PORTLAND — Despite hours of testimony and debate about renewing the liquor license of an Old Port club, the City Council could not make a decision Monday and will take another crack at the issue Feb.18.
The Cactus Club, owned by Tom Manning at 416 Fore St., was up for its liquor license and entertainment license renewal. The Police Department, citing a steep increase in calls for service to the bar and its immediate vicinity during the past year, recommended denial of the license.
The club was previously known as Mercury Lounge and then the Lava Lounge. It was renamed the Cactus Club a year ago and at the same time the atmosphere inside the bar was changed to what the owner called a “Mexican, southern” theme. Also added were female dancers who perform on top of the bar for tips.
David Turesky, an attorney representing Manning, said the police report was blown out of proportion and misleading. He said that despite there being 62 calls for service, there were really only a handful of calls inside the bar and only two – fight and a theft – that generated reports.
The club had three listed liquor violations, although Turesky said one was being contested and should not be counted. He said the incident involved an underage police decoy sent into the bar to try to buy a drink. Turesky said the man, despite being 20, had facial hair and was only five weeks away from 21.
“The guy snuck into our establishment that night,” Turesky said.
Manning reportedly took preventative steps after the incident, hiring a professional to come in and train his staff. He also reportedly instituted four of five recommendations made to him to make his bar a safer environment, including not having the female dancers take breaks in front of the club, because they attracted crowds. Manning told the city the fifth recommendation, to install security cameras, would be adopted if his license was renewed.
Manning is a longtime Old Port club owner. In 2007, the council voted not to renew his liquor license for two connected drinking establishments he owned further down Fore Street, at the corner of Center Street.
Lt. Michael Sauschuck, speaking on behalf of the Police Department, said it was the department’s duty to present to the council all the calls for service and other information the police had in regards to the Cactus Club. He said going through and deciding what was positive or negative was not their job.
While some councilors and Turesky said calls to service outside the bar could not be attributed to the bar itself, Sauschuck wasn’t so sure.
“If we call in a fight, and it’s happening in front of the club, I would attribute that to the Cactus Club,” Sauschuck said. “I’m saying that the Cactus Club is responsible for the people in front of their establishment.”
The council voted 4-4, with Councilor John Anton absent.