After The Proud Boys Got Tossed From The Griffin, These LA Bars Are Figuring Out How To Handle Hate Groups

Photo by Ben Ostrowsky/Flickr CC

We're not going to spend time debating the specific ideologies of the Proud Boys. They are a hate group. Full stop. They were at Charlottesville. They were at Berkeley. And on Saturday night, they were at the Griffin in Atwater Village.

Some of them were easy to spot because they wore black Fred Perry polo shirts with gold trim. (Now, you know their uniform so BOLO.) Others wore pro-Trump "MAGA" hats.

This isn't the first time the Proud Boys have turned up at a drinking establishment in northeast L.A. In June, they came to Highland Park Brewery in Chinatown, where other patrons said they felt the group was trying to intimidate them.

On Saturday night, word went out via text and social media that the men-only group, whose members describe themselves as "western chauvinists," was drinking at the Griffin on Los Feliz Boulevard. People who don't like what the Proud Boys stand for started showing up. Some of those people asked bar staff to do something about it — i.e. make members of the group leave.

Josh Androsky and Madison McCabe, two of the Democratic Socialists who were at the Griffin on Saturday night, said the bar's staff didn't take action fast enough.

Unsurprisingly, a scuffle broke out. Androsky said on social media he "may or may not have snatched a MAGA hat" off the head of one of the Proud Boys. Security separated the groups and emptied the bar.

On Sunday morning, the Griffin's unnamed owner, who wasn't at the bar the night this all went down, offered an apology:

"I advised that we use a tactic that I've used in the past with gang members or people that are obviously in there to cause problems, kill them with kindness and they'll get bored and go away."

The Griffin's owner also wrote: "I am ultimately to blame for not having a policy in place to deal with this sort of thing that could be implemented in my absence, I've just never had any experience with something like this before. I didn't even know the proud boys has a specific uniform."

Chris Day, a bartender at Tribute in Sherman Oaks, has worked in bars and restaurants for more than a decade.

"I believe the owner and he didn't know what was going on," Day says, "but his argument of killing them with kindness was incredibly weak and I don't really buy it at all ... it's not going to work."

So what will work?

Just as many schools now have active shooter training for children, bars and other establishments have started to realize they might need a protocol for dealing with hate groups. The idea upends the fundamental principle of the hospitality industry where the goal is to welcome customers and make sure they have a good time.

"We're in the business of hospitality. I think this is the last thing that we would ever want to do," says Andrea Borgen, owner of Barcito in downtown L.A. "But at the end of the day, I also have my staff to protect and my values to uphold."

Handling hate groups wasn't something most proprietors had to plan for — until recently.

Josh Goldman, a bar consultant who has worked on many an L.A. bar program including the ones at Sotto, Acabar and Belcampo Meat Co., called it a "really, really weird time that we live in."

So where do owners, bar managers and bartenders draw the line between serving patrons whose views they might abhor and accommodating them?

"I absolutely think that there's a clear line to be drawn and distinguished between people who have different political views and people who believe their race is superior to others. That's a pretty clear distinction to me," Borgen says.

"When you work in hospitality, the entire point is to be warm and welcoming to everyone. But, by the same token, if you don't want your crazy drunk uncle who keeps spouting racist nonsense to come over, you don't invite him," Day says.

Goldman is more succinct: "It's like Patrick Swayze said in 'Roadhouse.' You're nice until it's time to not be nice."

He'd prefer to stop members of hate groups at the door but, as Goldman says, you can't always tell: "Bars really aren't set up to handle that because we're not spy agencies. We don't automatically assume the worst out of our guests as they come in."

Day echoes that. Despite developing a sixth sense for problem customers, he says if he was at the Griffin that night, "I wouldn't have been aware of what it was myself, to be quite honest. But if I started seeing all these people in white polo shirts and red hats and they were obviously trying to start a commotion, I'd have the doormen start moving them out."

How to handle hate groups who show up at bars is such a broad question, there's no one-fits-all solution. The vast majority of proprietors don't want to vet customers' beliefs but by the same token, Borgen, Day and Goldman all agreed they'd ask — or want their staff to ask — anyone who was making other people uncomfortable to leave.

"That sign that says 'We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone' is about the most powerful thing besides our liquor license," says Allan Katz, who worked for years at Caña Rum Bar and co-owns Las Vegas cocktail bar Jammyland with Danielle Crouch.

The protocol for handling hate groups who show up at bars en masse might involve dress codes. The way that bouncers at some bars know to look for certain gang attire, bars might train their staffers to look for certain clothes that identify members of hate groups.

It might involve calming people down and escorting them out of an establishment. It might mean refusing to serve certain patrons. It might mean having bouncers and security guards keep a close eye on potential troublemakers. It might mean calling the police. For some proprietors, it means banning groups like the Proud Boys altogether.

"I don't really care if they were having a blood drive for kids that are Type O-negative," Katz says. "I'd tell 'em to take it elsewhere because that's what these groups do. That's how these groups try to sidle their way into mainstream acceptance. At the core of it, they're still a bunch of hateful bastards and they're not welcome in my place."


News happens every day. Here at LAist, our goal is to cover the stories that matter to you and the community you live in. Now that we're part of KPCC, those stories (including this one you're on right now!) are made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism isn't cheap, but with your support we can keep delivering it. Donate now.