Long-time Portland tavern Sangillo's loses liquor license battle, to close Saturday

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PORTLAND — Last call at Sangillo’s Tavern will come at midnight Saturday, Feb. 14, after the state upheld the city’s denial of a liquor license.

“We will not appeal the decision,” owner Dana Sangillo said Monday, confirming this is the last week the 62-year-old bar at 18 Hampshire St. will be open.

Sangillo could have appealed the decision by the state Division of Liquor Licensing and Enforcement in Maine District Court.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin on Monday applauded the state’s finding.

“While we never enjoy recommending that a long-established business cease operating, our first priority is to public safety,” Grondin said. “Because of this, we are pleased that the state upheld the City Council and Police Department’s determination.”

In the Jan. 16 decision, Timothy Poulin, deputy director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, agreed with the city’s findings that Sangillo’s “endangered the safety of persons residing in the areas surrounding this place of business.”

His decision allowed the bar to stay open for 30 more days, until its temporary license expires.

Sangillo, the bar owner since 2009, said he and his aunt, bar manager Kathleen Sangillo, began telling patrons recently that Sangillo’s is closing.

“We are losing a business, and we have employees who are losing a job,” Sangillo said. “We’ve received a lot of support from people and local businesses, and we are grateful.”

The city first denied a license to Sangillo’s a year ago, on a recommendation from Police Department Lt. Gary Hutcheson. The bar remained in business through the appeal process, which included a three-hour City Council hearing on March 17, 2014, and a 5-4 City Council vote upholding the license denial on April 7, 2014.

The city based its denial on a report from Hutcheson detailing several disturbance calls beginning in the spring and summer of 2013, and culminating with a shooting outside the bar on Jan. 28, 2014, at around 1:20 a.m. The crime left the victim paralyzed.

Although the bar had closed, police said those involved in the still-unsolved shooting were customers.

At the Nov. 6, 2014, appeal hearing, Sangillo’s attorney Tim Bryant grilled Hutcheson about the calls and whether incidents could truly be linked to the bar. At least two calls to deal with disturbances came from Sangillo’s staff, and the bar had hired a doorman after the owners met with police in 2013.

Sangillo’s was also cited for serving a minor during a police compliance check on Oct. 26, 2013.

“I thought the (state) hearing went very well,” Dana Sangillo said. “I felt confident in the facts.”

But the burden of proof fell on the owners to show the city acted unreasonably in denying the license, and Poulin said they did not convince him.

“Sangillo’s failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that the … incidents relied upon by the City are missing any elements required by (state law),” he said.

He also agreed with the city that Sangillo’s did not properly train its staff, and failed to provide state-certified training, as required by the city, although Kathleen Sangillo said training was done by the nonprofit 21 Reasons.

Poulin and also found the establishment was improperly managed because it did not have a night-time bar manager.

“It was not unreasonable for the City to conclude … that Sangillo’s was managed and operated in an unsatisfactory and unsafe manner during the licensing period,” he said.

Dana and Kathleen Sangillo said they felt the problems were not about keeping the peace, as much as whether Sangillo’s still had a place in the India Street neighborhood it has been part of in three different locations over seven decades.

“We don’t fit into the agenda,” Kathleen Sangillo said. She added that the closing will have a large impact on the city.

“They don’t know it,” she said, “but they are losing a huge part of history.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Sangillo’s at 18 Hampshire St. will close at midnight Saturday, Feb. 14, after the state upheld Portland’s denial of a liquor license for the 62-year-old family-owned bar.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.