City dances around club confusion

Arts & Culture

After Portland police shut down after-hours dancing at several nightclubs last week, local club owners scrambled to find out what was going on.

Club staff said they were caught by surprise when the city unearthed an ordinance from 1995 stating that dance halls need a separate license.

“The city is saying you need a special permit,” said Emily Kronholm, a manager at The Better End on Fore Street. “It’s news to everybody.”

Kronholm said that before The Better End opened its doors for after-hours dancing a couple of weeks ago, she had contacted the city’s business licensing office to make sure the bar’s new change was all right with the city. But when the Portland Police Department found out that the bar was one of several clubs opening new nights to cater to Zootz’s former crowd, they put bar owners between a rock and a hard place – shut down after-hours now or pay hefty fines.

Like The Better End, most clubs opted to comply with police and closed their after-hours entertainment until further notice, while the Industry stiffed the fines and stayed open. At The Station on St. John Street, staff met with city officials last week to find out what was going on.

According to Jay Williams, a staff member at The Station, the club received a memorandum late on Friday from Gary Wood, the city’s attorney. The purpose of the memo was to clear up the confusion following the action taken by police. While it was not clear if anyone besides The Station received the memo, Williams said he was confident that the paperwork included in the memo allowed after-hours dancing to continue at The Station until further notice. On Friday night, half a dozen DJs played dance music from 1 to 3 a.m. for a small and peaceful 18-plus audience at The Station. The event was chem-free.

While The Station is unique for its location in the basement of a business plaza far from the Old Port, other clubs closer to the booze district have been laying low.

Kronholm said she spoke to City Hall staff over the phone, but did not talk with anyone face-to-face. As a fairly new establishment, Kronholm said The Better End wants to be cooperative with city officials.

Likewise, The Thirsty Dog Tavern on Forest Avenue has complied with police to discontinue its after-hours scene, which was known as Club 619. Thirsty Dog’s owner Ron Tinsman said the club voluntarily shut down because “it’s a real important time to get on the city’s good side.”

Tinsman said it was his understanding that only a few new dancing permits would be made available, and he hopes The Thirsty Dog gets one. Although Tinsman said on Saturday that he had not seen any memo from Gary Wood, he said his lawyers are communicating with city officials.

Everyone seems to be waiting for the next meeting of the City Council, scheduled for Feb. 5. What the city plans to do next is unclear. Phone calls made to Mayor Cheryl Leeman and Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood on Friday were not returned.

USM

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