On February 16, two Polynesian men walked into a bar in Salt Lake City. The men had never been to Willie’s Lounge before. According to the pair, after what they endured, they won’t be returning. Fox 13 Now reports that the men, Frank Maea and his cousin Stephen Wily, were denied service at the Salt Lake City bar solely based on their race.
According to Maea, just seconds after walking into the Salt Lake City bar, they presented their IDs to the bartender, who checked their identification and then immediately asked them to leave, much to his disbelief, because of their Polynesian heritage.
“She looked up and said, ‘I can’t serve Polynesians’ and I was like… ‘You can’t what?'”
Not surprisingly, both men were shocked, along with “everyone in the bar,” claims Maea. Other patrons at the bar spoke up in defense of the men, according to reports.
“Wait, did I hear this correctly? Did you just say you can’t serve these guys because they’re Polynesian?”
Moments after being told they couldn’t be served at the Salt Lake City bar, the men recorded a video of the bartender and the awed expressions on the faces of the other customers at Willie’s Lounge.
According to the pair, they were told by the bartender that not serving Polynesians was “company policy,” which added to the outrage related to the experience. The bar’s owner, Geremy Cloyd, went on the record with local news outlets to clarify, saying that it was all just a big misunderstanding.
Cloyd, who owns two Salt Lake City bars, Willie’s Lounge and Big Willie’s, explained that his bartenders have permission to refuse service to unknown groups of people, “including Polynesians but not limited to,” if they come in late at night.
The cousins who were denied service at Willie’s Lounge say that they don’t see how that rule would have applied to two men just out for drinks.
Geremy Cloyd went on to tell the media that he got a call from his staff letting him know that they had “just screened someone,” and that they “probably should have served them.” The owner of the Salt Lake City bar claims that he immediately headed to the location intending to buy the men dinner “or something,” but they were already gone.
Maea and Wily said that they left immediately following the incident, because the bartender told them they needed to leave “now” after refusing to serve them. According to reports, some other patrons of the Salt Lake City bar got up and walked out with them after witnessing how they were treated by the establishment.
“We swallowed our pride, walked out with our heads held high.”
Following their treatment at Willie’s Lounge, the pair took their grievances to social media, posting the video they recorded to document the incident. That video has now been shared thousands of times.
The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that Cloyd in no way disputes the men’s account of how they were treated by the staff at his Salt Lake City bar. He did issue an apology to the men and went on to describe his policy for refusing service to certain patrons in greater detail. He clarified that when female bartenders work alone at night, he has an “informal rule” that allows them to refuse service to anyone who looks like “they could make trouble,” including Polynesians.
“White people too, you just don’t hear about them. Whether they are Polynesian, just got out of jail, have neck tattoos, look like they are hooked on drugs, across all spectrums, not just Polynesians. It just so happens, our problem has been with Polynesians.”
While Maea and Wily have chosen to accept the Salt Lake City bar owner’s apology, they have no plans to return to Willie’s Lounge in the future. The pair also says they are now in contact with some civil rights groups as a result of their experience at the Salt Lake City bar.
“It’s sad. This is 2016. Just the ignorance behind it all, just being approached like that was just mind-blowing.”
Willie’s Lounge attempted to defend its policy of denying service to “certain groups” on their Facebook page, saying in part, “Due to many issues we’ve had with certain groups of people we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. We don’t do this without just cause.”
The post met with some negative responses, including several new negative reviews on the Facebook page, and it has since been removed. There has been no word on whether the incident at the Salt Lake City bar has impacted business.
[Image via @SpencerSays/Twitter]