OFF THE WIRE
A ban on “colors,” lettering and graphics that denote motorcycle club membership at a Biddeford bar has a Biddeford veteran seeing red.
Debbie Burke, owner of 50’s Pub on Franklin Street, said her longstanding policy against club insignias will not change.
Jason Litalien, who served 13 years in the Air Force, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, owns the Frosty Pint in Portland and is a member of the Enforcers MC motorcycle club, a national group comprised of servicemen and law enforcement officials. The club opened a Cumberland County chapter in August, he said.
“This is a club made up of good guys,” said Litalien, who is also a Patriot Guard member who rides with funeral processions for veterans.
Litalien and three companions went into the 50’s Pub on Franklin Street around 10:15 p.m. Oct. 7. Litalien was wearing a jacket with an Enforcers patch as well as patches that show his veteran status. One person who was with him is a Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputy, a club member but who did not wear colors that night.
Burke refused to serve him unless he removed it or turned it inside out.
“This is not about him being a veteran,” Burke said.
The request offended Litalien, who said the definition of “no colors” posted at the bar is vague and could apply to sports fans who wear jerseys of their favorite teams. He said patrons who wear colors of a club are sometimes less dangerous than sports fans.
By example, Litalien cited the April attack on San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow after a game in Los Angeles. Stow was wearing a Giants jersey when he was attacked. An August NFL exhibition game between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers was marred by fights. Two fans were shot after the game.
Burke said she asked Litalien to turn the apparel inside out, leave it in his vehicle or allow her to put it behind the bar.
Litalien said he allows patrons to wear colors at his tavern and was offended because other patrons inside the 50’s Pub appeared more intimidating than he and his companions did that night.
His derogatory descriptions of other patrons offended Burke enough to ask him to leave, she said. That was also when she called police and asked specifically for Sgt. Normand Allaire.
By about 10:20 p.m., police had arrived, but Litalien and his friends had left. Biddeford police logs from the evening detail a conversation Officer Andrew Shorthill had with the group near Franklin and Main streets. Litalien explained his side of the story and said the group then continued to another restaurant.
Burke, who owns and operates the tavern opened by her parents (also former owners of the 50’s Pub in Portland), said making exceptions to the no colors rule is impractical and could result in her customers feeling intimidated.
Litalien posted his version of the incident and why he objects to the colors ban on the 50’s Pub Facebook page, where it was copied and reposted by other veterans. He said the color ban is unjustified and discriminatory.
Burke said she asked specifically for Allaire that night because he has been asked by Biddeford Police Chief Roger P. Beaupre to work with Burke on calls and complaints about the pub and surrounding area.
Beaupre said the colors ban at the pub was suggested by and endorsed by police and Burke was justified in refusing to serve Litalien.
“I’m glad she enforced it,” Beaupre said. “Colors are colors from my point of view. They can evoke or create a problem you don’t otherwise want.”
Beaupre and Burke said a motorcycle gang showed interest in making the 50’s Pub a clubhouse about five years ago. Burke said turning them away went smoother than her confrontation with Litalien last month.
As the 50’s Pub prepared to renew its license in April, Burke and Allaire began meeting at least once a month to discuss calls to police. Burke writes down accounts of incidents and downloads Biddeford police logs each week to be prepared. She has emphasized to Allaire that many calls marked with the pub name are for incidents that occur outside in a city-owned parking lot or along nearby side streets.
Frank Lyons, an independent consultant who advises on compliance with Maine liquor laws and avoiding violations, said sellers of alcoholic beverages can refuse service to customers who appear intoxicated or cannot produce proper identification. He added he does not think bans on colors are discriminatory.
“It’s no more than a dress code,” he said.
Lyons, who served for 23 years on the Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement until his retirement in 2005, said outlaw gangs that wear colors are outnumbered by clubs of law enforcement officials such as the Enforcers, Iron Pigs or Blue Knights. He said bar owners only create trouble for themselves by making exceptions to their own rules. He agreed with Beaupre that people who wear colors can create tension, no matter the nature of the club they represent.
Burke is not alone in having a ban on colors. Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel, a seasonal bar and restaurant popular with motorcyclists and clubs, enforces a ban on weapons and colors. The Town House Pub on Storer Street in Saco prohibits wearing group colors.
Bentley Warren, owner of Bentley’s Saloon, said his posted policy says “no colors” and has been in place since he opened the Route 1 bar and restaurant about eight seasons ago.
“I want a place where anyone can feel comfortable,” Warren said.
Warren said he enjoys riding with a variety of groups, but banning patches and insignia is a policy that has worked for his business.
After his years of service and knowing there are other motor cycle clubs comprised of law enforcement officials and veterans, Litalien said getting categorized with outlaw gangs is offensive.
“I spent 13 years of my life protecting these people,” he said.
Staff Writer David Harry can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 213.