The Incredibly True Adventures of a Lesbian Bartender: That Time I Met a Homophobic Anti-Semite


You would think that as a bartender myself, I'd know better than to chime in on a drunken man's arrogant rant. You would think I'd know that just shutting up and letting the dude talk nonsense would be the smarter, more mature, adult way of handling the situation. But on this night I just can't help but offer my two cents to the asshole whose blatantly anti-Semitic, homophobic slurs begin to radiate throughout the space where I so calmly and coolly am drinking a semi-local brew on my night off.

But let's backtrack a minute.

This is a Tuesday evening during a snowstorm, aka Polar Vortex Take 2. At my friend's request, I toss on two pairs of pants, a furry vest, my rubber boots, and some mascara and make my way out into the wild, padding through the snow to my neighborhood's Irish pub, a whole five-minute-long trudge.

I arrive a quarter past 8 and plop down onto a wooden bench with a histrionic sigh. I drop my bag, pull off my half-gloves, and make my way to the bar to order a hot toddy. Sliding back onto the bench, I lean against the brick wall, tucking my coat around my thighs like a baby bumper.

Across the picnic-like table my friend looks furiously distracted, highlighting some academic article, with a glass of rosé lingering precariously close to her laptop. Foreseeing disaster, I grab the glass as she begins to put her homework away. Out of sheer curiosity I take a sip. It is just as shitty as I presumed. The great friend that I am, I proceed to make fun of her utterly silly choice of beverage: Why would you spend $7 for a crap glass of wine at an Irish pub that has great beer on tap for $4? But apparently she doesn't like beer. In my head I'm screaming, "What lesbian doesn't like beer?!"

But I digress.

After some general catching up and a heated debate over the inherent flaws in the way restaurants take out servers' taxes, and how we get screwed on our returns, I turn to her and protest, "You're not going to change the IRS!" At the time this seemed incredibly funny -- funny enough to inspire a "finger-painting" session, throughout which the quote wound up traced on the inside of the bar window. "You're not gonna change the IRS": It made no sense, not even in context. But our momentary joy in condensation finger-painting was undeniable. I take a photo. We agree on a filter. I post said photo to Instagram. She pees. I grab us another round. Warmed up, I forgo the hot whiskey for a beer. More shit wine for her. We sit watching the snow gather furiously outside the window. We debate leaving the bar to get pizza and/or Chinese but conclude that the next round of alcohol would be sufficient.

I am about finished with my beer when we notice some commotion from across the bar; it is easy to pick up on, because there are no more than 15 people in the whole place. I hear the word "fag." Taken aback by some jackass' complete lack of tact, I figure it must be a joke, or part of a joke. Then I hear "fucking fag." Again. Maybe he said "hag"? I wait for a punch line. No punch line. More commotion. I listen in cautiously, trying not to be too obvious. Once again I hear "fucking fag." Then I hear something about "the Jews." And then "that fucking Jewish fag."

I am now intently and clearly listening to a brute drunk trying to rationalize his frustration over something inane by blaming it on "those Jewish fags."

Here I am, Jewish and gay, annoyed and disappointed that this is happening in my local Brooklyn bar. Moreover, the bartender, a man who is clearly over 50, seems to be indifferent to this homophobe's abrasive tone regarding our sizable neighborhood population of gays, Jews, and particularly gay Jews.

Mind you, I'm one hot toddy and one pint of Sour Sherry Blue Point in. I am by no means drunk, but I have some liquid courage that I might not possess otherwise. I am usually self-conscious about my unintimidating 5-foot-2 stature, which ordinarily renders me silent in matters of hardcore public confrontation, but this time I just can't ignore the repetition of "that fucking Jewish fag."

The third or fourth time he says it, another man pipes in from the other end of the bar and yells something I can't quite make out. Whatever it is, it leads to a hostile response from the asshole, and for a moment there it seems like the situation might escalate into potentially dangerous territory.

This incorrigible back-and-forth prompts my next move. Leaning against the wall, my body neatly tucked behind the massive wooden table, I raise my voice. I proclaim to the bar that I am in fact Jewish. And a fag. A Jewish fag. Or, better yet, a Jewish dyke. I reapeat this four or five times until he realizes that a) I am talking, and b) I am serious.

Diversion accomplished, and the attention turns to me.

Like a smug child I call out, "Betcha didn't think I was a dyke, but I am. I'm a Jewish dyke. You probably didn't think there was a dyke here, but there is. I'm a Jewish dyke. I just wanted to let you know that I'm right here, and I can hear you."

The asshole is a hefty blond guy with a potbelly and bad posture. He keeps fumbling with his dirty white T-shirt as if it's a security blanket, or as if he wants to tear the thing off entirely. He has some sort of accent, but it is mostly indeterminable through his slurred speech. Frankly, he is a pathetic-looking man, and I almost -- almost -- feel sorry for him.

He turns to me from 10 feet away and starts trying to explain what "Jewish fag" meant -- and claiming that I heard the words out of context. I ask what kind of context would merit the repetitive usage of such a phrase -- out loud, no less, in a neighborhood bar in Brooklyn.

He has an answer for everything. He tells me that he doesn't like Israeli men, that some Israeli guy screwed him over, and that that guy is in fact the "fag." He says he didn't mean any offense to me, telling me, "You're not that kind of Jewish. You're different. You're not Israeli. American Jews are different. And you're not a fag."

Retrospectively, I'm reminded of my trip to Israel in 2013, a Birthright trip that catered to LGBTQ Jews. As a Jew I'm reminded of why we need to have a Jewish state. But again, I digress.

I stare at the guy but don't respond to him. I might get too angry if I do. He wouldn't hear a word of it anyway. And it is in that moment that, as luck would have it, the seemingly indifferent bartender finally steps in and persuades the man to leave the bar.

The asshole finally stumbles out.

I look at the bartender. He's an older, thin Irish man with grey stubble on his cheeks, loose skin on his elbows, and bar rags hanging out of every pocket. He shouts over to my friend and me, apologizing. He says, "Don't take it personal. That guy is a regular. He's an asshole but harmless."

I bite my tongue. I walk back to the bench.

My friend goes for another glass of wine before we get up to leave. She asks for her tab. I wait for the bartender to comp her drink and offer me a beer. It's what any respectable, career bartender would do. But he doesn't do it. He doesn't offer anything. He merely offers up that lousy excuse for the asshole's inexcusable behavior.

The moral of the story? Sometimes things surprise me. That homophobic anti-Semite didn't really surprise me, but that bartender did. In my opinion, his nonchalance while listening to such a blatantly homophobic and anti-Semitic rant, coupled with his unwillingness to step in sooner, is unforgivable. Part of me wants to write him up in a bad Yelp review, but that would be a dick move, and I don't want or need to to be a dick, because, frankly, I have no doubt that there's a reason that karma's a bitch.