WATERVILLE — Looking back over the four decades he has owned the Bob-In restaurant and lounge on Temple Street, Gubby Karter says he has been a good citizen in the Waterville community.

But he says the bar itself developed a reputation it never deserved.

Karter, who turned 70 last week, has agreed to sell the venerable tavern at the corner of Front Street to his brother Fred, owner of Jokas’ Discount Beverage next door. The closing is scheduled for the end of the month, and the new place will be called Temple Street Tavern.

The Waterville City Council on June 16 approved food, liquor and special amusement permits for Temple Street Tavern. Fred Karter, who officially takes over July 1, has advertised for a manager.

Gubby Karter said his failing health has forced the sale.

“I had a 43-year run here. It’s been great. I’ve enjoyed them all and met a lot of people, and I think I’ve been a good citizen,” Karter said from the darkened bar room before it opened for business Wednesday afternoon. “My reputation around town personally is very good, but the Bob-In has a reputation of being a bad place.”

The bar that became synonymous with late night fist fights and topless dancers is like any other bar that caters to working class men and women looking for company, Karter said. He said while other establishments in Waterville might have more fights, the Bob-In always grabs the most attention because of its reputation.

There was a drug related shooting in the men’s room of the bar in May 2005, a stabbing in 2012 and a cocaine raid in 2009, during which a bartender was arrested along with a bar patron who was taken into custody at his home in Madison. The patron, Michael “Mad Dog” Pedini, was a member of the Outlaws motorcycle club who later was involved in the shooting of a member of the Hell’s Angels in Canaan and went to prison.

Karter himself was never implicated in any of the activity and was never arrested.

“I have no need to defend the place, but police don’t come in but once a year,” he said. “This place is kind of like a melting pot of America. We’ve had our share of problems outside on the street, but we take care of our own inside.”

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey, a city police officer for 29 years, doesn’t paint such a rosy picture of the Bob-In. Massey said troubles at the Bob-In waxed and waned, depending on who was managing the lounge. He said Karter tried “to run a tight ship,” but that sometimes his staff did not monitor the patrons as they should have and sometimes things got out of hand.

Sometimes, bad blood inside the bar spilled out onto the street, prompting a police response.

“The Bob-In has a long history here in the city, there’s no doubt about that,” Massey said. “If you would ask people about the reputation of the Bob-In, you’d get varied opinions, and I would assume opinions that were critical of the Bob-In would be based on the behavior of their clientele.”

RENAISSANCE MAN

David Easton, 67, who lives in one of the apartments above the Bob-In, said he is the philosopher, confessor and the psychotherapist for the bar’s smoking lounge, which has a separate entrance to the bar.

He said Gubby Karter is a kind of a renaissance man.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Easton, a published poet and one time journalist, said. “He’s a gentleman in the old world tradition of the aristocrat that everybody turns to and looks up to. He’s a fine gentleman in the European tradition. The Bob-In has a terrific history. Right now it’s a multicultural bar with just about every kind of dancing music that you can imagine.”

Easton said Karter’s departure will be a loss to the community. He said the Bob-In’s reputation for trouble is exaggerated.

“Granted there are people that will come in and they can’t hold their liquor, but we try to corral them over to the side, but every now and then something will erupt and they will have to call the cops in and escort them out,” he said.

Easton keeps a baseball bat nearby in the event he encounters burglars who try to break in upstairs.

Joe Levesque, 31, a Bob-In bouncer and bartender for the past four years, agreed that the bar’s reputation is not entirely deserved.

“It’s a lot different than people think,” Levesque said. “Everybody swears that this place is a fight zone, and it’s not. Normally the problems are outside on the street, and we don’t see it. We haven’t had a fight in here for over a year — I mean a real good one.”

Anthony Sherman, 25, who helps Levesque with duties around the bar, agreed.

“When I first moved up here, the Bob-In was the place not to go to because it had a bad reputation of fights, and the rowdiness and the people in there are not people you want to hang around with,” Sherman said. “I came here and it wasn’t like that at all. It’s almost like the regulars are a tight-knit family. Everybody clicks in here. It’s not what’s being said about it. They say there’s lots of fights, lots of drugs, and I haven’t seen that since I got here in August, and it’s kind of depressing because it brings the Bob-In name down. Gubby is a good guy.”

Nikkia Veilleux, 31, who is a DJ at the Bob-In, said Gubby Karter helped to reintroduce her to her Lebanese heritage. Karter grew up in the Lebanese community in and around the Head of Falls neighborhood that since has been torn down.

“He’ll give me a lot of that stuff back. I lost my sitou (grandmother) a long time ago, and he’s given me that stuff back,” Veilleux said. “He’s given me recipes to make food, so it’s really nice. He brings it back, and he’s a very nice guy to work for.”

As for the Bob-In’s reputation, Veilleux said any tavern or lounge where there is alcohol consumption is going to have a reputation for being an unsavory place to visit. But to her, the Bob-In is like the old TV show “Cheers.”

“You can walk in here, and somebody knows your name,” she said.

DON’T ASK QUESTIONS

Karter said one of the things that makes the Bob-In unique is that he doesn’t ask questions of people who would come in for a drink. As long as they mind their own business, he said, they are welcome.

“That’s what people don’t understand. You come in here, and I don’t ask you for your credentials,” he said. “Are you a doctor? Are you a lawyer? Are you a professional thief or a teacher? You want a beer and you behave yourself, I sell you a beer. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

As for the topless dancers, Karter said the Bob-In hosted the dancers for 11 years until city officials put a halt to it in 2006 as a violation of a nudity ordinance. He said there was never any trouble associated with the dancers and no complaints by the public.

Karter faults the Morning Sentinel for its coverage of the topless dancer incidents, which he said was exaggerated by the newspaper, even though the business violated the city’s nudity ordinance at least five times in four years and Karter was summonsed several times by police for the violation. A Sept. 6, 2006, story by the Sentinel reported that Karter wrote a letter to the City Council promising to halt “illegal topless dancing at the Bob-In” after the latest incident, and he said the city could revoke the bar’s special amusement permit if further incidents happened.

“We tried doing it for a little while afterwards, but we got fined and reached an agreement that we wouldn’t do it anymore,” Karter said, reflecting on the contentious issue with the city. “You can’t win in the long run.”

Karter said he had problems with various city mayors over the years who wanted to shut him down, but former Waterville mayor and current Maine Gov. Paul LePage was good to him.

“LePage was a friend of mine,” Karter said. “He went to bat for me when they were trying to get me.”

Massey, the city police chief, said problems the Bob-In has had with authorities in the past have included liquor violations, serving intoxicated people, not barring or removing known trouble makers and not properly policing the restroom areas.

“In my dealings with Gubby over the years, I think he makes a fair attempt at running a tight ship,” Massey said. “I’m sure he doesn’t want behavior in there that results in police responding, but I found in dealing with Gubby that he was cooperative.”

Massey said Karter was instrumental in forming a group of bar owners to establish a fund to reimburse other businesses near city bars where damage was done by rowdy drinkers. Karter also made an effort to monitor nearby parking lots to diffuse any trouble that might be brewing at night when the bar closed.

“He certainly tried to do his best to control what happened there, but many times it was very dependent on employees working there,” Massey said. “There were times when employees were part of the problem. Most of the time the people that were causing the problem were outside, but they were certainly inside at one time, and sometimes the problem originates inside the bar.”

Karter acknowledges that the police probably don’t think much of the Bob-In clientele, but said he believes that Massey and other law enforcement officers in the city consider him to be “a nice guy.”

“I think that he probably doesn’t like the bar because of the people that it attracts,” Karter said of Massey. “Not all of ’em are bad, but enough of ’em. Probably 40 or 50 percent of our clientele are lower income, and you end up with some of the riff-raff because of that. It’s a singles bar, it always has been.”

‘IN THE BUSINESS’

Gubby Karter, born and raised in Waterville, said he bought the place in 1972, but it had been a restaurant since around 1945. He said his father “was in the business” running the Crescent Hotel in Waterville, and he just followed in his footsteps in the service industry.

In the early 1970s, he said, the Bob-In was busy serving lunch to workers from the nearby mills in Waterville and Winslow. Later, after the mills closed, he stayed open late to serve breakfast. A sign on the building advertised “Gubby’s Deli.”

Over the years Karter phased out the food and opened a second bar in the building serving blue collar workers.

Karter also was a partner with his brother Fred in owning The Chez on Water Street in the South End. Gubby Karter also owned the Depot Tavern in Madison for a while and was co-owner of Budget Host Motel in Waterville. Fred Karter still owns The Chez.

In 2003, the Bob-In was transformed into “Callahan’s Bar,” one of several settings for the HBO movie “Empire Falls,” starring Paul Newman, Ed Harris and Helen Hunt.

Karter said the Bob-In is a cross section of the population of Maine, unlike other establishments that cater only to a narrow clientele.

“If you come in here on a Friday or Saturday night when we’re busy, literally you will see professional people, you’ll see people that work in a mill, you’ll see people that are welfare. We get blacks, Hispanics, we get whites. We’ve always been this way. They come because they feel comfortable because they don’t have to put on airs.”

Karter said he has mixed feelings giving up the old place.

“I’m getting out because of my health,” he said. “I used to be down here five or six days a week up until about two years ago. It takes energy. I always say people don’t come to a bar to drink, for a beer. They come for sociability. I’d greet people at the door every night. That’s the way we’ve always been.”

Karter said there will be a going away party at the Bob-In the last weekend of June. Everyone is invited.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow