PORTLAND — Is Sangillo’s just a regular neighborhood tavern, threatened by developers and gentrification at its 18 Hampshire St. setting?
Or has it become a magnet for disorderly conduct that should be shut down because of repeated breaches of the neighborhood peace?
Those are questions Timothy Poulin, deputy director of the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations’ Liquor Licensing and Enforcement Division, will mull in the appeal of the City Council’s denial of a liquor license for the bar.
Poulin heard 1 1/2 days of testimony on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 6 and 7. Testimony about the bar cast the establishment in two very different lights.
“I think of it as a public house where people can come and read a newspaper or watch the game or race,” Munjoy Hill resident Jeff Crane said.
City Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta said there were “breaches of the peace as well as incidents in the vicinity of the tavern,” from the winter of 2013 through the end of this January that gave plenty of just cause for the license to be denied.
The 5-4 City Council vote on April 7 came after a three-hour public hearing March 17.
West-Chuhta last week reminded Poulin he should give deference to the City Council decision and overturn it only “if there is an abiding conviction the denial was without a reasonable basis.”
Poulin was assisted by Enforcement Division manager Laurence Sanborn and legal staffers Michelle Robert and John Bolton.
Tim Bryant and Severin Beliveau, the attorneys representing Sangillo’s, used a two-pronged approach to make their case.
Bryant cross-examined Portland Police Department Lt. Gary Hutcheson on each of the 24 calls considered in his recommendation to deny the license, while Beliveau questioned bar supporters, including the Rev. Michael Seavey of St. Peter’s Parish, based on Federal Street, and state Sen. Justin Alfond and Rep. Diane Russell.
“People who are there are the heart of the Hill, that’s who goes to Sangillo’s,” Russell said.
Sangillo’s is a 62-year-old bar that has been family owned and located in three buildings in the India Street neighborhood. It has been owned by Dana Sangillo since 2009; his aunt, Kathleen Sangillo, manages the business.
“We are a happy tavern, we are a safe tavern, we are a friendly tavern, we look out for each other,” she said during emotional testimony.
From the city’s perspective, the period from February 2013 through January 2014 was a difficult one, with increasing police calls about fights and disorderly behavior. Sangillo’s was also cited for serving an under-aged college student working with police during a compliance check, and for allowing a 19-year-old inside the bar.
The trouble climaxed with a Jan. 28 shooting outside the bar at 1:21 a.m. The unsolved crime left a victim paralyzed; Hutcheson said police believe the suspects and victim had all been in Sangillo’s, based on a review of surveillance footage from bar cameras.
Mayor Michael Brennan and City Councilors Ed Suslovic and David Marshall, who voted to deny the license, were all allowed to testify Friday, a move that incensed Bryant.
“It is the very fact that he opens his mouth and speaks that is the problem,” Bryant said as Brennan tried to speak on Thursday. “His appearance makes the whole proceeding tarnished.”
Bryant spent almost two hours Thursday attacking Hutcheson’s report, repeatedly asking if calls listed for fights, noise, and an intoxicated customer who allegedly drove away (no one was ever arrested after the complaint) could be directly tied to “persons patronizing or employed by the licensed premises,” as required in Maine law.
Bryant also criticized Hutcheson for including two disturbance calls where Sangillo’s staff called police for help handling unruly customers.
Hutcheson said the bar contributed to one call because a woman arrested was intoxicated after being over-served in the bar. She was charged with disorderly conduct because the doorman refused to let her under-aged friend inside and staff called police.
“In this instance, I consider them contributing to it,” Hutcheson said.
A call about a week before the Jan. 28 shooting, where a man claimed he was forced to buy drugs inside Sangillo’s, was ridiculed by Bryant.
“How is someone forced to buy drugs, sir?” he asked Hutcheson, and then noted Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch said he “wouldn’t give it very much weight at all,” when asked about that complaint at the March 17 hearing.
Sangillo’s has remained open on temporary licenses while the appeal process plays out. It could take more than a month for Poulin to rule, and his decision could be appealed to Portland District Court.
Unlike Seavey and other supporters, who said they were not in Sangillo’s late at night, Russell said she has been there “when the place is packed and late at night” and always felt safe.
“What about those of us who are unapologetically working class, where are we going to go?” she said.
Police Lt. Gary Hutcheson, left, refers to his notes as attorney Tim Bryant argues a point during the appeal hearing for the Sangillo’s license denial on Nov. 6 in Portland.
Sangillo’s, at 18 Hampshire St., Portland, was alternately depicted as a source of neighborhood troubles or a friendly tavern during an appeal hearing for the bar’s liquor license last week.