From KISS to Crue, the Rock Bar that keeps classic rock alive in Worcester

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WORCESTER – It all started with a KISS.

Rock Bar owner George Yantsides has been a huge KISS fan since he first heard the rock band’s face-painted album “Love Gun” decades ago.

“My mother was a very religious woman and my uncle (Peter Chrysostom), who was a few years older than me, lived upstairs with us and loved rock and roll. So I went upstairs and I look at this album cover and I’m like, Wow, look at these guys in the face paint, ”Yantsides said. “I took the album downstairs. My parents had this big TV console, a record, an 8-track player. I put it on and my mom ran out of the kitchen and said, ‘You’re inviting demons into the house.’ I have been sold! KISS was my favorite band from that day forward.

Yantsides placed busts of Paul Stanley from KISS, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley in front and in the center of the bar, located at 81 Water St.

The Rock Bar is also decorated with a “Morrison Hotel” mirror, images from AC / DC, Alice in Chains, Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, Iron Maiden, KISS, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Johnny Cash , Chris Cornell, Judas Priest, Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne (with Randy Rhoads), the Rolling Stones, David Lee Roth-era Van Halen and Rush drummer Neil Peart.

The bar is a dream Yantsides has had his entire life and he considers his classic rock venue to be part of the city’s rich heritage and rock club history.

A life-size mural of Queen's Freddie Mercury, a popular photoshoot location at the Rock Bar.

“My wife, she’s heard me say for years, ‘I want to open a place called the Rock Bar,’” Yantsides said. “Vincent (Hemmeter, owner of Vincent’s, Ralph’s Rock Diner and Nick’s Bar and Restaurant) does a wonderful job. I used to go to Ralph’s Diner when Ralph (Moberly) owned it and Lucky Dog, Sir Morgan’s Cove. I’m not trying to beat any of them. We are a classic rock bar and I really wanted to keep classic rock alive in the area.

As Worcester’s answer to the Hard Rock Café, Yantsides handpicked all of the bar’s decor.

“Most of the stuff here I had in my house. I call it my glorified man cave, ”Yantsides said. “My wife said, ‘You’ve got enough stuff here. Either open a bar or get rid of it. So here we are. “

When it comes to making late nights in the city, Yantsides is part of Worcester’s early morning royalty.

A mural of late rocker Chris Cornell can be seen on a wall at the Rock Bar.

Yantsides’ father James has run the Kenmore Diner since 1974 and George has worked alongside his father late at night from 11 p.m. to 1 p.m. for 35 years.

“You sacrifice a lot when you work late at night,” Yantsides said. “You sacrifice your sleep, your health, time spent with family. It is wreaking havoc. ”

Yantsides said the city’s nighttime crowds have changed over the years, for the worse.

“It was hard. There have been many times when you get nervous, ”he said. “One thing we never wanted was a confrontation, physical, but when people go out to drink and they go anywhere afterwards, there is usually a confrontation with people. “

One night at the restaurant, the Yantsides said they asked some people to leave because they were unruly. So one of the customers jumped into their car and opened fire as they were leaving.

Busts of the four KISS members sit on a shelf just above a mirror in the Morrison Hotel at Rock Bar.

“It was 2 a.m. on a Saturday night,” Yantsides said. “There was actually a firefighter from the next station and we were standing next to my truck, both of us ducking down and here are those eight bullet holes through the restaurant. They hit my front tire and my rear tire. This was one of the deciding factors that my safety was not worth losing my life over breakfast. “

Yantsides said he needed a late night change. So he left the Kenmore and opened the Rock Bar on February 1, 2019.

“The most important thing in life for me is family,” Yantsides said. “It was the right thing to do. I needed to do it at the time and I don’t regret it. I got to train my kids, all in their sports, and watch all of their games. C was really, really important.

An iconic Rolling Stones logo handcrafted by former Lucky Dog Music Hall owner Eric Godin hangs on the wall of the Rock Bar.

As for the “Morrison Hotel” mirror behind the bar, it was the first album ever purchased by Yantsides.

“My uncle (Chrysostom) made me enter the Doors. The Doors was his group. I remember going to Sears with my mom. We used to go there every Saturday night and I ended up buying the ‘Morrison Hotel’, ”Yantsides said. “It was the first album I bought. It’s what must go on the mirror. And it’s such an eye catcher.

While the Rock Bar has yet to have a rock star in the flesh, Yantsides has two memorable encounters with top-level rock royalty.

“AC / DC, I cooked breakfast for them at (Kenmore) Diner one night, the old dinner before the fire. So I’m sitting there cooking and looking to the left. Here is (Ralph’s legendary doorman) Buzz Tubert walking up the stairs with a big smile on his face and behind him is Malcolm Young, Chris Slade, who was the drummer at the time, and Angus Young, ”Yantsides said. “We had a big stand on the side where I was cooking. They set right there and they’re all like Lilliputians, 4 foot 9, and they say, “Make us whatever your specialty is.” And I ended up making them breakfast. They were wonderful.

A photo of Ozzy Osbourne is seen through the kitchen door window at the Rock Bar.  Owner George Yantsides calls Ozzy his “sous chef”.

One Sunday night in the ’90s, Yantsides and his then-girlfriend and another couple were in Cahoots at the old Marriott hotel on the same night that a Robert Plant solo was playing at the Centrum.

“We’re sitting there and all of a sudden you see this Norse god come in with that blond mane with his manager and he sits at two tables… And I said, ‘Holy (expletive)! It’s Robert Plant. So my girlfriend’s friend comes over and 30 seconds later, she waves to us. Plant says, “Hey, I’m Robert. Would you like to join us tonight? ‘ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ So he said, “What do you do for a living? I said, ‘My dad and I are having dinner all night in Worcester.’ And Plant said, “Oh, can we go? “… So we hopped in my Chevy Blazer. We went to the restaurant and my dad made us all breakfast.

While Led Zeppelin, KISS and AC / DC are all proudly represented at Rock Bar, Yantsides is also a huge fan of Ozzy Osbourne. In honor of the Prince of Darkness, Yantsides has an exact replica of Ozzy’s black leather loveseat.

“It’s gothic. It’s Ozzy. And everything is rock ‘n’ roll to me, ”Yantsides said. “Everyone likes it. “

The all-time favorite Yantsides guitarist is Stevie Ray Vaughan, and he’s trying to get his hands on a Fender Stratocasters SRV that doesn’t cost a small fortune to hang in his bar.

For now, Yantsides will be content with the men’s room to have a big star on it with a gold plaque that says Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Not to be outdone, the ladies’ room is adorned with a star and a golden plaque bearing the name of Janis Joplin. Inside the ladies’ washroom are photos of other iconic rockers, including Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart.

On the back wall is a larger-than-life likeness of Freddie Mercury in his entire yellow military jacket, Wembley Stadium glory.

“Freddie Mercury, Worcester’s most photographed photo,” Yantsides said. “I placed it strategically between the men’s and women’s washrooms and everyone takes a picture.”

Although he’s a classic rock lover, Yantsides also enjoys his share of grunge. Yantsides’ favorite rock ‘n’ roll singer is Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. He is also a huge fan of Layne Staley from Alice in Chains. Both are pictured on the wall.

And what would a classic rock club be without the Rolling Stones lip and tongue logo, which is a subtle nod to the Stones playing at Sir Morgan’s Cove on September 14, 1981.

“Erick Godin made them when he had The Lucky Dog (renamed Sir Morgan’s Cove) and he gave them to Ted Kistner at The Cove Music Hall (renamed Lucky Dog),” Yantsides said. “When we had our opening night here, Ted came over and gave us lips and tongues to hold on to.”

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