A coveted former dive-bar space at 38th Avenue and Wynkoop Street is finding new life as Rebel Restaurant. Owners Dan Lasiy and Bo Porytko are taking this old building into the modern era with a uniquely re-imagined space and community-first approach to dining. Rebel's food will be nostalgic with a modern twist, incorporating some of the Ukrainian favorites that Lasiy and Porytko carry as family heirloom recipes — think borscht and several different styles of perogi. Rebel Restaurant has targeted a soft opening on July 10.
To revive the space but keep its kitschy significance, the partners plan on initially opening for dinner hours and closing at 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, but hope to add later hours as the neighborhood gets used to a high-end restaurant instead of a dive bar in the spot. "That might eventually change once we kind of gauge our audience, but we want to be food first, bar second. We don't necessarily want the dynamic of the rowdy bar crowd," Porytko explains.
"This place already has that stigma of being a dive bar. If we keep doing things to encourage that, it takes away from the food. We are food first," adds Lasiy.
Porytko and Lasiy kept the old copper bar top with its bronze lion-head ornaments, but have made it their own by removing the worn cow hide, recycling it to a friend who refurbishes furniture. Instead, they're adding dark paneling with red accents to complement the bar stools, which will be red with black buttons.
The space boasts industrial metal accents and refurbished pieces from the old bar days, including a "Bar Rules" sign stating "No Gang Colors;" meat hooks as light fixtures above the bar; rusted cheese graters along a white, stamped-tin wall; and a metal fan chandelier — all with the intent of adding to the rebellious theme of the restaurant.
Porytko originally created a Kickstarter campaign last year with the goal of opening Rebel inside Black Shirt Brewing, but the brewery was growing so fast that it was clear the building was too small for both businesses, he says. Finding a new space took a year, but Rebel will soon become a reality in this location that was most recently Fat Bros Bar and Grill, but housed Hospoda (a Czech joint) and the Wynkoop Grill before that. For Porytko, it has been worth the wait to keep Rebel in his River North neighborhood.
Porytko's goal for Rebel is to serve unique food without pretension and to blur the lines between diners and staff, with a strong focus on bringing the community closer — both figuratively and literally, as seating will predominantly be at long, shared tables. Porytko and Lasiy will be serving food themselves on opening weekend to get to know their community of diners better. As Porytko puts it, "We want people to walk out chatting with strangers."
Rebel has hired local artists Jaime Molina and Pedro Barrios to paint two symmetrical and colorful sugar skulls on the exterior, north-facing wall, a mural that is currently a work in progress. The owners plan to celebrate many more local artists within the space, even providing a chalkboard wall for customers.
“Our patience has paid off," explain the owners on the Rebel Restaurant Facebook page. "We've always felt drawn to the RiNO neighborhood, with its emphasis on creativity over conformity, an appreciation for the new and outrageous and, honestly, a grunginess that only a couple of dudes from Jersey can really appreciate. Now we can proudly say that we will be a part of this very cool community.”