Cops: Close Digger’s/Liquid Blue
Manning to challenge police review
By Chris Busby
The Portland Police Department is asking the City Council not to renew bar owner Tom Manning’s liquor licenses for Digger’s and Liquid Blue, an action that would effectively close the combination pub/dance club in the Old Port.
Manning’s attorney, Gary Prolman, vows his client will fight to keep his businesses pouring beers. A hearing before the Council is scheduled for June 4.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic requested the license review after Manning was convicted of disorderly conduct last February and after Liquid Blue was cited for selling a drink to an underage, undercover law enforcement agent earlier this year.
These incidents punctuate a history of public safety problems at Digger’s/Liquid Blue, according to police, who document 25 fights, 16 assaults, and over a dozen disturbance calls inside and outside the establishments over a 13-month period ending this past March 30.
Prolman said many of those incidents are unrelated to the operation of Digger’s or Liquid Blue. Rather, they are a consequence of the bars’ location in the middle of the Old Port, at the intersections of Fore, Wharf and Union streets. Fights and other disturbances among Old Port revelers are sometimes attributed to Digger’s/Liquid Blue as “points of destination,” he said.
Disregarding those unrelated calls, the incidents at Digger’s/Liquid Blue are “not out of skew at all” with the number of police calls at other Old Port watering holes, said Prolman. “Anyone can play around with stats,” he said.
Police, however, say their concerns are related to the management of the pub and dance club. In their analysis, they determined that of the 16 assault calls, only eight were “directly related to the operation of the premise….,” but “[i]n five of those eight assault reports the complainants reported Liquid Blue staff or security was the assailant.”
“[O]ne victim said he was put into a choke hold, his finger bitten, and he was ejected from the bar,” the report states. “One woman reported being grabbed by the throat, put in a bear hug and being thrown out of the bar. She said the glass door broke as she was thrown out.”
“It is particularly disturbing that staff and the owner, who are responsible for maintaining a safe environment inside the business, have themselves been at the center of many disturbances and acts of violence,” the cops wrote. “They have placed patrons of Digger’s/Liquid Blue and the Old Port in general at risk. We cannot in good conscience recommend renewal of this liquor license.”
Prolman said he wonders how the cops could, in good conscience, have recently held a very positive meeting with Manning about the operation of his bars, then asked councilors to close them. “We think Tom has done a good job on that end of the street,” Prolman said. “We’re gonna defend this vigorously.”
Manning also owns The Iguana, a rowdy college bar on Wharf Street directly across from Digger’s; Cake, a Wharf Street restaurant and nightclub a couple doors down from The Iguana; and The Mercury, a cocktail bar and nightclub on Fore Street a few doors east of Liquid Blue.
The recent underage sting operations and Council-imposed limits and taxes on Old Port bars and dance clubs have Prolman concerned. As clubs close due to these pressures, it puts more pressure on those still open, because patrons flock there in greater numbers as a result, he said.
On April 30, the City Council’s Finance Committee voted to raise an additional $61,500 from fees applied to liquor license holders of all types citywide to help cover the cost of increased liquor law enforcement. This is in addition to the $61,000 fee increase the Council voted to impose on Portland alcohol purveyors last month to cover the cost of police overtime in the Old Port on summer weekend nights.
The full Council will consider the committee’s new fee hike proposal as part of its city budget review process in the coming weeks.
“I know the police have to do their job,” conceded Prolman, who’s represented several bars that have run afoul of city officials over the years. “But it just really bothers me. It’s not just Tom’s bar, but any bar in the Old Port – you might as well put a target on your head. You’re head’s gonna get blown off.”
Suslovic, recently back from a vodka-soaked official visit to Portland’s sister city of Archangel, Russia, could not be reached for comment today.