The bar at Pat's Pizza is glittering and resplendent with lights on a Saturday night in January — but patrons were absent. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
The bar at Pat's Pizza is glittering and resplendent with lights on a Saturday night in January — but patrons were absent. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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It’s a slow Saturday night at Pat’s Pizza, but that doesn’t mean the music is any quieter.

In an empty restaurant and bar, save for a bouncer and bartender, the music was so loud it required shouting my order to even hope to be heard. 

The slow atmosphere at the Old Port pizza parlor/dance club is evidently a big change of pace from just a few months ago. Granted, it’s midwinter, and maybe the previous night’s snow storm discouraged nightlife. But Saturday night around 11 p.m. is usually a big time for bars in the Old Port. Maybe it’s true what the bar’s owner said at last week’s city council meeting: Pat’s Pizza had cleaned up their act.

The Old Port hangout has come under fire recently. Last week, they narrowly hung on to their liquor license, after city police and other key city officials recommended that the city council not renew it, citing a range of issues. According to the Portland Police Department, they responded to 70 calls for service at or near Pat’s Pizza from December 2021 through October 2022. The complaints ranged from fights, car thefts, suspicious activity, and other disturbances. 

Cars are parked outside Pat's Pizza on a cold Saturday night in January 2023. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
Cars are parked outside Pat’s Pizza on a cold Saturday night in January 2023. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Pat’s Pizza is a Maine franchise originally founded as a single pizza parlor in Orono in 1931. Today it has 15 locations in Maine, each operating independently by a separate ownership group. 

Owner Mike Lizotte bought the Old Port location in 2019 with a business partner. Lizotte, who had also owned an interactive stock market-themed bar a few blocks away in the Old Port, rebranded Pat’s Pizza location as a “speakeasy” and lounge in 2020. 

It was in that era that the trouble came. The bar received numerous violations, according to Lt. Eric Nevins of the Portland police, including for not having entertainment or liquor licenses on the premises. Police also responded to a call about a drug overdose, an assault where a bouncer allegedly punched a customer and another instance where a patron punched a hole in a bathroom wall. In the first year of the pandemic, Pat’s Pizza was one of two Portland businesses cited for COVID safety violations.

“We haven’t seen that type of call volume in the Old Port outside of Pat’s,” Nevins told the council. 

Interim City Manager Danielle West said the number of violations shows “repeated breaches of the peace.”

“This is purely driven by our experience and how we felt they were handling it on their end,” Nevins said.

From the perspective of police, something changed in the Pat’s Pizza business model when it changed ownership in 2019, Nevins said at the council meeting. It went from a “family restaurant” like other locations, to “attempting to be a nightclub environment.”

The city council spent several hours debating the matter, and while they ultimately did renew the license, they warned Pat’s Pizza’s ownership that the bar is on thin ice.

“You don’t encourage me very much,” Councilor Mark Dion said before ultimately casting a vote of approval for the license.

Dion, a former police officer, wasn’t convinced that Pat’s should be held responsible for every complaint made to police, and felt that the police didn’t present enough evidence to justify their request for denial, and justified the bar’s inability to produce necessary licenses as technical violations, or “mistakes.” 

Dion argued that some instances, such as a person overdosing in the bathroom, are beyond Lizotte’s control.

“If someone overdoses in any establishment, that’s a mark against that establishment?” Dion said.

Fellow councilor Victoria Pelletier felt similarly, adding that it was difficult to blame Pat’s Pizza for calls about fights on the streets outside.

“I think because of where Pat’s is located, for many people it’s either the first or last stop in or out of the Old Port,” Pelletier said.

Nevins countered that the list of violations and events was “indicative” of the kind of environment that Pat’s was making.

“I’m trying to show you the type of clientele and the type of business,” he said.


For Lizotte’s part, he has made changes, spurred in part from when his landlord tried to evict him back in September. The Pat’s Pizza building is owned by Portland Properties. Principal owner Eric Cianchette, who owns the building as well as the nearby Regency Hotel, did not immediately reply to an inquiry.

After that, Lizotte bought out his former business partner and hired a new general manager, who brought in a new security team. He wanted to scale back the business to focus more on the restaurant aspect. They put new policies in place, he said, shutting down portions of the bar and limiting the third floor to 75 people when the capacity is 120. They’ve scaled back operations to the point it’s often very quiet, as was the scene Saturday night.

In fact, the changes may have made Lizotte’s business model unsustainable.

“The last five months we went from being very profitable to not profitable overnight,” Lizotte told the Council on Jan. 18. “The business is not remotely the same as it was previously.”

Lizotte told the council that those incidents are all in the past. He described himself as a “small business owner trying to support myself and my family.” 

“I can’t control everything all the time,” Lizotte said. “I can only control what I can.”

Lizotte also argued most complaints against his business were noise complaints from outside of Pat’s. The owner of one neighboring bar, Lincolns, said that they were not the source of complaints.

Things improved when he fired his former business partner, according to Lizotte, adding the business was “getting a clientele that was causing more problems” under his former partner’s watch with rowdier crowds.

Lizotte did not respond to multiple email and phone inquiries. 

While it’s not typical for city staff to recommend denying a liquor license, there is precedent. The most recent case involved Sangillo’s, the Hampshire St. bar which closed in 2015 after the council denied its liquor license renewal. The parking lot outside Sangillo’s had been the scene of a 2014 shooting that left one person paralyzed. Police said that shooting allegedly stemmed from an incident inside the bar, though the former owners said the shooting stemmed from patrons of other Old Port bars who were passing by.

Councilor Roberto Rodriguez praised what he saw as “preemptive actions” by Lizotte to correct issues before he even knew city staff were recommending his license be denied.

“My hope and expectation is [that] a year from now we’ve not had this number of incidents and you will be able to produce how your actions resulted in stopping those incidents from happening,” he said.

Dion offered the harshest criticism.

“I don’t want you to leave here tonight saying this worked out well,” he stated. “You put a lot of people at risk.”

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