Rebel Rebel is Somerville’s Best New Business

Rebel RebelPhoto by Sasha Pedro.

REBEL REBEL – BEST NEW BUSINESS
1 BOW MARKET WAY
REBELREBELSOMERVILLE.COM

Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration for Rebel Rebel and how it got started?

“I have been working in restaurants in Boston for 17 years,” says Lauren Friel, the founder and owner of Rebel Rebel. “I came after college and I started just to support myself, and I got into wine kind of along the way. I was the executive beverage director for Oleana and Sarma restaurants for about fie years or so. I decided I wanted to take a few years off when I left that position, I just wanted to kind of take a little bit of a break. And I went to school for journalism, so I decided to go back to food and wine writing. Then I started a consulting company where I consulted on wine programs for retail and restaurant locations. The last big consulting client I had was Dirt Candy in New York, where I was actually working the floor in the restaurant a couple nights a week again, just kind of easing back into service. And I really missed it. I wasn’t totally sure what that meant.”

How did you wind up at Bow Market?

“Alexandra Whisnant, who owns Gâté Comme des Filles, the chocolate shop in Bow Market, around the same time actually reached out and said, ‘I just talked to these folks who are opening up Bow Market, and you should talk to them,’” she says. “I lived in Union Square for about five years several years ago and I really loved the neighborhood. I don’t think I could’ve built Rebel Rebel in the way that I built it in any other city, or it wouldn’t be the same. I knew I wanted it to be a wine bar because I don’t know how to do anything else. And I knew I wanted it to be a space that felt safe in ways that no other restaurant or bar I’ve ever worked in has felt.”

Building on that idea of a safe space, what do you think makes Rebel Rebel unique?

“Your local watering hole is your place of community,” Friel explains. “Historically, people have found their community in their places of worship and in their pubs. So if we’re these gathering places for community, I hope that we would feel a sense of responsibility toward the communities that we’re fostering or that we’re engaging with. I’ve chosen to foster the community that I believe is the future, and those are women, queer folks, people who are marginalized populations, and people of color. Anyone who normally might not feel comfortable walking into a bar for any number of reasons, whether there are safety concerns or racism concerns, bigotted concerns. We owe it to ourselves to create space for those communities and also to reflect what we want to see happening in the world, because ultimately this is where people are spending time together, they’re engaging with each other, they’re sharing ideas. We’re very loud about the fact that we’re a queer space, which again Somerville’s very supportive of, but other parts of the world might not be.”

In what ways has Rebel Rebel changed or grown, and on the flip side, are there any aspects that you definitely intend to remain the same?

“We’ll continue to do what we can to disrupt both the way that hospitality workers are treated and also the way that hospitality culture exists in engagement with its community,” she says. “And we’ll always sell good wine. I am really committed to providing people with access to the best, most interesting, rare, hard-to-find wines, delicious wines I can find at a fraction of what they would normally cost elsewhere. It is a little bit higher than your average bar price point, but the value is extreme.

“In terms of things that have changed since we opened, we’re a lot busier than we were, which is great,” Friel says. “We’ve also grown—our staff has doubled, which is awesome. I’ve been able to hire an incredible staff  of roughly 10 women, and that’s been incredible.”

What have you learned from your experience bartending, and how has that informed what you’re doing with Rebel Rebel now?

“Bartending is really fucking hard,” Friel says. “It’s a really hard job. It’s emotionally exhausting, it’s physically exhausting, bartenders aren’t supported in this industry. So I try to do what I can to make it easier to do that here. We do close early, nobody works five nights, doubles only happen if there’s an emergency. Because we are an all-female staff, I try to empower them to know that if anything feels uncomfortable or wrong or if a guest is giving them a hard time or being inappropriate or harassing them that they have the ability and the support to do whatever they need to do to change that situation so that they don’t feel uncomfortable, which is not something that a lot of bartenders really have the opportunity to do.”

This story appears in the Scout’s Honored print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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