Can a bar refuse to let me in because I’m smiling?

Would you let this emoticon into your bar?

Would you let this emoticon into your bar? Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Door Guy is a veteran of countless clubs around town. People say they've seen it all, but he's seen more, and he's got all the advice your life can handle.

Dear Door Guy:

I was with two friends, out for a quick drink, and we decided to pop into a certain south Minneapolis dive. My two friends entered said establishment with no problem. But the Door Guy stopped me. Apparently, I was "smiling," and this raised all sorts of red flags, for some reason.

I was told to leave—for smiling—which amused my pals but made me wonder, "WTF?"

We were not loud, disruptive, or in anyway obnoxious as we entered (except for the aforementioned smiling). What gives?


Dear Dimples:

They say a smile can open a thousand doors. OK, “they” don’t really say that. I just made it up. But anyway, when I hear a story that’s as weird as yours, I usually assume that there’s something more going on there.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m fully aware that my profession comes with assholes, even if that reputation may be less deserved than most folks think. Some dudes like power trips, because some dudes are fucking jerks. (As always, “dudes” is a gender-neutral term—I’ve met many unpleasant women with power trips in this gig.) Also, a lot of folks in the Door Guy Guild are pretty sick and tired of the endless repetition of shenanigans that the public mistakes for self-expression, and even 36th level practitioners of the Zen Of Swayze have bad days. (I’m sure I’ve earned a few bad Yelp reviews in my time.) Toss in a few dashes of social anxiety disorder, and I can’t pretend that we worker bees are always the most gracious hosts.

But to turn you away for a smile? That Door Guy would have to be an outright dickweed, and since my rambling argument here is that such folks are rare—not unicorn-rare, but maybe good-band-on-a-no-cover-Tuesday rare—I can’t help but try to think of some things that would somehow justify this decision. So, let me ask you a few questions:

Are you a white guy with dreadlocks? (A smiling white guy with dreadlocks is a hippie, and nobody trusts a hippie.)

Did you sloppily consume a baker’s dozen worth of powdered donuts shortly before arriving at the bar, giving the door guy the impression that your smile was just covering up the fact that you just ate an entire Ziploc bag of cocaine? (Have totally seen this.)

Do you display any of the following on your face or head: a) a swastika, b) an oozing cyst that spurts like a geyser any time you flex your facial muscles, c) a sun visor that reads “My two greatest loves are 18 holes and a mound of pussy,” d) a j-shaped tattoo that turns your mouth into a cute little umbrella with the handle pointing upwards when you smile, or e) a MAGA hat? (I’d turn you away for any of those.)

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have bigger problems than not gaining admittance to a beloved dive bar. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m qualified to provide advice on any of those, except to say cut your dreads off and learn to eat a fucking donut without looking like the bastard child of Al Pacino in Scarface and Pigpen from Peanuts.

So that leaves us with two options: Either this guy is a total dick, or he was looking for an excuse not to yet you in. So one final question: Have you fucked up at this bar before?

If so—if the door guy had any indication that you’d caused a past problem, or that you had some sort of reputation (justified or not), or he just mistook you for someone who looks a lot like you—he may have decided to take the Road of the Passive-Aggressive and just drew an arbitrary line, rather than actually confronting you about your (purported) past behavior. Sometimes the Outrageously Stupid Turn Away is more appealing in the moment than the Reminding You of Past Misdeeds Turn Away. Why? Because it’s simpler to leave someone flabbergasted on the sidewalk than to offer vaguely legit criticism that will piss off a customer enough to want to eat up precious amounts of Door Guy life arguing about it.

Now, the final option: Dude was a dick. For whatever reason—maybe he thought you were drunk and he didn’t want to deal, maybe he’s one of those rare types who just showed up to work miserable and decided to spread that misery on you like a jar of Skippy. These kinds of situations make everyone in the Door Guy Guild look bad, but they happen. It’s part of the deal. All systems break down in a moment of pique. The center cannot hold.

So what gives? Fuck if I know, Dimples. All I can do is make some educated guesses. In the long run, I guess I prefer that someone had a shitty night vs. you showing up in a MAGA hat. Chalk it up to some sort of Mercury retrograde thing and move on. If you go back to this particular dive bar and get in, great. If the same Door Guy lets you in, don’t make a thing of it. If he turns you away again, you have the right to ask if there’s some sort of beef. But don’t expect to get an answer that you like.

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