Black eye catering
Citing fights, cops oppose license renewal for Pavilion complex
By Chris Busby
Last January, James Albert presented himself to the Portland City Council as a changed man. He said he had “grown as a person” since the early 1990s, when he and a partner ran Sharky’s, a notoriously trashy and violent Old Port bar on Moulton Street.
“I’ve learned how to be a good citizen,” Albert said. “You can teach an old dog new tricks.”
Albert was seeking liquor and entertainment licenses to take over The Pavilion, a nightclub and function hall on Middle Street that includes Black Tie Catering’s operation. Portland police, citing Albert’s history running Sharky’s and his criminal record (which includes two assaults involving alcohol), recommended his applications be denied.
But Albert won councilors over with his pledges to run the new nightclub, now called 188 Bourbon St., under heavy security. He said Bourbon Street would attract an older, classier crowd than typical dance clubs. In the end, even former Police Chief Mike Chitwood changed his mind and supported granting Albert a six-month entertainment license (these licenses are typically granted for one year).
When Albert faces the City Council again on Feb. 22, it looks like he’ll have to pull several more tricks out of his sleeve to get his licenses renewed and hold onto his business.
Portland police are again recommending the Council deny Albert’s liquor and entertainment license applications. In a lengthy report prepared in advance of Wednesday’s meeting, Lt. Janine Roberts of the police department’s Tactical Enforcement Unit cites over two dozen fights and other disturbances at Bourbon Street in the past year.
Many of those incidents have taken place on Wednesday nights, when Bourbon Street advertises a “Ladies Night,” featuring dancing and drink specials. Problems were more frequent during the summer months, but they have not ceased with the onset of cold weather, and Lt. Roberts wrote that Albert and his staff have not been proactive enough in addressing them.
Incidents from last year documented in Lt. Roberts’ report include…
• March 2: “Ejected patron smashed glass door as he was being escorted out of the club.”
• May 7: “Patron alleges being assaulted by door staff as he was ejected.”
• May 15: “Patron alleges assault by another patron while he was waiting to get into the club.”
• June 23: “Male ripped off his shirt and was challenging the crowd to fight outside the club.”
• July 14: “Female arrested for assaulting her boyfriend outside the club at closing time. Boyfriend was arrested for [interfering] with her arrest.”
• Sept. 1: “Two brothers were arrested for fighting outside the club. They were assaulting other males in the crowd.”
• Sept. 15: “Two males arrested for fighting outside the club.” Eight minutes later: “Male arrested after he refused to follow officers’ orders to calm down and leave the area. He was challenging another male to fight outside the club… (Club staff stepped in between the arresting officer and the suspect in what the officer believed to be an attempt to stop the arrest.)”
• Oct. 13: “Male used a knife to stab another male in the back during a fight.” Also that night: “Two men fighting amongst the crowd outside at closing time. One had broken a beer bottle and the other had a knife waving it around at the crowd.”
Between last January and last December, police documented 13 fights, 10 general disturbances, five assaults, two patrons urinating in public, and two liquor law violations for which the club received warnings.
Albert, 40, returned a call seeking comment last Saturday, but said he did not have time to be interviewed until Sunday. He did not respond to a call placed Sunday seeking comment.
City Councilor Will Gorham, whose district includes the Old Port, said he was scrutinizing Lt. Roberts’ report and Albert’s latest liquor license application. In addition to renewing his liquor and entertainment licenses, Albert is seeking permission to host after-hours entertainment at 188 Bourbon Street that would continue until 3 a.m., and is also seeking council permission to have outside seating at the club.
“Good luck to ‘em,” Gorham said ominously. Gorham chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, and has been among the city’s staunchest advocates of a crackdown on bar-related violence in the Old Port.
Gorham also said he is looking closely at the section on Albert’s liquor license application in which he is asked if he has “ever been convicted of any violation of the law” beyond minor traffic violations.
Albert checked the box indicating “no.”
Before last year’s council hearing, however, police documented a string of convictions, including a 1999 assault on his then-estranged wife. Albert kicked in the door of a residence where the woman was sleeping and punched her in the face repeatedly while his two children slept downstairs, according to the report. The report says the arresting officer smelled liquor on Albert’s breath, that Albert resisted arrest, and that a black leather glove with weights in the knuckles was found in Albert’s possession.
The latest conviction documented last year was a 2002 conviction for evasion of registration fees and excise taxes.
Lt. Roberts wrote that “to be fair to Mr. Albert and his staff, they do try to work with the officers and have provided statements on at least one occasion [and] have assisted officers with breaking up fights.” But she also said the club has not served “problem individuals” with criminal trespass paperwork, as the cops suggest, and video surveillance cameras are in limited use.
As of last year, Albert also managed the Pier Patio Pub in Old Orchard Beach and two bars associated with the pier complex.
Portland-based Black Tie Catering has been popular with city officials, who have hired Black Tie in the past for events like mayoral inauguration parties. City Councilor Jim Cloutier’s law firm, Cloutier Barrett Cloutier & Conley, holds its well-attended annual holiday party at the Pavilion complex every year.