South Portland planners OK Big Babe's Tavern in Knightville

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A round of applause echoed in City Hall council chambers Wednesday after the Planning Board approved redevelopment of the former Griffin Club property in Knightville.

Owner Ginger Cote bought the building at 60 Ocean St. last June for $600,000. She presented preliminary plans for a new, four-story building with a music venue and restaurant called Big Babe’s Tavern on the first floor and five residential condos above.

Th project received preliminary approval from the board in January. The final site plan was accepted 4-0 Wednesday night. 

During public comment, resident Russ Lunt said he thinks the tavern is a wonderful project.

“Hats off to her,” he said of Cote, who, he noted, is a world-class musician.  “I’m glad she wants to come to South Portland and I welcome her.”

Cote, an Aroostook County native, has lived in South Portland for 15 years. She is a professional musician who has toured for 40 years with artists including Bonnie Raitt, Cidny Bullens and Emmylou Harris. She plays guitar and piano, but her main instrument is percussion; she said there is a need for a music scene in the city and additional support for the arts.

Neighbors of the proposed business generally showed support for the project Wednesday and a desire to maintain a good relationship, although they previously expressed concerns about parking, noise and hours of operation.

The building will provide 11 parking spaces for condo residents and employees of the tavern. Patrons are expected to park on Ocean Street and nearby cross streets. 

The building will be constructed to mitigate noise, according to Eric Flynn, Cote’s business manager and real estate broker. No outdoor concerts are planned, he said, and the entertainment will be smaller, acoustic sets of about three pieces. The tavern will not try to compete with larger Portland music venues, he added. 

The tavern will have a lounge area and 47 seats, and be open for lunch and dinner, until midnight. Cote said she will live above the restaurant and has the same desire as her neighbors for a peaceful neighborhood. 

The zone is mixed commercial and residential, so a certain amount of activity and noise is expected, Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said. But he added the Planning Board can impose reasonable restrictions to minimize noise.

Cote has said she plans to demolish the existing 5,800-square-foot, circa-1900 building and rebuild on its footprint, with demolition expected to take place around May 1.

According to a Nov. 28, 2017, application submitted to the board the project is estimated to cost $2.4 million. Mark Mueller Associates of Portland is the designer of the project at the corner of Ocean and C streets.

The two-bedroom condominiums in the building, each of which will be about 1,200 square feet, are being marketed for $525,000-$550,000. The three-bedroom, nearly 1,700-square-foot third-floor unit is listed for $875,000.

Cote said to her, the height of the Griffin Club’s popularity – which would have turned 50 this year – was when founder Eddie Griffin operated the tavern. Griffin, who died in 1993, was a special person, Cote said, and she purchased the building with the hope of carrying on the spirit of the business through music.

She said there will be a plaque dedicated to Griffin as a tribute and acknowledgment of the building’s history as a boxing club and Irish pub that in its heyday attracted national sports celebrities alongside a local clientele. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at Follow her Twitter: @JulietteLaaka.

Ginger Cote stands outside the former Griffin Club at 60 Ocean St., South Portland, in January. The Planning Board on April 11 approved her plan to demolish the building and replace it with condominiums and Big Babe’s Tavern.

A depiction of the four-story building containing Big Babe’s Tavern and residential condos that will replace the former Griffin Club at 60 Ocean St. in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood.