(Stupid Patrons) x (Politics) ^ Power = Messed up Washingtonians

When “Buying Local” goes wrong

This story is worth telling. ARL Now has the whole multi-thousand word post, if you have the time. This whole exchange took place over a local listserver.

First off, I don’t understand how you can redact somebody’s name when they say stupid shit like this. I googled “Carole AHCA” and got a few links, so I have an idea of who this person might be.

So, here’s the story. Woman who is involved in volunteering in the Columbia Pike neighborhood, and very civically involved, goes to Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse with a friend. Also, she’s a huge Democrat in addition to being a “buy local” kind of lady. Her email reads:

First time in the Grill, like to support the Pike businesses. Happy to be there.

And then, Tupac comes on over the speakers. The lady freaks out. Her email continues:

Bartender decides to change music from Bruce Springsteen/top 40 to other music. Still ok fine. Then changes to raunchy rap. MFing this, MFing that, fU this and that. I was shocked. This in my neighborhood? is this the new Pike so many worked on to build? My friend and I had just ordered another drink. I knew for sure I was not interested in listening to cussing rap. I politely asked the bartender to please change the music as I found it offensive. His response? Don’t worry, the song is almost over. Next song – more of the same.

Went to get the manager to ask for our last drinks to be taken off the bill as we wanted to leave as we found the music offensive. Manager did go into bar and changed music, then on third raunchy song, and said he would take the charge off for the drinks we had just ordered but also needed to take the drinks away. I advised, no problem as we had not intentions of staying as we were offended by the music. No aplogy.

Bartender then sullenly gives us revised check, but no money back for the drinks already paid for. My friend has to ask for the money back he had already paid for the last round of drink. Bartenders response? “I’m not stupid. I did go to school. I know I have not given you your money back” (no explanation as to why money had not been given along with revised check.)

Left bar, left no tip.

Wow. Right? It gets better.

Please advise when license is up for renewal. I will object. STRONGLY. Have spent too many years volunteering in this community on civic association, Arlington Civic Federation, ACDC, ESL, foster parenting, building school partnerships while at DISA, working with CPRO, to have this kind of representation in our neighborhood. Can you tell I am peeved? you betcha. No apology from manager, no indication whatsoever that anything was amiss. Ok, so maybe I am getting old, but please help me out here, is raunchy offensive rap music what we are looking for on our Pike? This is not the community I have worked hard to build over the past 3 years I have lived here. And my guess is most of you would feel the same way. Can we get assurance that we can visit our neighborhood venues without having to be exposed to vile language? Ok, so I am a dem, tell me all about our civil rights and freedome of speech. But I too have a right to not be offended when I visit a local establishment I have otherwise supported for the 23 years I have lived here. And in those 23 years I have never ever ever heard a single resident of this community use even one of the words in that music,. What is next, porn tapes on the TV at the Grill?


(I added the bold and italics.) One, I find it highly doubtful, that, with all of her civic involvement she never heard “fuck” “mother fucker” or any vile language. Carole is probably exaggerating. But here’s the thing that strikes me as funny — she has “supported” the grill for 23 years, but this is her first time there. Maybe she’s been to other parts of the establishment, but that’s an error too egregious not to point out.

Secondly, this lady has it all backwards. YOU DO NOT HAVE A ‘RIGHT’ NOT TO BE OFFENDED AT A PRIVATE PLACE OF BUSINESS. Don’t like the music? Too bad. Don’t like that some businesses allow smoking? Too bad. Don’t like the way the bartender treated you? Too bad.

Don’t like it? Don’t go there.

Apparently, this lady worked as a waitress and bartender, according to her missive that was fraught with poorly thought out logic and filled with grammatical and spelling errors. But because two Tupac songs are playing, she’s now going to use her oh-so-extensive political and civic connections to shut this place down. Hilarious.

The owner of the Cinema Drafthouse, Greg Godbout, got the email from a friend, and chimed in with a few thoughts:

Carole – I’m sorry you were personally offended by the music played at the grill as it was not done intentionally. That is not the kind of music that is approved at the Grill. But I cannot accept, without defending, your accusations and more importantly your very aggressive and personally threatening desire to use your political connections and civic association connections to put the Arlington Drafthouse out of business.

At this point I would like to interject some facts…

(1) The music played at the Grill is strictly from one of Comcast Cable’s Music channels or an already approved ITunes collection. The particular channel that night at the Grill was the 90’s Throwback. But later in the evening the bartenders typically switch to the approved ITunes collection which is more upbeat. That evening after 9:30PM – the bartender’s phone was mistakenly set to play his whole collection of songs including personal songs. By mistake one of his Tupac Shaker songs was played.

(2) The bartender did not “change the song” – his mix inadvertently played the song he wasn’t intending. Unfortunately during this period, the bartender had gone back in to the kitchen to help with a kitchen order so was not attentive to the song selection being played when it came on. For his part, and allowing even the possibility of such a song to be played, he has been suspended for one week.

(3) The Manager on duty, who handled the situation when Carole approached him, is our lead customer service manager and he apologized to Carole profusely that night. He explained that that kind of music is not approved and it must have been a mistake. He apologizes again even while Carole was screaming at him and loudly repeating the full usage of the “F-word” and “N-word” (words used in the song). One area that we can agree on is how uncomfortable those words make people as our manager was very uncomfortable with Carole’s full usage of those words in an irate manner. He immediately followed Carole into the Grill and turned the music down. He corrected the situation by turning the music off, removing the drinks from the tab and later reprimanded the bartender for being careless with his playlist.

(4) The bartender was never asked by Carole to stop playing the music; however this was probably due to the fact that he had stepped back into the Kitchen when the song mistakenly came on. As for the bartender returning the cash slowly, he was totally flustered by Carole continuing yelling at him to just give them cash – but he was not as slow as Carole implied. Carole kept repeating loudly, “This is not my neighborhood! This is not my Neighborhood!” The bartender was trying to make sure his final deposits which include, coupons, cash and credit slips matched up. Reconciling an already batched financials (of which the bartender is responsible for) is not as simple as just returning cash. With that being said they received their refund after only 3 minutes of getting the manager. We know this because the video camera’s back up the bartender and managers story of the events.

(5) The Drafthouse maintains video cameras covering all areas of the Grill and Arlington Drafthouse. As owners we use these video cameras to help figure out what has happened when there are differing stories. The video camera clearly shows Carole not asking the bartender to turn off the music. The video camera clearly shows Carole’s arms raised and swinging. The video camera also shows that from the time the song was turned off to the time they received their cash refund was 3 minutes. You do not have to take my word on this as we will be releasing the video for all to view. I think it is fair for others to interpret the video for themselves.

(6) Responses from the other patrons at the Grill that night were very uncomfortable at the scene created by Carole. All who witnessed brought up to the bartender their shock at Carole’s actions. In the video you can see other patrons recoil in response to Carole’s yelling in the Grill. We welcome the other patrons to come forward with their prospective.

(7) The Grill basically has three purposes; (1) It has a large kitchen that has allowed us to improve food quality in the Drafthouse, (2) it acts as a lounge for patrons coming and going from shows inside the Drafthouse and (3) It runs it’s own food special events and comedy events featuring up and coming local comics. While the Grill is acting as a lounge only the approved music channels or approved music is to be played. While the Grill is hosting comedy, the content is up the individual artist/comedian and can be offensive to some. Couple that with the entertainment in the Cinema and Drafthouse and we are basically an entertainment arts venue that features everything from family friendly entertainment to very offensive material.

(8) Music played in a restaurant is protected by Free Speech – just as any other form of entertainment we provide. Restaurants are private properties. Just entering the private establishment, whether you pay a fee or not, is acceptance of that private establishment’s entertainment. Of course this does not mean restaurants can play everything. For example we aren’t allowed to play “porn” nor would we want to. While I don’t approve of the mistaken song selection that was played that night. WE STILL MAINTAIN EVERY RIGHT TO PLAY IT. I take this point very seriously. I do not look favorably upon any bullying forms of censorship – especially by politically connected and civic leaders looking to mandate their tastes.

(9) The bartender working that night is one of our best, most eager and well liked staff members (by both customers and staff). However when flustered anyone can hesitate. He is a young ex-Marine from the mid-west with a work ethic that is exemplary. However, he should have handled that situation much better (not even played it incorrectly in the first place). However, it is extremely rare that he would be purposely rude to a customer. (Note: As you’ll read below in my response, I offer you a chance to meet with me and him in a public community meeting to hear his side of the story).

(10) The Drafthouse has a great record with VA ABC and the Arlington Police. We have had very few negative events. We have a minimal rate of incidents when compared to other establishments. Even John [REDACTED]– who unfortunately offered his support to Carole during this discussion – has written me personally to congratulate me on how well we do in this area. In fact the manager taking your drinks away after crediting them is ABC Law. He also did it because we also have a policy to not serve people that appear to be out of control. I am not saying you were intoxicated, but your level of anger exhibited in the grill that night was very concerning to staff and other patrons. Your desire to target our ABC license to put us out of business is nothing more than using political connections to unduly apply government pressure. Our actions that night were directly in line with ABC policy and I’m proud of our Manager for handling himself so well.

(11) The Drafthouse under our management has been one of the most supportive pro-Columbia Pike neighbors. As new restaurants come in and seek out promotional help we often promote them to our 30K+ email list and 10K+ Facebook page. When famous national comedians are in town performing at the Drafthouse, we encourage them to go to P. Brennans after the show and eat at other Columbia Pike restaurants to help spread the wealth. We are, more than most businesses I know, an extremely generous and giving neighbor to the retail restaurant community.

(12) Even though this incident was a mistake – The Grill is not the only entity to have played offensive material on the Pike. P. Brennans frequently features live Irish singers that have used offensive language. The Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse features movies with curse words and nudity. The Grill sponsors two up and coming comedian events per week ($5 on Thursday and Free on Saturday) that can be interpreted to be more “offensive” then Tupac. Those two Comedy events are the most popular events at the Grill. Nearly every lounge/restaurant on the pike offers some sort of entertainment (open mics, karoke, DJs, or Comcast Cable Music) where at a minimum the occasional curse word can be heard. If you insist that we must be shut down then they ALL must be shut down. Of course, at other times, we offer family friendly entertainment at the Drafthouse and a lounge atmosphere at the Grill where we feature typically non-offensive background music. I would not allow our cust
omers’ who enjoy the more offensive content to dictate my family friendly programming just as I would not allow easily offended customers to dictate our late evening programming. I look at sales and customer demand for that.

Carole – I’m sorry you were personally offended by the music played at the grill. And while I agree the music selection was inappropriate – sometimes disappointing things happen. For myself I try to not let myself get carried away when they do. I try to keep a reasonable perspective of things – even if they upset me. However, when people make personal threats directly at my personal livelihood and my extended families well being – I take them very seriously.

A reasonable response for your unfortunate bad experience would be to choose to not come to the Drafthouse – which is your choice. Our challenge as owners is to entertain at the right balance so more choose to come than stay away. The bartender’s mistaken choice of music that night unfortunately chased a customer a way. Believe me that is punishment enough for us. However, Carole, you would choose to not only rally the entire neighborhood to boycott us – but to also shut us down.

We will never be able to please everyone with every selection of entertainment mistakenly programmed or not. Customers with free choice to come and go seems to be a fair arrangement to me.
On occasion, we have had people walk out on live comedy content or movie content due to the individuals being personally offended or it not being a match in entertainment taste. Recorded music in our lounge is no different. However, Carole, you are the first to seek the closing of a popular business in response to you feeling personally offended. You also have the political connections to cause us great harm even though your complaint is unfounded. This makes us tremendously nervous and we will be seeking statements from other Democratic Party leaders in Arlington as to their position.

Your desire to close the Drafthouse down due to this content, I find to actually be the most offensive item during this entire discussion. It is particularly personally offensive and threatening to me – because my family and I have sacrificed everything to keep the Drafthouse alive and vibrant… during very difficult times. Your desire to incite the neighborhood against us without first seeking the owners out (especially considering I believe we have met before) I find to be a disturbing vengeful act and not based on any open communication or understanding. Your vengeful ambitions are misguided and reflect more poorly on you then an innocent unattended mistake of music programming does on us.

Additionally – Inferring that an unintended Tupac song will lead to “porn tapes on the TV at the Grill” is altogether ridiculous, inciting, desperate and not based in reality. There is no reason to FEAR – this will not lead to increased gangs or porn on Columbia Pike.

If you would like to continue this conversation, I would gladly discuss this with you in-person at any community group meeting – please call me directly at [REDACTED] to set this up. Because you choose a public forum I think it should continue in a public forum. I am very busy but also very approachable. I’ll even bring the bartender and manager in question – so everyone can see for themselves and hear personally from the people involved. We love this neighborhood as my wife & I, and my cousin all live within walking distance to the Pike.

I recommend to all the others on this list, before you jump to alarmist conclusions and seek out to destroy neighborhood icons – you all take a breath and check it out for yourself. We will be posting this letter along with communication from the list serve on a website so everyone has access to the discussion that has taken place, including responses in support of Carole. We will also post the video so others can interpret it for themselves. We will promote this to our email list to garner support to defend our Free Speech rights.
Additionally– this has inspired us to create an Arlington Free Speech organization to defend the entertainment interests of Free Speech advocates in Arlington.

Greg Godbout

I’ve never been to this place before, but because of Carole’s freaking out, I will be patronizing it in the near, near, future. Carole, your futile attempts have backfired and made you look like a hysterical nanny-state liberal.

I’ll pour one out for you when I get there, and see if they can put on any Tupac.  I’ll bring some of my Democratic friends who are reasonable, support business’s owner’s rights, and most importantly, freedom of speech — it’s clear you’re not in any of those categories.

In the words of one ARLNOW commenter, “you gots to chill.

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