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Why is Sangillo's in the crosshairs?

As anyone who's been there knows, Sangillo's Tavern is a throwback to Portland's gritty, blue collar heritage. A neighborhood staple for the past half century, Sangillo's first opened in the 1960s on India Street. When Micucci Grocery expanded in 1996 the bar moved over to its current location on Hampshire Street, just a block away from the old India Street location. The place is well known among (true) locals for their cheap drinks, sweet jukebox and unpretentious atmosphere. shorr-chris

To those not in the know, the bar appears to be a growing hot spot for late night, inebriated violence. The Portland Police Department has recently targeted the bar, and is trying to have it shut down for good.

This past Jan. 28 there was a shooting outside the bar, after hours, that left a 24-year-old man paralyzed. A tragedy for the young man and his family, but certainly not one that Sangillo's could have prevented.

While the Portland Police Department has released few details of the shooting, they are citing a belief — not proof — that the victim and the shooter had been patrons at the bar the night of the shooting, along with a record of 23 calls for service to the bar in less than a year as reasons for their recommendation to the Portland City Council to deny Sangillo's application for a renewal of their liquor license.

The council will vote on the matter on Monday, March 17. Sangillo's liquor license was set to expire on Feb. 26, but the city agreed to extend it until March 28. If the council heeds the police department's recommendation and denies the renewal, Sangillo's will have the option to appeal to the state Department of Public Safety's Liquor Licensing Division. During the appeal process the bar would be allowed to stay open, but the Sangillo family (as well as every Portlander I've talked to about this issue) believes they should just be given their renewal and not have to go through the appeal process.

The lawyer representing Sangillo's, Harry Center, claims "the Sangillo family strongly believes that the incident of Jan. 28 is the driving force behind the recommendation to deny, which has nothing to do with Sangillo's."

In a letter to Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch, sent on March 6, Center writes "there has been a Sangillo's in Portland, Maine since the 1960s. This is a family business which until very recently has never had any issue with an application or a renewal for a liquor license."

While Malloch responded by saying "it culminated in the shooting, which really highlights the danger in the neighborhood and the danger to public safety," he also said the department's recommendation is "certainly not based on one single event."

Malloch was referencing the 23 calls for service that the immediate neighborhood around Sangillo's generated between Feb. 26, 2013, and Jan. 30. According to the police liquor license review, police responded primarily to reports of assault, fighting and theft in that time frame.

In regards to the India Street neighborhood's notorious neighbor, the Old Port, the problems involving Sangillo's, although highlighted by the police department's recommendation, pale in comparison.

I don't want to knock the Old Port, Lord knows I've had my fair share of fun and trouble down there, but I don't understand why Sangillo's is being so unfairly targeted by the police department while the problems surrounding the Old Port continue to be ignored.

In a statistical comparison of police beat 1, which includes Sangillo's neighborhood, and police beat 3, which is the Old Port area, between Feb. 1, 2013 and March 13, 2014, it's plain to see where the core of the late night violence around town is centered. During the given time frame police beat 1 saw 15 assaults, 22 fights and 46 instances of theft. In that same span of time the Old Port saw a reported 133 assaults, 131 fights and 246 instances of theft.

Obviously the higher numbers in beat 3 are a result of the epically high number of bars there, but keep in mind the fact that the problems in beat 1 aren't merely centered around Sangillo's. The neighborhood has a high concentration of homeless and drug addicted people, and is also home to the Milestone shelter which offers housing and treatment for substance abusers.

So my question is, why would the police single out Sangillo's? If they are so concerned with putting a stop to late night hooliganism and violence, why wouldn't they focus on the bars in the Old Port first?

Perhaps it's because as a police force, they recognize that they will never be able to effectively corral the after hours trouble makers in the Old Port. So they might as well feign diligence by blaming a single blue collar establishment for a struggling neighborhood's problems.

I'd like to deliver my own message to Vern Malloch:

"Leave Sangillo's alone."


All (true) Portlanders

(Chris Shorr is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta. He blogs at tides.bangordailynews.com and writes this column for the Weekend Edition of The Portland Daily Sun. Contact Chris by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)


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