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Rebel Rock Bar & Bites: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hangout.

June 14, 2012

Text and images by Grace Dickinson.

Matt Sorum walks around Rebel Rock Bar & Bites and then pulls out his cell phone to call his roadie.

“Can you get the drum set over here?” Sorum asks.

His roadie, hanging out at Delilah’s, the nearby gentleman’s club, heads over and steps into the cold, empty bar. He quickly sets up the drum kit in the middle of the concrete floor.

“What’s your favorite song?” Sorum asks Rebel’s owner Bryan Exley.

“How about Alice in Chains ‘Would?’” Exley answers.

Without hesitation, Sorum, the former Guns ‘n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver drummer now with The Darling Stilettos, delves into the drum line of the 90s alt rock classic, pausing only briefly to ask Exley if he’ll sing along.

Sorum is used to performing for a sweaty, packed crowd. But tonight, it’s an audience of just one – Exley, who breathes fog into the November air as he sings his lungs out to his favorite song.

Sorum is here at midnight taking a peek at the new bar, and spontaneously testing out its acoustics. Technically, he is Exley’s first musical guest. But he’s one of many rock talents to come.
One month after Sorum’s visit, Exley (above) opened the two-story Rebel Rock Bar & Bites to the public. The concrete has been replaced with dark wooden floors and the previously bare walls are now covered with posters of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Smiths and various other music legends.

“I always wanted a rock ‘n’ roll corner bar and felt that Philly needed a place like that with a grown-up feel,” says Exley, who owns the Front and Spring Garden spot with his wife. The two also own ZeeBar and Delilah’s, both located on the same strip as Rebel Rock Bar & Bites.

The couple became motivated to open up their own rock bar after a trip to Vegas a few years ago, where they heard a DJ spinning ‘Guerilla Radio’ by Rage Against the Machine.

“I just thought that was the coolest thing,” says Exley. “It gave me the inspiration to open this place.”

Other notables have since stopped by, like Poison’s C.C. DeVille, whose autographed guitar hangs on the wall. But Rebel’s focus is on the local scene.

“Sure, we’d love mainstream acts in the future,” says Exley. “But we’re really just trying to build a local music scene where people can enjoy local talent.”

Exley says he’s a child of the 90s, so his favorites are bands like Pearl Jam and Staind. Rebel, though, caters to all types of fans, with different events every night capturing a wide spectrum of rock genres.

Mikey PriMadonna picks the bands on Industrial Night Sundays, inviting groups that resemble Ministry or Nine Inch Nails. On Wednesdays, Billy Gale, the Jason Mraz-sounding singer from Philly’s Burnt Sienna, selects local singer/songwriters to play the first floor stage. Fridays feature Rebel’s resident band, a local group that will rotate every three months. There are also punk nights, rock ‘n’ roll pop culture quizzo nights and various DJ parties.

Between live acts and DJ events, expect to hear everything from Sublime to AC/DC to the Red Hot Chili Peppers booming throughout the 75-seat restaurant. Rebel also features a TouchTunes jukebox, which allows customers to select music via a smartphone app right from their seat.

Rob DeFazio pulls into the parking lot on his custom-built chopper. After parking his fiery-red bike he’s named the “Shocker,” he walks into the bar, grabs a table with his fellow biker friends and pours himself a beer. It’s become a routine that he’s carried out nearly every week since Rebel opened.

“It’s like everybody’s favorite corner bar but with a better atmosphere,” DeFazio says.

While yes, DeFazio is friends with the owner, he’s not the only one privileged enough to grab his own pint from the tap. Rebel Rock Bar & Bites is the 10th bar in the country and the only bar in Pennsylvania to have a system of fixed-tap tables. This means that attached to each booth, there are two draft beer choices at your disposal, with lines that lead to a refrigerator holding the kegs. A computer system switches on the tap and measures how many pints are poured as the night wears on.

“I love the tap set up,” says DeFazio. “It’s great when you get a group of people together because you can have the tap right there to yourselves. You don’t have to keep ordering. Some people drink faster than others, so with this, you don’t have to worry about a bartender and you can just fill up as you want.”

Tonight, Difazzio chooses Blue Moon, opting for the Belgian wit bier over the IPA option, Dogfish. The choices rotate frequently but Rebel almost always pairs a light beer with a dark one, such as a Sam Adam’s Seasonal with a Coors Light, or a Dogfish with a PBR. They will also consider direct requests when called in advance.

However, bar patrons aren’t only limited to the two choices at the tables. Additionally, there’s a separate draft list with four other rotating beers, as well as a fairly lengthy menu of bottled and canned beers.

There’s also Rebel Rock Bar & Bites’ version of a Philly Special, consisting of a shot of Grand Marnier with a can of PBR.

“We call it the High Class White Trash,” says Exley.

The entire bar is bedecked in swagger from Grand Marnier. From the branded red snowboard that lines the railing leading up to the top bar, to the framed, 50s era poster advertisements, to the rouge color scheme throughout, Exley makes his drink of choice prominent in Rebel. In fact, on the upstairs bar sits a handmade case that displays 45 bottles of the high-priced cognac.

Exley explains that they are in the process of establishing a Grand Marnier Club. For $125, anyone can buy their own bottle and store it in the locked case for future visits. Recovering the bottle works through a system that requires club members to give the bartender their name, code, and answer to a self-created, secret question.

“So if your friends tell you they’re going by Rebel,” says Exley, “you can offer them to take a drink from your bottle by just giving them your combination.”

Rebel Rock Bar & Bites also serves up a menu of classic American pub food with their own signature twists. For instance, they have the popular “opening acts,” like the pork belly sliders, cheesesteak wontons and popcorn chicken bites. The “second stage” features fries that can be topped by everything from cheese to gravy to truffles. Then there are the “feature acts,” including an array of burgers and sandwiches, all priced between $9 and $15. Don’t forget the “encore,” letting the night end with cinnamon buns, funnel cake or a brownie sundae. The kitchen stays open until 1 a.m. every night.

“You must try the mac and cheese with bacon,” stresses DeFazio. “Although, if I’m feeling healthy, I’ll get the tuna tartar.”

Whether reconnecting with teen spirit as Nirvana radiates through the speakers or seeking out up-and-coming live acts like Philly’s Cold Fronts, Rebel offers seven days a week of nonstop rock action.

“I wanted it to be a place where I’d want to hang out everyday, a place with good music and good beer,” says Exley. “For rock fans, really nothing beats that combination.”

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