by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BATH — The Bath City Council has approved the application for a liquor license at the former location of the Black Barnacle, which closed in late September of this year.
The application, which was made by restaurateur Chris Johnston, came under scrutiny from business owners near the location who had problems with the previous tenants. In his presentation to the city council, Johnston assured his listeners he would make sure those problems didn’t arise, and cited his previous experience at the much larger Montsweag Roadhouse as evidence of his ability to keep his clientele in check.
“I don’t tolerate rowdiness in my establishments,” said Johnston. “I don’t want their business, because I’ll lose your business.”
Johnston also said he would improve the location in order to prevent a lot of the problems that area businesses had complained about, mainly the smoking and crowds that would accumulate on Front Street.
“It seems to me the back of the building has an area we can knock out for people who want to smoke,” said Johnston.
In addition to that, the owners of the building plan on putting strict stipulations in the lease to ensure the establishment doesn’t run into the same problems the previous one did.
“We really understand the issues that we’ve had in the past,” said Jim Knight, who is charge of the property. According to Knight, they had interviewed roughly 15 applicants for the location, and settled on Johnston due to his reputation as a business owner.
Even with those assurances, some in the area were skeptical of Johnson’s ability to reign in the clientele that caused problems at the Black Barnacle.
“When you have a bar, it produces drunks,” said Skip Taylor, the owner of Winter’s Gone Fashions, which abuts the location. “It’s not an issue of controlling them when they’re inside, it’s when they leave.”
Taylor was vocal in the past about his dislike for having a bar next to his business, and felt that the new proposal for a restaurant that served liquor would end up being the same as it was in the past, especially due to Johnson’s assurances that he would hire back some of the previous staff.
“The past staff that he’s hiring,” said Taylor, “they weren’t able to control it then, why will they be able to now?”
Other prominent figures in the community were more neutral about it, and felt that Johnston should be given a chance before any judgments were made. Bill King, a longtime advocate for Bath’s downtown, felt the business could work if done well.
“We have to have a high grade of establishment there,” said King. “I’m nervous about a bar, but I’m not opposed to it.”
Eventually, the council decided unanimously in favor of granting a license to Johnston. Although some councilors were skeptical of having an establishment that serves alcohol in the location again, they felt that the city’s lack of ordinances or zoning laws stipulating business locations meant they could not justify refusing to grant the license.
For both Johnston and former staff of the previous establishments, it was a very positive development.
“I’ve been there since the place opened,” said Tracy Elwell. “It became my family. I get my family back.”
The location itself is slated to open “as soon as possible,” according to Johnston.
“I’ve wanted to do something in Bath for some time,” said Johnston. “I’m excited.”