Gossip from May and June 2007

By Chris Busby


June 25, 2007

Museum to move, director seeks trial
The Museum of African Culture has plans to move from its home on Spring Street to a larger space on Brown Street above the former location of Geno’s, according to news reports. Meanwhile, museum director Oscar Mokeme has pleaded not guilty to his most recent assault charge, and has requested a jury trial in Cumberland County Superior Court. No trial date has yet been set. 

Mokeme, 47, was charged with assault on March 11 following an incident on Peaks Island, where he and his estranged wife, Sharon, both have houses [see “Museum director arrested again,” March 22, in Gossip]. In a court filing, Mokeme’s attorney, Aaron Baltes, wrote that “Mrs. Mokeme has a history of falsely accusing Mr. Mokeme of assault.” Baltes noted that two previous accusations in the past four years were dismissed by the district attorney’s office after investigation.

Oscar Mokeme has not returned calls seeking comment.

Last month, the Portland Press Herald reported that the museum plans to relocate to 13 Brown Street in August. The building on Spring Street where the museum rents space is for sale.


Shacking up
The Morrill’s Corner drinking spot previously occupied by Chappies has a new owner and yet another name: Shack’s Pub. Following Chappies’ closure, the space became a dance club called DV8. That establishment soon gave way to the Blue Stone Lounge & Chowder Co., which in short order has led to Shack’s.

Shack’s Pub will be a neighborhood place offering burgers, pizza and other pub grub, and will have live music ranging from “oldies” to blues and “soft rock,” according to its liquor license application. Reached for comment earlier this month, owner Bill Shackley said he’s still trying to get the place ready to open this summer. He said Shack’s Pub is his first foray into the bar/restaurant business. He sounded annoyed and exasperated. 

Good luck, Bill. 


June 17, 2007

Skinny decision delayed, other venues in limbo
The City Council vote on The Skinny’s requests for liquor and entertainment licenses and a zoning change has been postponed a month while the building’s owner and the business’ principals reorganize. [See “Arts venue struggles to reopen in Arts District,” May 29, in News.] 

Bill Umbel, the real estate broker and roots music promoter who owns the two-story property at the corner of Congress Street and Forest Avenue, said he’s requested another month to fine tune plans for the restaurant and live music venue. A Council vote on the amended plans is expected to take place July 18. 

Todd Doyle and Johnny Lomba – the latter a former owner of The Skinny when it operated in the space currently occupied by Geno’s – declined to discuss specifics on the record, but acknowledged that a management shakeup has taken place. It’s unclear what role, if any, either will play should the venue open later this summer.

Meanwhile, a block away, the State Theatre remains vacant, unimproved, and with no new prospects for renewed life as a concert venue. Kelly Sawyer of Stone Coast Properties, which owns the theater building, said there are no plans to reopen or make any further improvements to the historic theater. 

It’s been over a year and a half since a legal dispute between Stone Coast Properties and a former tenant led to the venue’s closure. As we reported last summer, there had been some interest among regional concert promoters to revive the venue [see “Big-name promoters eye State Theatre,” July 26, 2006, in Gossip], but a year later, no one has made a commitment.

And further out on Forest Avenue, Flirts Grille has closed after just a few months of operation. The space, at 865 Forest Ave., was once the celebrated local rock venue Raoul’s Roadside Attraction. Stone Coast Properties acquired the building several years ago and operated it as a tap room and pizzeria, but it changed hands again last year and was reincarnated as Flirts. 

Proprietor Wayne Lewis said his financial partner, Erik Richardson, recently “backed out” of the business, and its fate is still “up in the air.” Richardson did not return calls seeking comment. Flirts had begun hosting live music shortly before closing its doors in late May, and on June 4, the City Council granted Flirts permission to serve alcohol on its outdoor deck. 


June 11, 2007

Nothing hit the fan: POOPS and PEEP'S at The Bollard launch party. (photo/courtesy Rathband)
Nothing hit the fan: POOPS and PEEP

POOPS and PEEP’S party together
Just days after being taken to task in a Bollard editorial by POOPS, PEEP’S arrived at The Bollard‘s magazine launch party last Saturday night bearing a gift: a POOPS t-shirt to match PEEP’S’. 

As reported in an earlier Gossip item [see “PEEP hole,” May 29, below], PEEP’S is, essentially, media consultant and lobbyist Jed Rathband, of Portland, an opponent of the library’s plans to move into the former Portland Public Market. As noted in the editorial [“Group emerges to oppose library move opponents,” The Bollard’s View, June 5], POOPS is, essentially, yours truly, a supporter of the move. 

The PEEP’S/POOPS dispute – short and ephemeral as it has been – may be the nastiest rift in the sleeper of a debate over an extra $1 million to relocate the central library. Turnout is expected to be low tomorrow as Portland voters face the library question, an unopposed school board candidate in District 3, a state bond for drinking water and sewage improvements, and another state bond to spend about $400 million on transportation projects. 

A million here, four hundred million there – what’s the diff? It’s not like it’s our money. Oh, wait…







Mavodones parties with Lesbians
Sorry, ladies. The Mayor of Portland is now officially off the market. 

Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones tied the knot a couple weeks ago in a small, private ceremony on the Eastern Prom. As The Bollard reported in February, Mavodones has coupled up with Kelly Hasson, until recently the principal of the Peaks Island and Cliff Island elementary schools. [See “Mavodones to marry island principal,” Feb. 17, Gossip.] Hasson was recently selected to be the principal at Hall Elementary School this coming fall.

The couple honeymooned on an island full of Lesbians with Rachel Talbot Ross, the city’s director of equal opportunity and multicultural affairs. (Note the capital “L,” perv, as in citizens of Lesbos, the Greek island whose capital, Mytilene, is one of Portland’s sister cities. Once again, we must apologize – that’s as juicy as it gets.) 


May 29, 2007

PEEP hole
Readers of the Portland Forecaster can be forgiven for mistakenly thinking an organized group of citizens has come together to oppose the Portland Public Library’s plans to move into the former Portland Public Market. The community weekly’s editor, however, deserves no such forgiveness for duping readers into believing the group is a viable organization. 

In a page 4 story headlined “Group emerges to oppose library move,” found in the May 23 edition of the Forecaster‘s Portland edition, reporter Kate Bucklin writes that proponents of the move “are facing organized opposition” from a “group of residents” called PEEP, which stands for Portlanders for Educational and Economic Priorities. 

In fact, this “group” is basically political consultant and lobbyist Jed Rathband, a friend of Bucklin’s, and one or two other buddies bugged by the idea of the library’s relocation. According to Rathband, the group’s name is actually PEEP’S – a play on the marshmallow candy’s name and the hip hop slang term for “people” – but Forecaster editor Mo Mehlsak removed the “S” before Bucklin’s story went to press. 

Mehlsak did not return a call seeking comment. 

In an interview today, Rathband said PEEP’S now has three members, including himself, blogger Christian McNeil, and freelance writer Frank Gallagher. However, Rathband’s own involvement is already waning. “At this point, I don’t want to spearhead the effort. I just want to launch the opposition,” he said. 

PEEP’S has not registered as a political action group, because it does not intend to raise a dime to further its cause, said Rathband. The group may disseminate a press release or two, but that’s about it. There’s no Web site or contact information for PEEP’S. In an essay Rathband wrote about his opposition to the library move, published in the Portland Press Herald May 25, PEEP’S is not mentioned. 

Asked if he felt the Forecaster article accurately represented the size and scope of PEEP’S, Rathband said, “I think it sort of represented the zeitgeist of the group.” 

In addition to work on several state issues, Rathband is a paid consultant to The Olympia Companies, one of two private development teams vying to redevelop the publicly owned Maine State Pier. The other team, Ocean Properties, has hired Savvy Incorporated for its PR needs, as have library officials hoping to persuade voters to approve additional bond money for a move to the market. The special bond referendum vote takes place on June 12.


May 20, 2007

Boot Hill: Austin's Boot & Buckle Saloon. (photo/Chris Busby)
Boot Hill: Austin's Boot & Buckle Saloon. (photo/Chris Busby)

Austin’s Boot & Buckle bites the dust
Austin’s Boot & Buckle Saloon, the country and western–themed bar that opened on Warren Avenue in early 2005, has ascended to the big ranch in the sky. 

Steve Morin of Morin Properties, the building’s owner, said the saloon shut its swingin’ doors for good earlier this month due to “a problem between the two partners.” The building will be available for sale or lease “as soon as the legal process is done with,” he said.

Neither Deb DiLuiso nor the bar’s other active owner, Eric Flynn, could be reached for comment. In 2005, the Portland Forecaster reported that Austin’s had a third, silent partner, Austin Brammy.

Austin’s survived a brief scuffle with neighbors across the street in late 2005. [See “Austin’s Boot & Buckle spared the boot,” Gossip, Dec. 19, 2005.] It offered country line-dancing lessons, had DJs and bands, a sizeable patio, and décor that mixed patriotism (the flag) with boob-worship (dozens of bras were hung from fixtures on the ceiling). 

Happy trails.


Camera heisted from Council Chambers
Sometime before the morning of Thursday, May 17, a thief (or thieves) stole one of the two large, swivel-mounted television cameras from City Council Chambers in Portland City Hall. 

After someone unsuccessfully attempted to pawn the $15,000-$20,000 piece of equipment – the pawn shop owner contacted police – the camera was found in the area of City Hall occupied by Merrill Auditorium, according to city government watchdog Steven Scharf. Scharf spoke with an officer and city staff while the camera was being remounted last Thursday afternoon.

Portland police confirmed the general details of the incident, but declined further comment pending conclusion of the investigation. Scharf said the camera seemed intact, but a police spokesperson said the extent of any damage had yet to be determined.

The cameras are used by Portland Public Access television to broadcast city meetings on a cable-only channel. 


May 8, 2007

Chicky’s Fine Diner closed
Chicky’s Fine Diner, the beloved eatery and music venue on Bridge Street in Westbrook, has closed after three years. The team behind Chicky’s included Chicky Stoltz (a.k.a. Munjoy Hill Society/Tripe drummer Matt Staples) and chef Blake Smithson.

In an e-mail explaining the closure, Smithson cited “the classic restaurant mistake – not starting with enough money in the bank,” and noted that the upcoming summer months have been their slowest time of the year. Smithson said he and Stoltz are out of the food service business “for the foreseeable future” (Chicky’s also did catering), but will continue to perform music as part of the diner’s house band, The Bourbonnaires. 

Chicky’s had established itself as a restaurant renowned for its massive, Saturnian onion rings and generous entrees like the hanger steak with garlic butter, meatloaf with horseradish ketchup, and a super-spicy Jamaican jerk pork special that once made Bollard art director Mich Ouellette, a regular, temporarily paralyzed from the neck up (in a good way).

Chicky’s hosted live music six nights a week, and had recently partnered with Bloom Arts and Events to bring nationally known blues and Americana acts to the area. 

An earlier press release sent today announcing the closure is worth including here in its entirety.

“Chicky’s Fine Diner has closed its gangway. After three years of much toil and personal expense, it is no longer feasible to keep the ship afloat. The enemy approaches on the horizon. She must be scuttled on the banks of the mighty Presumpscot.

This industry is fraught with dangers. And our little diner has succumbed to all the hazards chartable.

We shall slip into the dusk with a great many breaches, two toppled masts, and a crew of unparalleled loyalty.

Hip Hip for those who have sailed and drank with us. Hip Hip to those who have regaled us with their reels. Hip Hip to those ashore who have waited for our untimely end.

Pray for the weary and unwanted as they make their peace with god and government.”


Nappi’s to Andy’s
Nappi’s Bar & Grill, the popular bar, pizza shop and pool hall on Commercial Street, has changed ownership. New proprietors Jennifer Fox and Richard Frantz are reopening the establishment as Andy’s Old Port Pub.

To their credit (at least in The Bollard‘s book), though the couple reside in the exclusive Diamond Cove development on Great Diamond Island, they did not pitch their business to city officials as an “upscale” establishment – as has been the classist habit of nearly every would-be bar owner to come before the City Council in the past year.

To the contrary, in a letter to city officials outlining their vision for the pub, the couple wrote that they seek to cater to “an eclectic local audience” (emphasis theirs). “We don’t want our customers to feel they need to get dressed up to go to Andy’s Pub,” they wrote. “But if our customers were already dressed up, we don’t want them to feel self-conscious either.”

The menu will still include pizza, and Fox and Frantz noted they plan to introduce several new specialty pies, like the Cushing (barbeque chicken and bacon) and the Peaks Island (pesto, fresh mozzarella, tomato and pine nuts). In deference to the island’s secession movement, the latter will only be available for take-out.

(OK, we made that last part up.)

The couple serve on several non-profit boards and as volunteer fire fighters, and said they want to make Andy’s available to local organizations seeking space for fundraisers and other gatherings. There will be no entertainment or dancing on the premises, which will be open seven days a week from late morning to midnight.

“Andy’s Old Port Pub will have a no tolerance policy for nasty drunks, druggies or any form of verbal or physical violence,” the couple noted in their letter to the city. “We have no interest in being the latest establishment in the Old Port to close.” 


May 4, 2007

Videoport owner Bill Duggan (in safety-yellow) and Phuc Tran, of Tsunami Tattoo Studio (back to camera), moving merchandise across Temple Street. (photo/Susan Tran)
Videoport owner Bill Duggan (in safety-yellow) and Phuc Tran, of Tsunami Tattoo Studio (back to camera), moving merchandise across Temple Street. (photo/Susan Tran)

Chain moves downtown; bakers reborn
It was an odd sight to anyone strolling downtown last Sunday morning: a line of over two dozen people handing boxes from one to another between Middle Street and Free Street. Performance art? Not exactly.

The human chain formed to help Nancy Lawrence, owner of Portmanteau, relocate her clothing and accessory shop from 191 Middle Street to 11 Free Street. The building she’d occupied on Middle Street for many years recently changed hands – the beauty salon Akari will soon move in. Friends and fellow members of the Portland Buy Local campaign rallied to help Lawrence relocate a couple blocks west. [This reporter is a member of that campaign, but slept too late to help schlep the merchandise.]

Meanwhile, behind Portmanteau’s new location, Foley’s Bakery is returning to downtown Portland. The pastry- and cake-makers will occupy the Monument Square space most recently vacated by a Quiznos sub franchise.

And there’s good news for fans of acclaimed Portland baker Stephen Lanzalotta. Though his Market Street bakery/eatery Sophia’s closed earlier this year, Lanzalotta (author of The Da Vinci Diet) has hooked up with the good folks at Micucci Grocery Co., on India Street. He said he’ll be baking there beginning later this month. 


May 2, 2007

Portland’s own YouTube
A graduate student and hip hop DJ has launched a Portland-centric video-sharing Web site similar to YouTube. Called (and found at) www.portlandmaine.tv, the site allows locals to upload videos free of charge, and viewers to watch and comment on them at no cost. 

The locally themed site is among the nation’s first, said DJ Mindwrecker, a.k.a. John Joyce. Joyce, 28, is a former office manager at community radio station WMPG. He now divides his time between Portland and south Florida, where he is attending college in pursuit of a doctorate in marketing.

A few other cities have YouTube-like sites focused on local content, like http://www.boston.tv. But the Boston site, for example, is slicker, “more trendy” and technology-heavy, Joyce noted, whereas portlandmaine.tv is “more ‘MPG meets YouTube – a community-driven site.”

Joyce found a variety of software that enables individuals to set up sites like this – some better than others; some legal to use, some less so – but said the program he chose (a legal version) still needed a lot of work before it was ready for cyberspace, and he’s already planning additional refinements and improvements.

The site officially went live May 1, and already has a dozen videos posted. They include footage of Mindwrecker performing in Portland four years ago, a homemade music video by the local rock band Loverless, some poetry, skateboarding footage, and nature shots.

A poster by the moniker “mainerules” put up video of the rap group Cypress Hill performing with former members of Guns N’ Roses on TV. Joyce concedes that non-local content like this could become an issue in the future if it clutters the site, but added that he’s loathe to police the postings too heavily based on a local-only criteria. “I’m not really a Nazi like that,” he said.

The site’s terms of use explicitly ban postings of video for which the poster does not have copyright permission or authority, as well as the posting of material deemed by Joyce to be “defamatory, unlawful, obscene, racially offensive, culturally intolerant, threatening… pornographic or … considered inappropriate in any civil or lawful manner.”