When Chris D’Elia was accused on Twitter of grooming underage girls online — many, many, many times — the reports included the detail that the comedian would ply his victims with alcohol before allegedly sexually assaulting them. Naturally, this gave rise to the worst possible Reply Guy, who believes in D’Elia’s innocence purely on the basis that he doesn’t drink himself. To D’Elia truthers, this means that any story involving him and booze must be a lie invented by attention-seeking women.
The thing is, any good bartender knows that there are plenty of guys who don’t drink but still use alcohol for their own predatory purposes — and that’s exactly why they’re usually refused service. “I won’t take the order if I notice that happening and ask him to leave,” Nick, a 42-year-old bartender in Brooklyn, tells me.
Nick, who is sober and in recovery himself, explains that the problem isn’t necessarily the fact that one person is drinking and the other person is not. The issue is when the discrepancy between the number of drinks (zero verus a lot) gets out of hand. “It’s incredibly easy to see when one person is trying to take advantage of another, and it’s our duty as human beings to put a stop to it,” he says.
The honorable move, however, isn’t exactly defensible by law — i.e., being a creep at the bar isn’t technically illegal. Not to mention, as much as doctors have warned that alcohol is far more common in sexual assaults than any other drug, the connection between alcohol and rape has a dark history of being exploited to blame victims, the implication being women shouldn’t drink if they don’t want to get assaulted.
Bartenders, though, completely turn this thinking on its head: Women should be able to drink and have fun; it’s the assholes who want to take advantage of them who must go.
Alex, a 36-year-old bartender in Brooklyn, remembers one stone sober guy in his 40s or 50s buying a bunch of shots for a couple of girls in their 20s. “At first I thought it was maybe their dad,” she says. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the uncomfortable look on one of their faces as he touched her thigh. Alex stopped making a drink and told him he had to leave immediately. “I was like, ‘Dude, there are a lot of young women here, and I don’t think they’re safe with you around.’ He turned white and ran out,” she says.
Compared to belligerent drunk people who think they can handle another round, such creeps tend to leave without putting up a fight, Nick says. “They know what they’re doing, and once you call them out, they generally just go,” he explains. “Predator types depend on a low profile.”
Katie, a 35-year-old bartender in Austin, has had similar experiences. But the stakes are higher for her as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission prohibits bartenders from serving more booze to anyone who’s already intoxicated. So much so that if Katie overserved someone who was later arrested for public intoxication, she could face up to $1,000 in fines and a year in jail. It’s unclear if the same goes for enabling sexual assault, but it’s not a chance she’s willing to take. “Being a bartender is about being able to read people,” Katie tells me. “Customers can get impatient all they want, but we have to check in and make sure people are good.”
Over the years, she’s found it hard to turn this off even when she’s on the other side of the bar as a patron. Case in point: One night when she was out with her boyfriend at their local bar, she saw a young woman who concerned her. “She was just too fucked up to be there without any friends,” Katie recalls. When Katie and her boyfriend tried to get the woman a cab, some guy stepped in and said he’d help her. Katie refused, and as they argued, it became apparent that the intoxicated woman had taken (or been given) something other than alcohol. They ended up calling an ambulance, and the mystery man left as fast as he appeared. “Whether you’re working or not, that instinct doesn’t leave you,” she says.
Of course, none of these bartenders think that they’re the answer to preventing sexual assault, they just refuse to be a part of the problem. Or as Katie bluntly puts it: “I’m not facilitating date rape.”
Unfortunately, having a decent moral compass isn’t always enough. Nick learned this the hard way after he was fired for kicking out a guy for making women uncomfortable. The guy turned out to be the bar owner’s friend. Worse yet, once Nick started talking about the incident with other bartenders, he learned that the owner himself had a history of inappropriate, assaultive behavior with employees. “It really depends on who you work for, so don’t work for scumbags,” he says.
Ultimately, Nick doesn’t regret losing that job in the slightest. But after working as a bartender for the better part of a decade, he’s seen enough to know that there are still too many bartenders who let these sober creeps fly under the radar. “It’s a shame,” he says, “that some bartenders not only watch, but continue serving when they know exactly what’s happening.”