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Coffee, tattoos, bikes and a welcoming feel at Rebel Garage in Saanich

While the coffee space was built with motorcyclists in mind, co-owner Nick Martel said anyone can become part of the family
(L to R) Manager of Rebel Garage Alexis Carson, co-owner Nick Martel, and far right, co-owner Nicole Martel. (Samantha Duerksen/Black Press Media)

Nestled on Burnside Road in Saanich, Rebel Garage is a bit of a niche. It’s a coffee shop and culture space attached to a tattoo parlour, while known to cater to the local motorcycling community.

One might think it would be exclusive; you’d have to dress a certain way or be into certain things to feel at home. But that is completely not the case, as I’m soon to find out.

The space is eye-catching and well-designed, with an interior of wood, leather, black and splashes of colour from the graffiti mural walls.

“This place has my heart and soul. I’ve put in every screw, nail, light, I built everything myself,” said co-owner Nick Martel, who opened the coffee shop attached to Rebel Ink one year ago in April, 2023. Martel has also worked in construction management.

Rebel Garage is small and narrow, with less than ten tables plus a space for instruments, and the size caters perfectly to Martel’s vision of creating a comfortable community space. He based the concept on a hometown spot in Hamilton called Steeltown Garage, a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that was “the spot for bikers.”

Inside Rebel Ink, the tattoo shop attached to Rebel Garage. (Samantha Duerksen/Black Press Media)

After meeting Shelby Bueler there, who would later become a Rebel Garage co-owner, the two eventually wound up in Victoria in 2020 with a vision. Two years later, with co-owner Nicole Martel, the tattoo shop Rebel Ink came to life. But the three soon realized they were missing the sense of community at Steeltown Garage and Nick Martel found it hard to meet new people at restaurants or other coffee shops.

“You go there and you walk in a room and everyone is sitting at their own tables, and I don’t believe in that. Through and through, I’m a peace and love kind of guy. That’s what this place is.”

If you come into Rebel Garage a few times, it will suck you in and you’ll become part of the family, he said. The place has the friendliness reminiscent of the sitcom Cheers.

“I know everybody by name. We’ve got 50-year-olds, we’ve got 20-year-olds, we’ve got nerds and we’ve got gangsters. Not real gangsters, but it’s just all these different demographics and everybody knows each other because they come here all the time.”

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Immediately, I feel welcomed by the staff, and within the hour, I’ve joined in on a game of Jenga with Nick, staff member Brad, and two other people, including Mark, a musician, who is from the Netherlands and has only been in Victoria for two weeks. The open mic begins and the atmosphere feels incredibly relaxed, with groups of people chatting or playing board games at their tables, often getting up to mingle.

“It’s become a really cool little cult following. I’m really, really happy with how it’s grown,” Martel said.

People playing board games at Rebel Garage. (Samantha Duerksen/Black Press Media)

But Martel has to laugh at the public perception of Rebel Garage.

“We’ve had people that come here regularly for coffee be like, I told my co-worker that I came here, and they were like, the biker bar? You went there for coffee? And people are scared to come here, which is hilarious,” he said.

Though all the staff are motorcycle riders and the space hosts Tuesday bike nights catering to Victoria’s rich motorcycling culture, the space also offers a lot to appeal to non-motorcyclists.

Rebel Garage also does book clubs, clothing swaps, private parties, and hosts live music, including Thursday open mic nights. Events were never part of the initial business plan, but are now the largest source of revenue, taking off from word of mouth.

Local musician Scott Karpez who lives in the area said Rebel Garage fills a gap in the neighbourhood that was left when Gorge-ous Coffee Shop and Gorge Pointe Pub closed. “It’s been nice to have a community,” Karpez said.

Outside of Rebel Garage on Burnside Road in Saanich. (Courtesy Rebel Garage)

Martel wants that community to grow. For those who are nervous about coming, he said there is no need – even if you have to walk by a group of bikers idling outside.

“It’s a safe spot to come hang out in, it’s a community spot and if you don’t have friends, we have some for you here.”

Manager Alexis Carson used to drive by the attached tattoo shop, Rebel Ink, four times a day, and when she discovered they were opening a coffee shop, she described it as a “dream”.

For her, it was something that she hadn’t found yet in Victoria.

And for those who are looking for an unexpected haven of coffee, conversation and creativity, Rebel Garage might just be your place.

An open mic at Rebel Garage in Saanich. (Samantha Duerksen/Black Press Media)

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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