October 3, 2012

Porthole, Comedy Connection closed again, future is uncertain

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The Porthole restaurant and the Comedy Connection nightclub are closed again, and it's unclear whether they will reopen.

click image to enlarge

The Porthole Restaurant, the Comedy Connection, and Harbour's Edge, all on Custom House Wharf, were shut down Friday, September 14, 2012, by the Portland Health Inspector for a rat infestation and other violations. The Porthole and Comedy Connection have closed again for renovations, and it's not clear when they might reopen.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

The city was informed that the businesses on Custom House Wharf would close for renovations, but as of Tuesday they hadn't taken out any building permits, said City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

The Porthole's telephone has been disconnected, and Kenneth MacGowan, the wharf's owner and landlord, said the restaurant's owner, Oliver Keithly, had told him that he may vacate the building at the end of this month.

The Porthole, the Comedy Connection and the Harbour's Edge banquet hall were closed down by city health inspector Michele Sturgeon on Sept. 13 for numerous health code violations, including a rat infestation. They were cleared to reopen two days later.

Keithly said Tuesday that he hopes he can work out a plan to renovate and reopen the businesses, but he acknowledged that it will be difficult.

He said he had planned to close the Porthole and the Comedy Connection in December and January to redesign the kitchen they share, but decided to do the work sooner because of the health inspection and subsequent media coverage.

"Business has been so slow," he said. "Why prolong it?"

With the busy summer over, Keithly said, the closure affects about 15 employees. He said he wasn't aware that the Porthole's phone had been disconnected.

Clegg said the type of inspections that would be required before the businesses could reopen would depend on the scope of the renovation plans.

She said structural problems identified in the health inspection reports -- such as the need for additional sinks and easily cleanable floors -- would have to be addressed during the renovation. A major overhaul may trigger other code requirements, she said.

The city has offered to arrange a meeting between Keithly and code and health officers to review his renovation plans, once they are drafted, and help him through the permitting process, Clegg said.

Keithly said he has no firm time line or plan for renovations, which are complicated by the fact that he doesn't own the building or know exactly what the city or state would require for him to reopen.

"There are a lot of other players involved here," he said. "There are so many different variables at this point."

As of Tuesday, no meetings had been scheduled with the city or the state, he said.

MacGowan said it would be unfair for the city to expect the buildings to be brought up to current codes.

"On the waterfront, that would be a death notice," he said. "These buildings aren't made to be converted to 2012 standards."

MacGowan said he is trying to get a meeting with city officials to express his concerns. He also wants to understand the city's expectations before investing tens of thousands of dollars in the buildings.

Regardless of what happens to the Porthole and the Comedy Connection, Keithly said he will no longer operate the Harbour's Edge banquet hall. MacGowan said he has a new tenant for that space, but he would not reveal who it is.

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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