For more than 60 years, three generations of Maglio men have run the Station Bar & Grill, serving cheap drinks and basic eats to an evolving demographic of South Philadelphians.
Lou Maglio, who currently runs the joint owned by his mother, said the corner bar at 16th and McKean Streets never had problems with the neighbors. Until this year.
The complaints may have initially looked like newcomers clashing with old South Philadelphian mores — and Maglio argues that’s the case. But even longtime neighbors say that the bar is out of hand and that the clash has escalated, with frightening results.
Maglio verbally threatened a man who he thought complained about the Station, neighbors said, and on four occasions last year people who have publicly complained about the bar later found their homes’ front windows smashed. Police say those acts and the bar are linked, though no arrests have been made. The bad blood between Maglio and his neighbors has brought attention to his Facebook posts in which he spoke out against the Black Lives Matter movement and included racist stereotypes.
Robin Doyle, who has lived in her Emily Street home behind the Station for 60 years, said she had enjoyed the bar. When Lou took it over a few years ago, she said, it became a nuisance, and now she has joined a coalition of more than 30 households working to shut it down.
“He don’t have respect for people,” Doyle said. “We are trying to protect our neighborhood and our street.”
Despite submitting daily complaints, neighbors say the city has done little.
“They tell us to keep calling 911, keep filling out 311 tickets,” said Brayden Varr. A slab of concrete was thrown through his window in October, which he believes was retaliation for reporting the bar to city agencies.
“But every time you do that,” he said, “that is asking for someone to get a brick through their window.”
Maglio denied involvement with the smashed windows and said that the neighbors are lying or that the vandalism was a coincidence.
“I’m a business owner. I work seven days a week,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m not a gangster. I’m not a criminal. I don’t run around throwing bricks through people’s windows.”
During the June protests, in which portions of businesses in the city were destroyed, Maglio posted a photo on Facebook of a gun resting on his bar table, captioned: “1 in the chamber 48 in the clips!!!!!” and a status that said, “So if any of you find yourself driving a tractor trailer thru a riot, here’s a little advice! DON’T STOP.”
After a Hispanic person called Maglio racist in a Facebook review, Maglio replied: “Lolol ... hope you get deported.”
Screenshots of the posts circulated online. People urged others to boycott the bar. Some posts threatened to “smash up Lou’s bar.”
Maglio said he posted the photo of his gun to defend his business. The rest of it, he said, is “laughs and giggles.” He dismissed accusations of racism, saying he has employed people of all races and backgrounds.
“This whole thing is part of their cancel culture,” he said. “All of the sudden, just out of nowhere, everybody hates me.”
On four occasions since June, people who complained about Maglio or the bar on social media or to the city found their front windows smashed shortly after.
The first incident was June 14. One neighbor said that although she had enjoyed going to the bar before, she was bothered by Maglio’s racist social media posts and employees’ and patrons’ not wearing masks.
The woman, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, left scathing reviews on Facebook, Google, and Yelp, and submitted non-emergency complaints to police detailing customer issues. About a week later, she awoke around 1 a.m. to the shattering of her living-room window.
She searched for security footage from neighbors that could show what happened. Minutes before the window was smashed, video shows men getting in the truck outside the bar and driving toward her home. A man gets out of the truck, walks around the block, then returns with a shovel and repeatedly smashes the window. The truck then returns to the bar.
“We slept with our laptops open to our Nest cameras on our bed for multiple nights,” the woman said. “We were so scared.”
The woman has since deleted the reviews, changed her name on Facebook, and had metal bars installed on the windows.
Maglio denied any involvement.
“Maybe it’s a lie, maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s not me, that’s what I know,” he said.
The next month, another neighbor criticized Maglio in a South Philadelphia Facebook group for leaving five-star Yelp reviews of his own restaurant.
That night, a slab of concrete was thrown through his window.
“I could barely sleep for the next couple of weeks knowing somebody knew where I lived and was brazen enough to vandalize my property,” said the man, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “It made me buy a gun.”
Brayden Varr, who lives next to the bar, said that on Oct. 24, he reported customers’ illegal parking to a Parking Authority attendant. He had noticed the cars while out walking his dog. Around 2 a.m. on the 25th, a slab of concrete was thrown through his window.
A little over a week later, at 3:09 a.m., a man wearing an orange wig threw a piece of concrete through the window of another neighbor who has been involved in speaking out against the bar.
Philadelphia police are investigating the incidents, which “involved residents of the neighborhood and the patrons of the Station Bar and Grill,” they said in a statement.
Bars across the city have struggled to survive the coronavirus shutdown, and the Station is no different.
Maglio is bewildered that people who chose to live next to a bar are so outraged by the kinds of disturbances that a bar can create, and said he isn’t responsible for what his patrons do once they leave.
He said neighbors never come directly to him with their complaints.
“Don’t live next to a bar if these things bother you. Or come see me, and I can try to help,” he said.
But neighbors say the disturbances go beyond normal bar-related hijinks.
Just last Saturday, patrons set off fireworks in the street, video shows. People engage in fights, public urination and sex acts, and soil the sidewalk with trash and vomit, neighbors said. Servers and guests are often unmasked, they said, and the bar sometimes serves alcohol past the state’s 10 p.m. curfew.
Philly 311 received more than 80 complaints against Maglio’s bar last year, mostly related to coronavirus violations and construction, said city spokesperson Lauren Cox. The Office of Food Safety has cited the Station for 51 violations, like flies and mouse droppings, this year. A “stop work” order for construction remains in place, Cox said, after the restaurant received 10 violation citations from the Department of Licenses and Inspections in October.
The restaurant has been cited once for violating coronavirus guidelines — on Nov. 14 after a health inspection found servers and patrons were not wearing masks, not social distancing, and allowing walk-up bar service. The city shut it down for 48 hours.
The bar remains open. A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement said the agency is “aware of recent complaints against the establishment” and is working with other agencies to investigate.
Neighbors are frustrated by what they called a disjointed and inconsistent reporting process, and a lack of action. They’ve met with the captain of the 1st Police District and the offices of Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D, Phila.). They submit complaints to the Parking Authority, L&I, Department of Public Health, and Liquor Control Enforcement.
Cox said the departments are acting when possible, but “enforcement against businesses is difficult” during the pandemic. Staff is limited, she said, and action against COVID-19 violations can be taken only if witnessed during an inspection.
Varr, whose kitchen shares a wall with the bar, has moved bedrooms twice seeking quiet. If nothing changes, he may move away from the neighborhood, where the average home price has more than doubled in the last decade, according to Zillow.
Christie Vazquez, who has lived three doors down from the bar for about seven years, is part of the coalition working to shut down the bar, and no longer uses her backyard at night because of the noise.
“The helplessness is a frustration,” she said.