Church closes North Side tavern

'Bringing peace' to East Ohio Street

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Leonard Butler renamed Cindy's Bar 10 years ago, a memorial to his wife Cindy's father, whose nickname was Rebel. Mr. Butler had some of the same spirit when he was younger, but Thursday, after two years of haggling with the Allegheny Center Alliance Church, he acquiesced.

Mr. Butler, 60, sold Rebel's, a property he and his family owned and operated for 22 years at 510 E. Ohio St. in Deutschtown. The church paid $200,000 and quickly found a buyer in Bridgeville for the liquor license.

The Butler family had hired police to monitor the place at night, but they couldn't overcome being a nuisance bar, even after successfully appealing the Liquor Control Board's revocation of their liquor license in 2006.

"I probably would have stayed, but my health was sayin' no," said Mr. Butler, who said he has had two heart attacks.

The church, a powerhouse congregation with membership far beyond the North Side, has had its sights on investing to influence the scene on East Ohio Street. The church supported the start-up of the popular restaurant Bistro To Go two years ago, and it operates a nonprofit check-cashing shop, Grace Period, as an alternative to high-interest payday lenders.

Blaine Workman, administrative pastor at the church, said the church hopes to redevelop beyond the bar by buying the vacant lot beside it and a three-story apartment building behind it from the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

"We're excited about the purchase," he said. "This bar has had a troubled history with the community that goes back decades. We were looking at community development with a goal of restoration and bringing God's peace to the community."

He said he has discussed the possibility of renting to Amani International Coffeehouse on Foreland Street, "whose owner has expressed an interest in being on the main street. Another option might be a nonprofit focusing on community service."

The Northside Leadership Conference has been the church's adviser in dealing with Rebel's.

Mark Fatla, executive director of the conference, said some shop keepers on East Ohio yesterday morning told him they could already tell the difference. "The bar would open at 7 a.m. and people would be drunk by 9."

He said he drank at Rebel's four times when he first joined the conference and was asked three times if he would like to buy drugs or sex.

Mr. Butler, who plans to retire to Greene County, said the problems built over the years, from the bar's first incarnation as Jewel's.

"We had cops at night at the door," he said. "We had cameras, and they [customers] all knew it and just didn't care.

"We've been threatened and shot at. We took a gun off a guy's bar stool about 17 years ago. The whole bar tackled him. The gun went off, and it [a bullet] hit the wall and hit my wife in the foot."

He said he didn't consider giving it up. "It made us a nice living. But I was glad I sold to the church. They're trying to do something, but it's going to take a lot of years."

Mr. Fatla is more optimistic; the scene is already changing.

"This was a district on a steady and accelerating decline. It is reversing direction," he said, citing Bistro To Go, a Rita's ice cream franchise that opened last year and a day care center.

"The focus of the last three years has been increasing positive attractions on the street," he said. "The flip-side is pushing out the negative."


Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Visit her web log "City Walkabout" at post-gazette.com/localnews.


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