TEMPE, AZ — Rula Bula Irish Pub, a longtime fixture of Mill Avenue's nightlife scene for Arizona State University students and locals alike, announced Wednesday that it would have to close at the end of June after being unable to renegotiate a long-term lease with its landlord.
Whether the Irish bar will be able to financially -- or logistically -- relocate somewhere else remains up in the air. And if staying were an option, it's something founder Steve Goumas is committed to doing.
"I think that Rula Bula is reflective of the local community here on Mill, and it's been very supportive over the years. We're a local spot. I think it's going to be missed," Goumas told ABC15 in a Wednesday afternoon interview.
He opened Rula Bula more than 20 years ago on the northern end of Mill Avenue, near 4th Street. He sold the business to new owners but still works as the bar's director of operations on a part-time basis.
Goumas said he's worked with several landlords over the last two decades to renegotiate his leases and rates, and paid his rent each month. He said he has survived two decades of economic ups and downs, light rail construction, the 2008 housing crisis, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're good tenants. We pay our rent every month, and we're, we're busy. We have very strong business," he said.
However, he feels that Wexford Developments, which has offices in Florida and Canada and owns a number of buildings in downtown Tempe, would not negotiate with him and, to his surprise, told him that space had already been leased to someone else.
In a statement, Wexford Developments disputes those claims and said it offered Rula Bula a 10-year lease in 2019, but both parties were unable to agree on lease terms.
"In early 2019, we attempted to renew Rula Bula by offering them a 10 year option to remain in the space at what we believed was a fair market rate, commiserate with what we were renting very similar space for in other buildings we own on Mill Avenue," the statement said. "After much discussion over several months, we were unable to agree on renewal terms with Rula, and given the impending lease expiration, we decided to go in another direction."
A spokesperson for Wexford Development told ABC15 that it attempted to work with the owners of Rula Bula to try and locate another space within their portfolio, but both sides were unable to agree to terms.
Wexford also confirmed that they have found another restauranteur to take over Rula Bula's space, but declined to name the person or the concept yet. ABC15 has learned that a local restauranteur is planning to take over the space.
Goumas said he has not found a new location to potentially relocate the bar, and added that due to how the bar was built, it'll be expensive to relocate and another challenge to retain its authenticity.
"It's going to be very hard to relocate and recreate the ambiance and the authenticity. It's not just a concept. It's kind of more of a work of art when you come into the pub," he said.
By speaking to reporters, Goumas hopes one of three things happen: he's able to stay in his current spot, someone offers a spot for him to relocate the bar, and the community supports the bar's GoFundMe to help support his staff and any potential relocation costs. A goal of $50,000 has been set.
Any leftover funds would be donated to local organizations.
As of now, Rula Bula is set to close by July 1, Goumas said.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported Steve's last name. His last name is Goumas.