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Sides May Meet On Bias Claim At Bar

Continental Protest, East Village, New York CityVivienne Gucwa Protesters outside the Continental bar Saturday. The bar’s owner, Trigger Smith, said that he was willing to meet to discuss concerns about discrimination at the bar.
Continental Protest, East Village, New York City 2

The owner of the Continental Bar, which is being investigated by the City Human Rights Commission, told demonstrators who gathered outside the bar on Saturday night that he would meet with them to discuss their grievances.

Since December, members of the ANSWER coalition have held protests outside the bar, saying that its bouncers have enforced a discriminatory policy that has barred some African-American patrons. In the past, the bar’s owner, Trigger Smith, has denied that the door policies were meant to keep out any particular group, but on Saturday, he emerged to say that he was willing to hold a dialogue.

Some protesters welcomed the offer, but others said they would reserve judgment.

Jeanette Caceres, a lead organizer with the ANSWER Coalition, said she was heartened that Mr. Smith was “at least showing in words that he wants to meet,” but said she has “yet to see” if he will follow through with his statement. She said that Mr. Smith  offered to meet with protesters in his bar during the picket, but the group preferred to wait and meet in a more “neutral” location.

Danny Shaw, a professor at the City University of New York said that he didn’t think it would be appropriate to meet inside the bar because its  “ambiance is not conducive to a serious sit-down about issues so intense.” Mr. Shaw, who teaches a class on cultural diversity, brought his students, some of whom, he said, had discussed friends’ complaints of being denied entrance to the bar.

Like Ms. Caceres, Mr. Shaw called Saturday’s picket “successful” but said he found Mr. Smith’s demeanor to be “mocking” and “sarcastic.” At one point in the evening, he said, Mr. Smith had joined in the chanting with the protesters.

“It was tongue-in-cheek,” Mr. Smith said of what he called his “dancing and cheering” at the picket. In a more serious tone, he acknowledged that the protesters’ “issues are legitimate” because “there’s racism in the world.”

Mr. Smith also said he is willing to meet somewhere “neutral,” with members of the group but said he did not want to meet with Ms. Caceres. He said that Ms. Caceres asked that Mr. Smith meet at the Answer office, a request that he called “irrational.”

And, as he has in the past, Mr. Smith stated that his door policy is not motivated by prejudice.

“I told them I supported Barack Obama,” he said adding that the bar’s dress code, which he said does not allow “baggy saggy jeans or bling” is not racist.

“Some minorities wear them more than others,” he said.

The picket, which ended at 9 p.m. – an hour earlier than scheduled because of the freezing weather, had “no effect” on business, Mr. Smith said, although one protester, Armide Pierre, said some potential customers “walked away” from the bar after she handed them flyers.

After the rally, Mr. Smith reflected in the warmth of his bar, where customers drank and mingled. “I’ve been here 19 years,” Mr. Smith said as a customer stood at the bar and order one of the house specials – five shots of liquor for $10.