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Legendary bar on Park Avenue in Rochester closes for good

In World
June 08, 2024

A legendary bar set behind Park Avenue has closed for good.

The Public House — known to many as “the place that used to be Prepps” ― has closed, and it’s unlikely to reopen as another bar, said James Speedy, who owns the building and co-owned the Public House.

Its predecessor opened as J. W. Prepp & Company Ltd. in 1981, but most simply called it Prepps. Owners Bill Thomolaris and Nick Parnell named it after the wildly popular 1980 book, The Official Preppy Handbook, combined with a friend’s initials.

Its opening was a major event for the neighborhood, Speedy said. “There really weren’t many bars on Park Avenue,” said Speedy, who also owned the Speedy’s Cleaners in the same building. Long lines would frequently snake down the alley that led to the entrance.

The long alley where many patrons waited to get into Preps. It was later the Public House.

The long alley where many patrons waited to get into Preps. It was later the Public House.

Prepps had a vintage feel with tin ceilings, old light fixtures and woodwork. It sponsored countless sports teams, from softball and volleyball to billiards and dodgeball. It attracted the “First Job After College” crowd, a manager told the D&C in 1999, and even after it changed names and ownership, its clientele remained largely the same..

Prepps moved to Monroe Avenue in 2012. In 2015 the New York State Liquor Authority canceled its liquor license and it closed.

Speedy is a longtime real estate agent who owns 20 properties in the Park Avenue neighborhood. He never wanted to get into bar business, he said, and he hasn’t consumed alcohol for more than 30 years. Motivated by wanting some control over what was happening in his building, he found a business partner in Diamantopoulos, who owns other bars in the city.

They spent a few months renovating the space, including improving the notorious bathrooms and adding a large awning, and opened the Public House later in 2012. It proved challenging getting the new name to stick; Speedy admits that even he would slip and called it Prepps. “I grew up there,” he said. “I had trouble the whole 12 years.”

The Public House entrance. The space was once a bar called Preps which was popular for many years.

The Public House entrance. The space was once a bar called Preps which was popular for many years.

Business at The Public House originally picked up where Prepps left off. It went dark during the pandemic, but after it reopened, the lines down the alley returned. The owners started charging a $5 cover charge to cut down on the crowds.

But business slowed and with a liquor license expiring in the near future, it was time to call it quits after a “good long run” of 12 years, Speedy said. “I think there’s a myriad reasons why.”

The business and the neighborhood has changed, he said, and there are now an abundance of bars and restaurants on Park Avenue. The Park Avenue Festival, which was always a boost to business, has been replaced with more sedate events. Beyond that, there are other hot spots to explore. “The kids are drinking in Fairport now,” he said.

Speedy recalls the days of Prepps and The Public House fondly, noting that many couples met there and eventually married.

“It was great times, even though alcohol was involved,” he said. “We had a phenomenal business. It’s not a sad day for me. I don’t need a bar in my life.”

He said the space may eventually become a restaurant. “It’s a better fit,” he said.

Tracy Schuhmacher covers Rochester’s food and drink scene. Notice something open or close in your neighborhood? Send tips to tracys@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Public House bar, formerly Prepps, closes on Park Ave. Rochester NY

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