After decades of struggle, Rebel’s Bar has shouted its last last call.
On July 30, Allegheny Community Alliance Church closed a deal, months in the making, to purchase the bar on East Ohio Street for $200,000.
The bar, long considered a nuisance in the community due to rowdy patrons, is now locked up, and the announcement of its closing is taped to the windows.
ACAC Reverend Blaine Workman’s phone number is penciled in the white space beneath the story, along with a note inviting community members to offer suggestions for the space.
So far, Workman said, he’s received several suggestions, including a music store with recording equipment or a gift shop to sell “unique gift items” from places around the world where the church has missionaries stationed.
He said he’s also discussed the possibility of having Amani Coffee on the corner of Foreland Avenue and James Street move into the space.
“We want it to be something that has a place in the community,” Workman said, rather than a “destination.” He added that he wanted it to serve and build the existing community rather than simply draw outsiders in.
Over the years, community groups such as the Northside Leadership Conference and the East Allegheny Community Council have lodged formal complaints against Rebel’s.
Bernie Beck, president of the East Allegheny Community Council, said he was glad to see the bar close, and glad that another local institution stepped up to help out the community.
“Rebel’s Bar has been a thorn for a very long time, and everyone knew about it,” Beck said.
In 2001, Barbara Burns, who owns and operates Sweet Time Café on East Ohio Street, led a group of community members in protesting the bar and its rowdy clientele. This action led to a conditional license for Rebel’s, said Burns.
“It’s not personal on my part,” Burns said. “Clearly in my mind [the bar] was never held accountable.”
According to Ed Graf, a community member who filed a case in 2005 against the bar, the conditional license required bar staff to receive special training, to post “No Loitering” signs and most importantly, to have police officers and other security on hand to deal with problems.
In the 2005 case Graf and his son filed, they alleged that the bar had broken the terms of its conditional license. Burns, who lives within 500 feet of the bar, said that the security at the bar was “spotty.”
Graf said in an email that the Liquor Control Board revoked Rebel’s license in the spring of 2006 for breaking the terms of the conditional agreement, but when Rebel’s appealed a judge ruled in favor of the bar and restored the full license.
“He seemed quite sympathetic to their cause,” Graf said.
Leonard Butler, owner of Rebel’s along with his wife Cynthia and son Michael, said that he had been looking for someone to buy the bar for eight years, but that he kept a low profile in his search.
“I just wanted to get out,” Butler said. “It’s too aggravating.”
Butler, who has been in poor health for a number of years, added that he had a potential buyer from West Virginia, but he chose the church in hopes they would be able to make progress in cleaning up the area.
He said that he thought it would be nice if the bar became a coffee shop and the church acquired the adjacent empty lot for outside seating.
Butler denied that Rebel’s was a nuisance bar, and said, “We pretty well handled all the clientele,” but added that some of the bar’s patrons were uncontrollable and not afraid of the police.
He cited the closing of bars on Federal Street, Western Avenue and other places as the reason for rowdy customers on East Ohio Street.
“They don’t have anywhere else to get their liquor,” he said.
Workman said that the church was looking in to purchasing the empty lot beside the bar — currently the Deustchtown Blumengarten and owned by the URA — as well as the three-story apartment building behind Rebel’s.
He suggested the church might put a community development ministry in the apartment building, and then a “community serving business” in Rebel’s.
The $200,000 ACAC paid Rebels includes the building, the fixtures, the owners’ liquor license and a non-compete agreement so that the Butlers can’t open another bar in the area.