the Cactus Club because they occurred outside of the establishment near a cluster of watering holes.

The Cactus Club, which touts a “Mexican, southern theme,” has become known for late-night revelry that Portland police say counteracts their attempts to curb excessive drinking and violent behavior in the Old Port.

At one point the club added scantily-clad female dancers to dance on the bar for tips. Cactus Club has also been the target of several underage drinking stings by police.

In June 2008, a man was charged with shooting and beating an active-duty U.S. Marine outside the club. Other published reports have detailed other violent incidents, leading police to recommend the Portland City Council pull Manning’s liquor license. 

Manning’s Cactus Club troubles were preceded by brushes with police at his former establishments. In 1999, police raided the Manning-owned Metropolis on Forest Avenue, where they seized an assortment of illegal drugs.

In 2007, Manning pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct following his involvement in a fight with a man outside Manning’s Digger’s/Liquid Blue club on Fore Street. 

The City Council eventually pulled the liquor license for Digger’s, a decision Manning appealed but ultimately lost.

Meanwhile, the Cactus Club has remained open during Manning’s latest appeal. The City Council voted to revoke the liquor license there more than a year ago.

Manning’s attorney is scheduled to argue his appeal to the supreme court on Tuesday, June 15.

O’Shea’s will take over the space formerly known as MJ’s Bar & Grille. MJ’s had its share of run-ins with Brunswick police and neighbors, who claimed its patrons would spill onto Maine Street after last call, causing unwanted noise and disruption.

After securing a conditional live music license last summer, MJ’s owners Mark and Jennifer Hanscom abruptly closed the business earlier this year.

Cyr and Manning will occupy the same space as MJ’s, including its basement, where the owners plan to provide entertainment. According to their application, O’Shea’s will feature “acoustical, jazz, pianists and live entertainment.”

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net