Once delayed, Brunswick bar gets live-music permit, with conditions

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BRUNSWICK — When the clock strikes midnight – and sometimes long after that – the area around M.J.’s Grille & Tavern on Maine Street can be filled with late-night revelers whose loss of inhibitions carries well past last call. 

Such scenes are not unique to M.J.’s, but recently, the Maine Street establishment became the focus of the town’s attempt to enforce a higher standard of late-night decorum without throwing a wet blanket on the fun.

On Monday, the Town Council voted 7-0 to grant M.J.’s a live music permit, but only on the condition that its owner, Mark Hanscom, would meet with police over the next three months to discuss remedies to what at least one neighbor has described as excessive noise and rowdiness.

George Glover leveled that charge during a hearing on M.J.’s initial application on July 6, leading the council to table what is typically a routine action for a downtown business. Glover argued that the crowd gathering around M.J.’s was loud and boisterous. 

Recent disturbances at around 1 a.m. on Saturday may reinforce Glover’s claim. According to police, two men said they were assaulted outside the bar. In what police believe was a separate incident, another man was believed to have been pushed through a window of an adjacent business.

But Brunswick police Cmdr. Marc Hagan rejected the idea that M.J.’s is different from other downtown bars. According to Hagan, the establishment received 81 calls for service between July 7, 2008, and July of this year. Almost half of those calls were routine police-initiated bar checks, Hagan said. The other calls were a mix of sidewalk clearings, fights or disturbances and noise complaints. 

Hagan said Joshua’s Tavern, located just across the street, had 87 calls during the same period. He acknowledged that crowds tend to gather in front of M.J.’s more than other bars. 

During Monday’s council meeting, Hanscom agreed that the area in front of his establishment draws a post-closing time crowd. But, he said, it wasn’t fair to blame his business or staff for all of the problems.

“I have no problem meeting with police to talk about this,” Hanscom told the council. “But (the conditions) imply that everything that happens in front of my building is a result of what happened in my building.”

Several councilors appeared to agree. Councilor Ben Tucker was originally inclined to grant Hanscom a live-music license without conditions, but was convinced by Councilor Margo Knight to add a condition that Hanscom meet with police over the next three months to find ways to mitigate the late-night gatherings. 

Hanscom also agreed to allow Glover to attend the meetings. Glover, meanwhile, had hoped for action with “more teeth.”

“We’ve seen this kind of condition before,” Glover said. “Nothing happens.”

Glover had asked acting Town Manager Gary Brown to see if the town attorney would recommend more stringent action against M.J.’s. Brown said the town’s counsel wouldn’t because it would single out, perhaps unlawfully, a business for a problem that other drinking establishments experienced with similar frequency. 

Councilor David Watson said noise on Maine Street has always been a problem and would likely continue to be a problem.

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