Bar Culture and Safety Part 1: How bars see themselves

Monday, October 15, 2012

  • In the haze of a bar scene things can go unseen

    In the haze of a bar scene things can go unseen

Written by Abigel Lemak

Most students will tell you what Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights mean: bar night. Going out is a great way to let loose with some friends and relax after a long week of work, but  the bar scene may be more fun for some than others.  

Bar culture can be defined as one where the boundaries and etiquette of society are stretched considerably under the guise of drinking and having a good time. A bar night excursion will usually include seeing or hearing someone get thrown out for being overly drunk or disruptive. Such events typically go unnoticed by the rest of the patrons, as it is understood to be a usual bar-outing event-- especially during the school year. 

I spoke to a number of bar staff representatives from downtown Guelph to see how they understood and responded to bar culture.

“Any University town is just the worst fucking place for this kind of shit,” said Dan Loughrin, Bouncer at Jimmy Jazz. “Because you have all these dudes who are just filled with testosterone and they’re like trying to get laid...and not just like, ‘I’m going to go out and have a good time, maybe I’ll have a couple drinks.’”

Once the mass of first years experience the bar scene downtown within the fist two weeks, most bars develop a certain sort of pull to certain kind of groups, forming sub-bar cultures of their own.

“Bar etiquette is something that exists at the Jimmy Jazz and not a lot of other places,” said Loughrin. “People will come in, do a lap and say this place isn’t what I want to do.”

The question of bar safety in regards to inappropriate behaviour and aggressive advances is something that is often understood as primal to the student body and unchangeable. The discrepancy that is usually made at bars is that overly drunken behaviour is discriminated, but overt lechery is understood as normative behaviour.

“Usually it’s a case of being drunk and making bold comments that they probably wouldn’t make,” said Jimmy Gordon, Bar Manager at Doogies. “Mind you we are a pub, it’s a lot more relaxed here where next door it’s a little bit more rowdy. It’s definitely easier to take control of a situation like that in a place like this.”

Larger venues tend to get a reputation for an increase in rowdiness and inapproriate behaviour, leaving some wonder if it's the bar or the crowd.

"[Trapper, Palace and Tabu (TPT)] gets a reputation for a ‘rowdy’ crowd because our main demographic is young and very energetic," said Bobby Dehu, PartyTown Representative. "As well - TPT features dance floors and plays fast dance music which inadvertently causes human contact. Unfortunately when ever you have ‘contact’ – there are some people who want the contact – and others who do not." 

There also seems to be a factor of anonymity in inappropriate behaviour when larger and younger crowds get rowdy.

“To be honest here we’re really lucky with our regulars, it’s a pretty peaceful place,” said Gordon. “Half the people here I know them by their name.”

For some women, the bar scene can often be an uncomfortable and guarded one to experience. Even staff members who aren’t necessarily the object of sexual harassment can tell the difference between a male, and a female experience at bars. 

[Women] feel uncomfortable when [they] go to a bar and get hit on by all of these random dudes, not because it’s just a playful thing that happens, it’s like, there’s an end goal in mind,” said Loughrin. 

It often takes an experienced eye to spot when someone is receiving too much unwanted attention.

Usually if I see inappropriate behaviour, it is quickly regulated and the people tend to leave the bar,” said Alexandra Dupuis Potocki, Bartender at the Jimmy Jazz. “I totally agree that it's an issue downtown in general, though...I think this is an excellent thing to be trying to bring out into the open.”

Staff members were quick in their response of how harassment would be dealt with in their establishment. 

“If a patron came up to one of the bartenders or managers and said that someone was making them feel uncomfortable, they definitely wouldn’t be dismissed,” said Claire Kiely, Bar Manager at Bobby O’Briens. “Its just not as rowdy here, I guess it’s just a different atmosphere.”

This idea of different atmospheres and different crowds resonated with most bar staff. There was also a speculation that the actual event of going out--and not the alcohol intake--is what leads to rowdy behaviour.

“When the students come out there are so many people, no ones tipping, everyone’s fucking wasted but you can see a group of people, like four-five of them come in at the beginning of the night, serve them two drinks and then they’re off the wall,” said Loughrin. “Not because they’re drunk but because they’re ‘out at the bar.’”

This sort of “out at the bar” mentality is often difficult for staff members to deal with, especially with the flood of students on popular nights.

“I think the problem with a lot of bars is that they have a high turn-over with staff, where here we run on the weekend with twelve people, cause we’re a small bar and it’s a small place,” said Gordon. “But if you're a really big bar where you have twenty security staff on, your turn-over through staff is going to be a lot higher. So I can see in that situation people being thrown into situations that they’re not ready for yet.”

The new standards of security will hopefully provide the kind of training required to spot and diffuse all kinds of situations. 

“There’s a security course now if you want to work the front door of a bar, so if we think we want them for a front door job, we’ll get them to run the course,” said Gordon. “You get your license and you get re-certified every year.”

The question is whether accustomed attitudes towards bar culture and behaviour will affect the attention female patrons could benefit from bar staff, or whether there is a disconnect in communcation.

"A lesser known security feature we have – that we are trying to inform people about – is an email security@partytown.ca that goes directly to a security member on site," said Dehu. "This email goes directly to a security supervisor who has access to our onsite security camera system."

At the end of the day, it seems both patrons and staff may need to take vouching for a broader scale of bar safety into their own hands and work to keep bars a fun and safe space for all customers.

“These bars are open all the time. The staff knows what goes on in the bar, they know the culture and the crew, and what is acceptable on the grounds of the bar,” said Loughrin. “When people are around and they’re disrupting other people's good time, then that’s when you have to step in and say hey buddy, you’re at a ten, take it to a six.”

The behaviour associated with bar culture seems to be something that is inherited by new members of University life, suggesting a certain kind of ignorance or indifference of bar etiquette until later years.

“Maybe it’s because of a bunch of young kids going out for the first time,” said Loughrin. “These people go out for the first time and they've never been to a bar, they don't know what happens regularly at the bar.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out what kinds of initiatives are being taken by students and University staff  to combat bar culture and "Raise the Bar."

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