Courtesy Rehab St. Louis
Rehab St. Louis celebrates longtime co-owner Victoria Rose, the "Diva of the Grove," this weekend.
Before Victoria Rose’s Rehab St. Louis (4054 Chouteau Avenue)
was the powerhouse dominating the eastern flank of the Grove, the space had long been home to more modest corner bars with narrower appeal. From the 1990s to 2004, it was Grandma’s Rainbow’s End, a sleepy but colorful place with an older, day-drinking clientele.
“Grandma was such a character,” says Colin Murphy, editor and COO of #Boom Media, remembering the late Tim Craddock aka Grandma and describing the bar as “kitschy but cozy.” “[Grandma was] super camp and [had] a gravelly voice like Harvey Fierstein. It was a real drinking bar, like Clems. He was always treating the customers to the most exotic shots. Chocolate liqueurs in baked, white-chocolate shot glasses you could eat. Lots of fun.”
Grandma was also known for feeding everyone who walked in with his complimentary buffets.
As beloved as the bar was, it was slow during the evenings. A forgettable mainstream establishment called R-Bar languished in the space afterward. Then Rehab opened in 2009 and struggled to find its niche.
By 2011, Victoria Rose (aka Chad Fox) was the show director at Attitudes Nightclub, and Jim Weckmann was the DJ. Attitudes seemed to be in a death spiral at the time, and while Rehab was busier, it attracted a lot of what Weckmann refers to as “unsavory characters.” Drug activity was allegedly rampant. Many who were not part of that scene stayed away. “Groups of people would just walk on by on their way to the other bars,” Rose recalls. “They also had some of the worst drag in town. Bad clownish makeup. Just terrible.”
An Unexpected Opportunity
Weckmann and Rose recall their origin story in their own words.
“I met Victoria Rose when I went to work as a DJ at Attitudes,” Weckmann says. “It was when Attitudes was in a dying phase around 2011. I would DJ the show for this loudmouth drag queen, and there were not many people in the bar at the time. Most had already moved to Rehab and Novak’s for the shows. She still did a great show with all her loudness and whipping up the few people that were there. I thought she was hateful and kept her at arm's length.
“About a month into this venture, she knew I had also worked at Rehab and asked who she would talk to about getting into the shows there. I gave her the contact info, and next thing I knew, she was gone and was at Rehab and became their show director very quickly. That December, I was called by Rehab's owner and asked if I would come back as a manager.”
Weckmann became the manager as the owners moved to Eureka Springs to open another business. In February 2012, the owners suggested that Weckmann buy the bar.
“He said, ‘He said you should go in with Victoria Rose, as he does great things with the shows’ and thinks we would be successful. Now up until this time, I had very little interaction with Victoria. Wasn't my kind of hang out person. She did her thing, and I did mine. But somehow it came up to coming up with a down payment. The owner at the time wanted $20,000 down, and he would finance for X amount of time at so much per month. We said we would talk about it. Chad and I talked, and we learned that I could borrow $10,000 from my ex and he could borrow $10,000 from his mom. Now, he also worked another full-time job managing Panera Stores. So we started to work, came up with the $20,000.
“On March 12, 2012, we went to the Commerce Bank over on Grand in Tower Grove, had them notarize the agreement that we had drawn up ourselves. Opened our checking accounts and gave the owner $20,000 and went back and opened the bar and assumed control with only the money in the cash drawers, and the rest is history. We started changing things immediately, ripped out rotten floors, painted the beer garden and built a stage for our little patio in the first 30 days. On our first Pride in June, we had only been in business for three months, and things were tight! Some weeks neither of us could get a check, but Chad decided he wanted to go all out for our first Pride. He had a volcano in the room that shot off a loud boom, smoke and flame every so many minutes….”
Victoria Rose is a big fan of fire and is known to perform in a spiraling circle of flames.
“At the time our patio was small and the upper part of it was a parking lot and only had access through a small gate,” Weckmann continues. “He got some temporary fencing, circled the back lot of it and put up a tent, and our first Pride had a temp bar and the foam party in the small parking lot. He had spent so much money getting this all together that about three days before, I went to him and told him if he spent so much as a dime on a pack of Kool-Aid, I would kill him. It turned out to be extremely successful and set us up good to get the bar where we wanted and have good financial ground. And as you say, the rest is history. Best business partner I have ever had, and I would do any business again as long as I had him as my partner.”
Thinking of those first days after the purchase, Rose adds, “The first thing I did was fire everyone,” explaining that the employees were the main problem.
Gogo dancers: gone. Bad queens: gone. Rose doesn’t tolerate drugs, and she doesn’t tolerate fighting. Perhaps there’s no better sign of her no-nonsense attitude than the infamous Wall of Shame at the entrance, a rogues gallery of those who’ve been banned for life.
“It’s been ripped off the wall so many times,” Rose says, discussing the anger and humiliation of those featured. “I’ve even been hit over the head with it!”
Today, it’s bolted down.
Threats of lawsuits, which is the main tactic used by those wanting their photos removed, have never compelled her. She says a more humble approach has worked, “If someone will sit down during a slow time with the manager who was on duty, apologize and explain why it will never happen again, we will take them off after a 30-day probation.”
The two things Rose prides herself on the most are creating a welcoming environment and reinvesting in her business. Perhaps the biggest transformation is the patio, which has doubled in size.
“I make sure we have the best of everything, down to the fire extinguishers,” she says.
Weckmann sold his part to Rose in 2015. Kyle Hanten became a partner for a few years, but today Rose shares ownership with Jason Johnson.
This will be a weekend of reunions as familiar faces return from near and far to celebrate. Former employees, show directors and even owners will be present. Friday, May 13, will be a Beyonce-themed concert. Divas of the Grove will perform Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15, will be the Backyard Bash with open bar and free food from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The days are long gone when the crowds would glide past Rehab on their way elsewhere. Today it’s a destination and an anchor. Rose says while she still has some upgrades in the works, she’s happy with where the bar is and plans to maintain it as a fun and safe place for everyone.
When asked how long she’ll be at this, she said she has no plans to go anywhere: “I’ll be the next Grandma.”