SALEM — Owners of Tavern in the Square are offering a $1,000 reward to nab the culprit who has released pepper spray at least twice into the bustling bar.

The Washington Street pub had two documented incidents in June. One happened during a Celtics-Lakers NBA finals game and cleared out some 150 customers.

Co-owner Stephen DeSousa said the reward and signs about it inform customers, but he realizes the money may not help find the person responsible. The eye irritant is easily concealable, and his staff would have a difficult time pinpointing who's releasing it in a crowd, DeSousa said.

"It's almost impossible to control," he said. "There's really nothing we can do."

Nevertheless, he wanted patrons to know the restaurant was being proactive.

"Whoever is doing it is doing it to hurt business," the co-owner said. "We're not ignoring it."

Salem police Sgt. Harry Rocheville, community impact unit supervisor, agreed that catching a suspect is a challenge.

Last year, restaurant staff and police got lucky and caught a man who threw a stink bomb against a wall and caused panic among customers. But without witnesses, police otherwise have no way of knowing who's wreaking havoc, Rocheville said.

"It's very difficult," the police sergeant said. "It's too bad somebody has to go to this level to try to hurt this business."

Though Tavern has run up against other problems with vandalism and complaints from some neighbors, the bar has transformed the corner, Rocheville said.

Before the renovation and the restaurant's arrival, officers were routinely called to the former Salem News building for drunks laid out on the loading dock, graffiti and squatting, which posed a fire hazard, the sergeant said.

"It's beautified the corner," Rocheville said.

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