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Samuel's Owner Sam Minervino on Why Portland Should Save Sangillo's

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On Friday, Portland Hunt & Alpine Club bartender John Myers and Snug owner Margaret Lyons weighed in on why Sangillo's Tavern should be saved. The Portland Police have recommended to the City Council that the bar's liquor license not be renewed because of an excessive number of calls there. The matter goes before the City Council tonight at 7 p.m. Today, Sam Minervino, the owner of Samuel's Bar and Grill in Morrill's Corner, writes in with his thoughts on the issue. He's lived in Portland for 56 years and owned a business in the city for 34 of them. He started with a breakfast restaurant on Commercial Street "until the prices of real estate and city politics went beyond the means of a 'ham & egger,'" moving to the current location some 25 years ago. Here it is, in his words [Editor's note: Sam is my father]:

I was born on India Street, a few houses up from where the original Sangillo's was. When I was young, I'd often work with my father, Tom, who did plumbing and heating. He was a fireman for 10 years in Portland and back in those days, supplementing income by city employees was a necessity when raising a family of five. Occasionally, I'd accompany my father into Sangillo's, the owner being a friend of his. I'd be at the bar while the two would discuss whatever business they were conducting, surrounded by fishermen, fish cutters, laborers and old guys enjoying their twilight years in the relaxing, liquor-induced euphoria that made all those years of work seem almost worth it.

It was a little intimidating when a burly, husky-voiced, fish-scented guy would say, "Hey Tom, is this your brat?" and my father would say something back like, "Be careful, he isn't housebroken," or "Watch out, he bites." The place would erupt and then that guy would pass me a Coke and everything would get back to normal -- a smokey, placid atmosphere where kids were generally ignored.

We didn't call Sangillo's a pub or dive bar in those days. It was a neighborhood or corner bar, or even a cafe (to the more genteel among us). The men (rarely were there women, but they were allowed) in the bar respected "Mr. Sangillo" and trouble would be handled in house, though it rarely had to be.

The small neighborhood bars are disappearing for a variety of reasons that we're all aware of, but one of the biggest reasons, in my humble opinion, is the way bars are portrayed and vilified by politicians when they need a devil. Prohibition failed for the simple reason that people want to drink. In the atmosphere today of legalizing pot, it seems rather ironic that alcohol is still portrayed as the elixir that compels folks to evil.

I've never heard of politicians saying we need to close 7-Elevens or banks because the money there incites robberies. I've never heard anyone want to close a neighborhood project or shelter because there are an exorbitant number of police calls there. I've never heard anyone say we need to close a street or avenue because a lot of folks get speeding tickets there. When a government closes a business, they are taking away someone's livelihood. They are taking away the means by which they pay for their rent, mortgage, car, health insurance, food and utilities. The government is taking away a person's life. The moral compass of a someone who would rather look the part of do-gooder for the sake of the community rather than weigh the impact of his or her decision on the real lives that will be affected needs to be checked. It's symbolism over substance, brushing what they consider dirt under the rug all in the name of morality even though it would cause permanent harm for some. It reminds me of the Inquisitor who didn't mind burning a few "witches" to shine up his own moral aura.

There is a place in communities for neighborhood bars. Early governments met in taverns. The Continental Congress and the U.S. Marines were formed in local bars. Instead of trying to extinguish these "blemishes," perhaps they should be encouraged as a place for neighbors to gather and get to know each other. Walking to the local establishment and then home again might not be popular with the cab drivers, but it might also reduce the number of OUIs and make the roads safer.

It is understandable that the Police department is suggesting Sangillo's be closed. They are merely doing their job and upholding the standards the City of Portland is setting. However, wouldn't it be much more constructive to encourage and assist businesses rather than eliminate them? Portland can set an example by being proactive here. Instead of creating an adversarial atmosphere, show that the city and businesses can work together and establish a means of addressing issues and problems without eliminating jobs.
· All Coverage of Sangillo's Tavern [~EMAINE~]

Sangillo's Tavern

18 Hampshire St, Portland, ME 04101