Bar Wars

Who is Joe Staebell, and why is he battling booze in Dogtown?

On the evening of Saturday, June 23, five patrol cars convened at the intersection of Clayton and Tamm avenues, in the heart of Dogtown. The officers stood around their vehicles, sipping coffee, chatting among themselves and, at times, explaining to the growing knot of bystanders just why they were there. The liquor license of Rosie's Pub was to expire at midnight, and word was that this final night would be wild. But it wasn't the blowout that had been threatened, although two summonses were issued for outside drinking.

Rosie's was a joint where a buck-fifty would buy a mug of suds and a bag of chips. It had 15 stools on the belly-up side and had been a watering hole since the repeal of Prohibition. Last year, Nicole Solomon bought the bar and continued business with the previous owner's liquor license. Once this was discovered, she had to reapply for a liquor license. Neighbors, opposed to the bar, became involved in the process.

By the time last call was made, the party across the street on Louise Cacia's front porch had ended. A group consisting of Cacia, her neighbor Lucille Bosse and the other onlookers had disbanded.

Janelle Haynes
Wm. Stage
Janelle Haynes
Joe Staebell
Joe Staebell

But Joe Staebell was still on the case.

Jack Minteer, a burly Vietnam vet and a regular at Rosie's, knew who was responsible for closing his favorite bar, and he was aware of their soirée across the street. "Finally everybody went to bed except Joe, and he's hobnobbing with the cops out there." At closing, as Minteer headed to his Harley, he saw Staebell at the corner coin-op laundry. "I walked up and told him what a little worm he was. I called him some other names, too, and I made sure no one could hear but him and me."

Staebell is arguably the most notorious man in Dogtown these days. Though he received positive attention for initiating the Dogtown Dog Project, a whimsical response to the People Project, residents and merchants alike are now fuming over Staebell's less whimsical interest in city liquor laws, which he has been wielding against Dogtown's drinking establishments like some latter-day Carry Nation.

A wine café was the dream of Carrie Bechtold and Kelley Green. They hoped to debut the Corkscrew in a space at the corner of Tamm Avenue and Graham Street, the former location of Lickety-Splits, a failed ice-creamery and, before that, a bar. They planned to offer coffee, tea, desserts, bread and fondue in addition to wine, which would be sold by the bottle but uncorked for sipping on the patio if a patron so desired. The proposed hours were 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends. Staebell lives four doors down with his partner, Janis Jones, who owns the home.

Starting in early July, just days after the application was made, Staebell began soliciting signatures against the threatened establishment. Bechtold and Green needed the approval of a simple majority of property owners within the 350-foot-radius protest circle -- or a simple majority of business owners and registered voters combined. To stall the deal, Staebell needed only 10 signatures from one group or the other. He got them, and many Dogtowners were furious.

Sparks flew at the packed August meeting of the Clayton-Tamm Community Association. "Lots of us don't normally go, but because Joe had been working against the wine shop, we're, like, 'OK, this guy's got to be stopped,'" says Jaynelle Haynes, president of the Dogtown Business Merchants' Association. "But Joe doesn't show up -- the only time he's ever missed this meeting. And it's probably a good thing, because these residents just ate him up." They called him a "neighborhood nuisance," and then someone added, "We should start a petition against Joe."

Green says Staebell misrepresented the Corkscrew's intentions to potential signees and even denied heading the petition drive: "He was pretty sneaky. When I confronted him, he said, 'Oh no, I'm not the protest representative,' even though he was the one going around talking to everybody in the neighborhood."

At the Sept. 28 license hearing, St. Louis Excise Commissioner Robert Kraiberg tried to broker a compromise. The commissioner gave both sides a 30-day extension to gather more signatures and try to work it out among themselves. A month later, Bechtold and Green decided it wasn't worth the hassle and scrapped their plans. "I didn't see any great harm in this business," says Kraiberg. "The way it was described, even with an outdoor garden, it could've been controlled. This was not some chainsaw roller-disco."

At the September meeting, when called upon to explain his concerns about the business and to announce what Green and Bechtold could do to allay those concerns, Staebell refused, saying it would all come out at the excise hearing. At that hearing, he simply read a terse statement.

Many attending the October meeting were unhappy, to put it mildly, when it was announced that the wine café had withered on the vine. Kurt Canova, president of Tech Electronics, took the podium. Clayton-Tamm is a business district, he said, and if this sort of thing continues, the neighborhood will be labeled as unfriendly to new business. While others stood to bemoan the loss of the Corkscrew, Staebell just sat there, conspicuously silent.

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