LEWISTON — Silvio Martin was joking around with bartender Nicole Corliss one night about six years ago. The two were splashing water on each other behind the bar at the Lewiston Social Club, when one of the members got caught in the middle.
He didn’t appreciate getting splashed.
“He hit her with a bottle, then I came around the bar and he stabbed me with a knife,” Martin said.
It was just a flesh wound, so Martin chased the guy out into the street. He got away. Neither Silvio nor Lewiston police ever caught up with him.
But he never came back; Martin tore up the man’s membership card on the spot. If getting too drunk and rowdy can get you kicked out of the club for three nights, stabbing the club president can get you banned for life.
It’s the last such rough incident Martin said he can recall at his club.
“We have one bouncer — me,” said Martin, 64. “I might not be big, but I don’t put up with anything.”
Martin's Lewiston Social Club is the only members-only social club left on Lisbon Street. Nine years ago, when Martin took over the club, there were five clubs just a few doors on either side of him, plus a couple of bars. They've all either gone out of business or moved from lower Lisbon Street.
"The one thing about being down here is that most people don't want to come in and drink right around the corner from the police station," Martin said. He can see the LPD's parking lot from his window — and the police can see his patrons.
"They don't want to take the chances and drink a couple of beers and then get pulled over for an OUI," Martin said. "It was different when people lived down here and could walk to the bars. But now, they've moved away."
For the most part, that extra police scrutiny doesn't bother Martin. He's not doing anything wrong and neither are his patrons. Member Waldo Marais of Auburn said he likes to come in and just relax and listen to some music.
“We like to keep it quiet,” Martin said. “We don’t want it to get too crazy in here. We like it the way it is now.”
Martin still lists 1,100 members, but only about 50 regulars. They pay $6 for the privilege to drink and smoke in the club. He manages the club's main room, with its dance floor, pool tables and other games. It's open seven days a week, from noon to 1 a.m.
His son manages the adjoining bar, Heaven and Hell, and its more intimate rooms, which is open on weekend nights.
"But it's all under the same license, and everyone that's a member is welcome on either side," he said. "We don't discriminate."
He's proud of the club and the fact that Lewiston police rarely have to visit. Still, he wishes things would pick up a bit — just enough buzz to bring the members in for a night or two.
“I’ve made this much this month — zero,” Martin said. “I’m having to pay out of my own pocket to keep things going.”
Part of it is the time of year.
“They’re at camps and they just don’t come in,” he said. “And, then, as soon as they start coming back to town, you got your balloon fest and they go to that. July and August, it’s always like this. It picks up in September.”
The club has also had some bad luck. He moved into his current spot a year ago, leaving the smaller space at 339 Lisbon St. after that building’s owner died.
“The daughters took over, and they didn't want me in there any more,” he said. The new club is bigger, but his rent is almost double what it was.
He's had a tough year, too. His wife died this summer, and he's been diagnosed with throat cancer — he hopes it's treatable and will go in for surgery in September.
Plus, the main cooler behind the bar is broken, awaiting a key part before the repairman can fix the condenser. It’s been that way for four weeks, and Martin has brought in a household kitchen refrigerator to keep the beer cold.
“But people come in and they see that cooler, that it’s empty, and they leave,” he said.
Still, the club has weathered worse.
"It will pick up, and people will start coming back in," he said. "It's done this before and we've survived it. We plan on being around for a long time."