Bar Wars–Establishments accused by peers of being counterproductive to downtown efforts

By Stuart R. Wahlin
Staff Writer

Not so long ago, in our very own galaxy…

It is a time of civil unrest in downtown Rockford among owners of local nightlife destinations, and the dispute has escalated to throwing stones in cyberspace.

Following a disturbance the night of June 19, Paul Sletten and Chris Wachowiak, owners of Social Urban Bar & Restaurant and Kryptonite, respectively, are pointing fingers at fellow downtown businesses Bar 3 and Red Lion Ale House, alleging the two bars are operating irresponsibly.

At approximately 11:40 p.m., June 19, according to a police report cited by Deputy Chief Greg Lindmark, “Police were dispatched for a large crowd of patrons that were outside Bar 3. …There was approximately 100 people yelling and attempting to enter the bar while other people were trying to exit.

“There was no problem inside. The problem was outside,” Lindmark noted. “The officers were able to disperse the crowd, and that took care of the extent of the problem.”

Lindmark indicated the dilemma arose from people outside the bar who were not granted entry.

Bar 3 owner Dennis Clement indicated the bar was hit with a rush of patrons, which he said were not regulars, after a comedy show at the Coronado Theatre featuring Black Entertainment Television personalities Rodney Perry and Damon Williams, and comedian Shawn Morgan.

Although both Clement and Lindmark indicated there was security on site, Bar 3 management reportedly began turning away new entrants because of the larger-than-normal crowd, even though the bar’s legal capacity had not been reached. Responding to the disturbance, Clement said, management opted to close the bar for the night to avoid further disruptions.

“We do not want to be a problem on State Street,” Clement stressed.

Whether their complaints are legitimate, or this is just a case of competition turning ugly, Sletten and Wachowiak are urging boycotts of their downtown neighbors.

Sletten casts the first stone

Using the popular social networking site Facebook as his platform June 20, Sletten publicly posted: “Bar 3 and Red Lion… You SUCK! You are both LAME as hell and should be shut DOWN for your irresponsibility. People… do not support them, the sooner they go out of business the sooner we can get a responsible business in.”

Subsequent comments from Sletten included “they will sell their souls for a buck” and “all I know is that the Block was shut down by the police because their party was out of control, no shootings, no violence, just bar owner irresponsibility.”

Recounting the events, Sletten told The Rock River Times, “When I was driving up State Street, I drove by Bar 3, and there’s a couple guys in handcuffs in front of their place.”

As he continued toward the 500 block, he said, he saw 50-100 people “out in the middle of the street,” a large concentration of whom were outside of Red Lion, and stretching down the block. A short time later, Sletten added, as many as eight police cars had closed off the 500 block as officers dispersed the crowd.

“It affected our business tremendously—my business the [Irish] Rose business, the Office business, Social business—everybody on the block, because people can’t get there,” he argued, noting he and his employees had to walk patrons to their cars as a result of the unruly crowd. Sletten said he assured his customers, “This isn’t a normal thing in the life of downtown Rockford.”

A comment in response from the Facebook account of Krytponite Bar stated: “I have to chime in on the irresponsible business practices of Bar 3, and Red Lion. Businesses operating to make a quick buck with the lack of concern to how it affects it’s community is an unacceptable business practice. I will also be doing everything I can to make sure downtown is booming with excellent service and fun events, just like Brio, Social, Irish Rose, Bamboo, CJs, Carlyle, Capri, 505 do everyday… because there are too many of us trying to make a difference and not a quick buck at the expense of others.”

Another notable response to Sletten’s comment came from local real estate agent Melissa S. Miller, who wrote: “I have been saying this to the owner’s for a while now… I believe there are bad things going on continually at those bars and I mean BAD! Why do the owner’s of the properties condone it. We need to quit looking the other way for ‘some people’….DRUGS and CRIME ARE BAD THINGS!”

A statement on Kryptonite’s own Facebook page asserted: “I believe that business’s should be run with integrity and respect for it’s community and those that refuse to clean up their business’s practices should be boycotted until they either clean it up or close it up! Bar 3 and Red Lion I’m talking about you directly in case there was any confusion.”

Ryein Rawhoof, manager of nearby Sacred Art Tattoo, added the comment: “And those of us who do run our business’s with respect have to fall victim of the aftermath. People are hesitant enough to come downtown. With bulls–t that happened over the weekend at bar 3, do you blame em? They shut down the strip club, cool. bar 3 opens, cool, another music venue. Now? Disrespectful. We have a great community down here. Why do we (those of us that work, live, and play downtown) have to fear walking around in our own backyard? One man has to ruin it all for us. Please, don’t s–t where I eat and sleep!!!”

Reached later for comment, Wachowiak argued: “Bar 3 is constantly hosting events that bring in a crowd that just causes trouble. Some of the acts that they book are these ones that cater towards the ‘Hood Ryders’ of Rockford, or theme cars, they call them—the ones causing nuisance. They block the street, and get out of their cars and block traffic, and make a nuisance, blaring music, getting in fights.

“I drove by there at 12:00 at night on Saturday, and I could just tell when I drove up there, all those people outside Bar 3. I’m like, ‘This is not gonna be good,’” Wachowiak said, referring to the crowd impeding the flow of traffic along State Street. “They cut off a main vein in order to get downtown, and people can drive by and see all the cop cars down there, and it sends a bad image of what we’re working so hard to create.”

Sletten concurred, “We’ve been working for a long time to assure people that it’s a safe place to be, and you can walk from business to business without any problems.

“If they’ve got events or music, or things going on in their establishments, keep people under control, and keep them in the building, and take care of it,” he added. “That’s where my frustration comes in. This isn’t the first time that the cops have been at the Red Lion or Bar 3. It’s not shocking…to see cops in front of either one of their locations.”

Racial undertones?

Although Sletten and Wachowiak have been very vocal about the June 19 disturbance, no similar public outcry was made several months ago when the Bar 3’s front door was damaged, and Clement was seriously injured by a concertgoer during a rock show attended by a white crowd.

Wachowiak alleged, however, that Bar 3 “is known for booking bands to make a quick buck, but doesn’t think about the effect on the community around it.”

He added, “Businesses have to take accountability to the community and how it affects us.”

As for Red Lion, Wachowiak seemed slightly more forgiving.

“The people that Bar 3 kicked out went to Red Lion,” he said.

Sletten acknowledged: “I don’t know 100 percent of where the crowd came from, but maybe it’s guilt by association, but he’s had these issues before, and it just so happens they were all in front of his place again. I just think the type of business you run attracts, you know, the type of business that comes into your place.”

Amber Pena, of Red Lion, said her establishment was closed to the public June 19 because of a private party, however.

“From what I have heard, Bar 3 had issues outside of their bar, and they then moved up the block to Block 5,” Pena indicated. “The people that were causing problems outside had no affiliation with us. We had our own private party, and the people that came from Bar 3 caused problems with our guests.”

After she and Red Lion owner Vince Mangiracina read Sletten’s comments, they said they feel the harsh criticisms were misdirected, and that Sletten’s choice to turn to Facebook about the June 19 incident was a poor one.

“We cannot control what ‘Hood Ryders’ and/or anyone does outside of our bars,” Mangiracina and Pena stated in an e-mail. “Being a ‘responsible bar owner’ is a matter of controlling our own bar and not each and every bar near our own. We are very upset to what Paul has said about us and actually feel that was a terrible approach to correct a problem.”

Asked whether they thought Sletten’s position suggests an underlying issue may have more to do with concerns about the effect minority patrons might have on downtown establishments with predominantly white customers, like Social, Mangiracina and Pena responded: “Personally, yes, they are being racist and want a certain clientele, which unfortunately, he can’t be the one to choose. Being in the bar business, and especially downtown, I’m sure everyone is fighting to keep business up. We had no association with Bar 3, and whatever they want to do with their business, and what paying customers they have or we have, is totally up to the bar owner.”

Mangiracina and Pena added that if Sletten doesn’t like it, he could always move.

Sletten, however, asserted the race of downtown visitors is not the issue.

“There could be 100 Irish jig dancers that are flooding the streets, and if they cause the cops to come shut down the block, it’s a problem,” he argued. “I don’t care who they are, or what culture they’re from, what race they are, what anything. If you can’t contain the patrons in your establishment, and the cops need to be called, then you’re causing a problem. And that is not something that is beneficial to any of the businesses, or any of the patrons that are trying to come downtown.”

Clement says he’s trying to play nice

Clement argued he does not want to be perceived as a troublemaker for other downtown businesses, and that he’s simply trying to fill a niche no one else in town offers. Several years ago, he chose to close the doors of the longstanding Surf Lounge, which featured exotic dancers. After remodeling, Clement reopened as Bar 3.

“I closed the Surf Lounge down, because there was a petition being circulated that was signed by most of the people downtown, asking the city to get rid of us, because we were perceived as undesirable,” he explained. “I closed it, because I said, ‘I would rather be perceived as part of the solution, not the problem.’

“We have been forced to be as creative as we can, and offer as much of a variety of music as we possibly can, in order to survive,” he added. “Now, I’m finding myself in a position where I’m being portrayed as another problem that needs to be eradicated from downtown. …We have tried so hard to allow a hip-hop venue to happen, and not be a problem for the community, just as much as we’ve tried to do heavy metal, or rock, or indie music—whatever it is that we can present. What I’m trying to do is give people a showcase that’s better than anywhere else to go, as far as sound and lighting and ambience, and all those kinds of things, so that we can have a fun, live-music venue.

“It’s my belief, and it always has been my belief, that the people who are in business downtown are not competing with each other. They’re working together,” Clement asserted. “Our survival is tied to each other.

“I don’t really want to get into a he-said-she-said kind of battle around town with any of this,” Clement concluded. “I can’t see anything good coming from it.”

With plenty of hard feelings to go around, the Bar Wars saga may not be over.

From the June 23-29, 2010 issue

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