Manning seeks fifth Old Port bar


Old Port bar owner Tom Manning after his July 9 arrest for fighting in the Old Port. (photos/Cumberland County Jail)
Old Port bar owner Tom Manning after his July 9 arrest for fighting in the Old Port. (photos/Cumberland County Jail)

Manning seeks fifth Old Port bar 
Request made as city considers new safety plan

By Chris Busby

Old Port bar owner Tom Manning has plans to reopen the Wharf Street space last called Right Proper Charlies – and, for years before that, the Industry – as Cake, an “upscale” restaurant and bar with live music and outdoor seating. But his involvement in a drunken, late-night Wharf Street brawl last summer may deflate Cake before it rises.

As The Bollard reported last July, Manning was arrested for fighting with another man on the street and then throwing punches at the cops who tried to break up the melee. The 38-year-old Falmouth resident was drunk at the time, according to officers. 

Manning is facing two criminal counts: disorderly conduct and refusing to submit to arrest. No officers were injured in the fracas. Manning has pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial. No trial date has yet been set. 

Curiously, Manning’s name never appeared on the weekly police arrest records provided to the media and published locally by the Portland Forecaster. Portland Police Lt. Vern Malloch said a glitch in the police department’s data management system is to blame for the omission. 

Even more curious, the Portland Police Department failed to provide a recommendation on Manning’s liquor license request for Cake, as is common practice for liquor license applicants, and did not send an officer to field questions when the City Council was scheduled to consider Manning’s application last Monday night. Police Chief Tim Burton did not return a call seeking comment. 

As a result, Manning’s hearing before the Council has been postponed to the Dec. 18 Council meeting. Police are expected to provide a recommendation and an officer at that meeting.

At last Monday’s Council meeting, Manning said he’d been at the Wharf Street restaurant Street & Co. with several friends on the evening of July 8, and was “not in a working capacity” at the time of the incident, which took place around 1 a.m. on July 9, according the police reports. He said a former employee – a man physically larger and taller than himself – “verbally assaulted” him on the street, and then “pushed me down on the cobblestones.

“The cops came around and that’s all they saw,” he continued. “When the information comes out, everyone will see this is an unfortunate circumstance.”

Police on the scene said they saw more than Manning admits. According to Lt. Malloch, officers encountered Manning and the man fighting on the ground, surrounding by a crowd of onlookers urging them to stop. Police also issues commands to desist, but they were not heeded. 

The other man, whom police have not identified, “was on the ground, on his knees or his back, [and] Manning was on top of him, punching him, when officers had to pull him off,” Lt. Malloch said, quoting the arrest report. The report and subsequent bail form indicate Manning “fought with” officers before they wrestled him to the ground and got him handcuffed. The bail form indicates he was intoxicated at the time.

Sources tell The Bollard the ex-employee is Jessie (or Jesse) Tobias, an African-American man who formerly worked as a bouncer at Digger’s, one of several bars Manning owns in the area. The Bollard has not yet been able to locate Tobias for comment.

A statement in court documents submitted by Manning’s attorney, Gerald Conley, alleges that “at the time he was arrested by Portland Police Officers, [Manning] had no idea that they were police officers since he had just been knocked to the ground by his former employee.” In a subsequent motion to suppress evidence gathered by police at the scene, Conley claims Manning was arrested “without probable cause,” and thus evidence was gathered in violation of his Constitutional rights.

This motion was being heard as this article was prepared for publication, so its outcome is not yet known.

In addition to Digger’s and its adjoining dance club, Liquid Blue, Manning owns The Mercury, a cocktail lounge a few doors down from Digger’s on Fore Street. He also owns The Iguana, a raucous party spot on Wharf Street where customers are encouraged to dance on the bar. About a year ago, Manning apparently tried to serve food at Digger’s by establishing a business called AJ’s Smokehouse BBQ inside the pub. There’s little evidence that AJ’s has actually served food this year. 

In addition to his Old Port bars, Manning has partnered with a cousin, Adam Meyer, to develop a former Navy base in Cutler, Maine, into a multi-million-dollar residential and commercial complex, according to an article in MaineBizlast August. 

On his city liquor license application, Manning indicated he had never been “arrested, indicted, or convicted for any violation of the law.” Councilors may ask him to explain that statement. 

The Council’s reconsideration of Manning’s license application for Cake will be made the same night councilors are expected to receive the report of The Mayor’s Old Port Night Life Task Force, a group established to evaluate and improve the city’s approach to public safety issues in the district. Drunken street brawls are the central public safety problem in the area.

That report is expected to recommend the abolishment of the Old Port Overlay zoning system and its attendant taxation schemes, the money from which is supposed to help cover police overtime costs stemming from heavy Old Port patrol coverage on weekend nights during the summer. Instead, a draft version of the final report suggests all businesses holding licenses for on-premise liquor consumption in the Old Port and parts of downtown pay an increased annual license fee. 

This would shift the financial responsibility for Old Port police coverage to restaurants as far from the Old Port bar scene – in distance and nature – as Uffa!, in Longfellow Square; The Cumberland Club, on High Street; and Maria’s, on Cumberland Avenue. [Click here for a map showing establishments potentially affected by the change, businesses in the pea-green area fall inside the new zone.] 

A restaurant like Maria’s would pay $554 more every year for its liquor license, according to the city’s latest estimate. Manning’s annual fee for Digger’s/Liquid Blue’s combined license would decrease by $5,540, according to the same estimate.

There would also be a new “disbursement requirement” intended to keep businesses with entertainment licenses at least 100 feet from one another. A minority report of the task force may suggest a 200-foot disbursement law.

The Council is scheduled to hold a workshop session on the report Dec. 11, and may vote to implement its recommendations at the Dec. 18 meeting.

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