Gossip from November and December 2007

By Chris Busby


December 24, 2007

Table for Trinity: Inside the Chestnut Street Church. (photo/Amanda DiCenzo)
Table for Trinity: Inside the Chestnut Street Church. (photo/Amanda DiCenzo)

Church to become restaurant
From God to grits. From the Bible to bacon. From the pulpit to the pancake… OK, enough – here’s the scoop: the former Chestnut Street United Methodist Church behind Portland City Hall has been sold, and the new owner plans to convert the Gothic Revival house of worship into a restaurant.

Bayside developer Ross Furman confirmed earlier this month that he sold the church to a company controlled by Peter Verrill, son of the TD Banknorth executive of the same name. Verrill is a co-owner of the Foreside Tavern & Side Bar, in Falmouth. 

Furman said Verrill plans to turn the church into a restaurant. Verrill did not respond to an e-mail and phone message requesting comment. 

The historic church, built in 1812, was sold two years ago to developers Richard Berman and Evan Richert after the shrinking congregation decided the building was too expensive to maintain. Berman and Richert built the Chestnut Street Lofts condominium project on the site of the church parking lot. They held discussions at the time with Interfaith Maine, a non-profit group that promotes unity among different faiths, to turn the church into a religious center, but those talks apparently failed to lead to a deal. 

Furman bought the church last year and tried to convince city officials to buy it from him as part of a land swap involving city-owned parcels in Bayside [see “Church to become state?” Nov. 28, 2006, in Briefs]. That deal was not meant to be, either. 

The church is on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that limits the ways it can be redeveloped. It’s unclear what restrictions Verrill will have to negotiate to turn, say, the altar into a grill. And God knows what repercussions he’ll face in the afterlife if he tries to make the place a Hooters franchise… 


December 5, 2007

photo/The Fuge
photo/The Fuge

Granny’s gone, other joints reborn
Granny’s Burritos, a fixture in Portland’s Old Port for the past 13 years, closed this week. A sign on the door posted by owner Chris Godin read, “Sorry: The pro’s [sic] no longer outweigh the cons.” Godin was not immediately available for comment, but sources say the closure was the result of run-of-the-mill financial difficulties. A former employee said Godin hopes to reopen the popular eatery at another location in the not-too-distant future.

During its twelve-and-a-half year run, the Fore Street spot served up some of the tastiest burritos in town, and hosted plenty of live music – mostly acoustic rock and folk acts. It also employed some of Portland’s best musicians, including Ricky Boy Floyd, lead singer of the recently disbanded group The Horror, and Covered in Bees frontman Boo. It will be missed.

After an extended dormancy, the Forest Avenue space last occupied by The Venue Bar & Grill is set to reopen later this month as a chef-owned restaurant called Chef Al’s Fowl – er, actually, forget you read that; the name is really Chef et al. In a letter to city officials requesting the relevant licenses, chef/owner Thomas Johnson wrote that Chef et al will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on the weekends. There will be a full bar, and “light entertainment,” like jazz trios during brunch. Johnson described the food in license documents as “New England Cuisine.”

In the West End, the gay-centric neighborhood bar formerly known as Spring Street has been reborn as Flask, a sports pub and lounge. Acclaimed singer Andi Fawcett is an owner of the new venture. On a recent visit, The Bollard found Flask to be a comfy, clean, friendly place with a decent menu of pub fare and reasonably priced libations. Cheers to that.

As the Forecaster reported last month, the Old Port restaurant Natasha’s is closing. Owner Natasha Durham is reportedly closing her namesake eatery to focus on her other Old Port restaurant, Mim’s, on Commercial Street. 

And in other news you’ve probably already read, The Village Café recently closed in anticipation of the condo development planned for its East End location. Owner John Reali may reopen the venerable establishment in another location someday. [Read our interview with Reali here.] One can only hope… 


November 7, 2007 

Pulling no punches: City Councilor-elect Dan Skolnik. (photo/courtesy Skolnik)
Pulling no punches: City Councilor-elect Dan Skolnik. (photo/courtesy Skolnik)

Skolnik curses opponents at the poll
Dan Skolnik said he was running for the Portland City Council “on a platform of collaboration.” The 39-year-old attorney characterized himself as a candidate with the interpersonal skills necessary to bridge partisan and ideological divides in city government. But early on the day voters in the western district of town elected him to be their representative, Skolnik burned two bridges in profane fashion.

By his own, reluctant admission, Skolnik cursed out competing candidates Tony Donovan and Capt. Bill Linnell yesterday morning when he encountered them outside a District 3 polling place. Linnell and Donovan were glad-handing voters, and when Skolnik arrived, both greeted him with an air of collegiality. But Skolnik, having just slogged through several months of combative campaigning, was having none of it.

“Fuck you,” he told Linnell. 

To Donovan: “You’re an asshole.”

Asked to justify his behavior, Skolnik told The Bollard last night that he was not going on the offensive, but rather responding to political attacks and dirty tricks perpetrated against him by Linnell and Donovan. For example, he complained that Linnell had been questioning his residency in the district, implying that his relatively short time living there makes him less qualified to represent the area. He said Donovan had messed with his campaign signs and also engaged in attacks on his character. 

Donovan denied engaging in any hanky-panky with Skolnik’s signs – he accused Skolnik of the same – and expressed outrage at the Councilor-elect’s conduct on Election Day. 

“What’s going on with this guy who uses the filthiest, most vulgar, unnecessary, offensive and threatening language to fellow candidates?” he said this morning. “What do you do with a filthy, vulgar candidate now representing 10,000 people?”

Donovan said Skolnik took a “very childish, immature, unprofessional approach to campaigning,” and he sought to link Skolnik’s behavior to the character of The League (formerly The League of Pissed Off Voters), the youth-centric political group that endorsed Skolnik and campaigned on his behalf. “I think he has embarrassed [The League] by his actions,” Donovan said.

Linnell defended his questioning of Skolnik’s residency. He said his opponent refused to honestly address the matter, and though it was “a minor issue,” Skolnik’s “lack of candor” about it “is an issue.” 

“I think he duped a lot of people,” said Linnell, a tow-boat captain and lobsterman who runs a dry cleaning business in East Deering. As for Skolnik’s claim to be a uniter, Linnell said, “we’ll see. I think people will be surprised.”

Linnell was the sole registered Green in the District 3 race. He faced three Democrats in what turned out to be the most partisan city election in recent memory. Earlier this week, he was included in a strongly worded letter sent to voters by Donkey Party big wig Tony Buxton, who accused Greens of embarrassing, disruptive and “foolish” behavior. 

Linnell said he, Donovan, and fellow candidate Dick Farnsworth were able to find common ground across party lines on one thing: “We all agreed we’d rather have anyone else but [Skolnik on the Council], based on our interactions with him.”

Donovan, a commercial real estate broker prone to use combative rhetoric himself, said, “I just shook my head and smiled and moved on” after Skolnik’s comment outside the poll. He’s said he’s still willing to work with the Councilor-elect on city issues, and added, “a public apology would probably go far to repair the damage.”


The author (left) with local PR man Jed Rathband. (photo/courtesyRathband)
The author (left) with local PR man Jed Rathband. (photo/courtesyRathband)

And speaking of glad-handing…
Local 188’s new Congress Street location was the center of the Portland political universe last night. There were enough City Councilors and City Councilors-elect at the restaurant and bar to pass legislation. Among them: Dave Marshall, Kevin Donoghue, Dan Skolnik, John Anton, and Ed Suslovic, who’s poised to become Portland’s next mayor. Councilor Jill Duson also made an appearance to celebrate her reelection, and School Committee member Ben Meiklejohn was there to revel in the relief of having been relieved of his civic duties on the divisive and controversial board.

Several members of the press were in attendance, as well, including formerPortland Press Herald reporter Mark Shanahan, who now covers celebrity gossip for the Boston Globe. (Shanahan wasn’t reporting; just visiting his old friend, Anton). 

Given this crowd, the stall in Local’s men’s room was probably not the best place to engage in some apolitical hanky-panky. But hey, Sen. Craig’s still serving God and country, eh?

Wired on coffee and having consumed several PBRs, this reporter was making use of Local’s waterless urinal when he heard a woman’s voice from the stall say, “I came here for my career.” Suspecting she was not networking alone, I alerted Local owner Jay Villani to the situation, and he promptly rousted the lovers from the stall. 

A young woman emerged first, and promptly retreated to the women’s bathroom. Then out came our old nemesis Jed Rathband, red-faced, having just put a new spin on the term “public relations.”

Rathband, you may recall, was the force behind PEEP’S, the pseudo-legitimate “organization” that opposed the library’s plan to move into the former Portland Public Market. He’s been a prominent, paid consultant to the Olympia Companies in its bid to win the right to redevelop the Maine State Pier. 

Earlier in the evening, an ebullient Rathband remarked that if the election was a referendum on the pier’s future, then voters had clearly spoken in favor of Olympia. That’s because Anton prefers Olympia’s plan to Ocean Properties’ proposal, and his support could break the deadlock on the Council over this issue. 

Rathband’s lady friend, we later learned, is a housemate of Donoghue, who also prefers Olympia’s plan. 

PEEP’S is now on notice: Mess around when POOPS is in the bathroom, and your face won’t be the only thing that’s flushed.

%d bloggers like this: