Dan Jenkins, 22, also opposes change. Jenkins, who spoke against Gorham’s bar-permit reduction proposal at last week’s council meeting, grew up in Portland and is in his senior year at Goucher College in Baltimore. He says Baltimore has an area similar to the Old Port, called Fell’s Point, where bars and clubs are clustered together.
“It seems to me the city doesn’t take into account people under the age of 40,” said Jenkins last Friday night at Amigo’s. “One thing that really surprised me, and that no one seemed to talk about, was the council voted to reduce the number of liquor licenses in the overlay district but was really concerned the Westin Hotel wouldn’t be able to get a license then. They were all very worried whether the multi-million-dollar-rich-people hotel will be able to get their overlay license. I think the small bars for working-class people in the city are what’s important.”
A toned-up grown-up?
However you view it, the Old Port is hot property. Steve Baumann and his father Ed know it. In June 2003, they bought eight buildings along Fore and Wharf streets from landlord Joe Soley. The Baumanns say they have spent $400,000 upgrading the buildings, which they say hadn’t been renovated since the ‘80s.
“We’re really raising the level down here so when a [prospective] tenant comes down here they can visualize what it can be,” says Steve, standing on a recent Friday morning in the renovated space which used to house Headliners bar. Steve manages his father’s property and is a broker at CBRE/The Boulos Co. in Portland. He walks around the 2300-square-foot room, pointing out the new base boarding, the mounted wall lamps, the cream-colored walls sealing off the former dance area. The space, Steve says, rents for about $5000 a month. This bright room, similar in tone to the Street & Co. restaurant a few doors down, used to house one of the most popular dives in town.
The younger Baumann manages the buildings from 30-50 Wharf Street and 432–446 Fore Street. This includes Oasis, the Iguana, the Industry, Digger’s, and Liquid Blue, as well as retail shops and residences. Shortly after purchasing the properties here, the Baumanns set out to make real what Steve calls their “long-term vision” of a swankier Fore and Wharf. The Baumanns installed air-conditioning and security systems in the bars, talked with bar owners about noise and management, and ousted Wimpy’s late-night burger shack on Union Street following complaints from the Portland Harbor Hotel. (A Thai restaurant will open soon in the space.) They’re now looking for tenants to launch restaurants and high-end bars in the vacant bays on Wharf Street. Ed plans to open a wine bar himself at 37 Wharf Street called Bar 37, which will use the city bar permit previously held by Headliners.
Perhaps the Baumanns’ biggest Wharf Street coup was to convince longtime Industry owner Brian Hanson to transform his club into a restaurant. According to Hanson, it’s an idea he kicked around for a while, but it came up again during his lease renewal negotiations with the Baumanns in 2005.