Bicker Lyle's

WITH ITS RED carpeting and vinyl booths, Liquor Lyle's has always been a charming anachronism in Minneapolis's trend-obsessed Kenwood neighborhood. But now the bar has run afoul of local mores, at least according to stickers springing up on neighborhood newspaper boxes and kiosks: "Liquor Lyle's staff & management is actively racist and homophobic. Don't give them your money."

The trouble--at a bar with one of the more heterogeneous clienteles in the town--stems from an October 14 incident. Three local women say a doorman threw them out because they were making remarks critical of white male racism in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict; one also alleges the homophobia because the women were also talking of their bisexuality. The bar's manager--who did apologize to the women for any misunderstanding on the night of the incident--says that his employee merely misunderstood their comments and worried they would anger black customers.

Susan Van Pelt, one of the women who was tossed, says the irony is that she and her friends went to Lyle's after attending a workshop on racism. "All of us are white, and we heard other white people saying unbelievably racist and disrespectful things about non-whites. We were outraged, and we talked about getting a white male friend of ours to go to the workshop. The bouncer was obviously eavesdropping; his eyes were just bulging. He asked if we were talking about O.J. and we told him no, but later he said, 'I don't like what I'm hearing about white and black men.'

"We told him it was a private conversation, and he said he was sitting just a few feet away [at the door] so he couldn't help overhearing. We said, 'Fine, just don't intervene,' but didn't stop. One of my friends asked him what the problem was and he said there were to be no discussions of race in this bar. I said, you just don't want to deal with this at all. He said, 'That's it, you're out of here.'"

Van Pelt and her friends complained to Lyle's manager Tim Martin, who, all sides agree, apologized profusely for any misunderstanding. Martin, explaining that the doorman was new, asked that the women not judge the entire bar staff by one person's misunderstanding.

Martin says his doorman, Anthony (who was not made available for an interview), believed the women were making racist comments. "They were quite loud," Martin says. "The doorman was worried that what they were saying was upsetting some black customers sitting at the bar."

Toni Tunge, the friend who spoke to the doorman, disputes that account. "I talked to him and he never said anything about other customers being upset. To be honest, I didn't see any black people at the bar."

A few days after the incident, Van Pelt complained to Mike Andrews, Lyle's owner. Van Pelt told Andrews she would like him to call her to let her know how the problem was resolved, but Andrews never called back--which Andrews says was because he was "still playing phone tag" with the doorman. "He probably overreacted," Andrews allows. "That's unfortunate. I feel bad for the ladies, for Anthony, and the black guys who were offended."

Feeling she was stonewalled, Van Pelt said she started telling friends not to drink at the bar; a few days later, the stickers started appearing around the nearby neighborhood. Van Pelt said they were the work of a friend she did not identify.

Asked about the homophobia charge, Van Pelt acknowledges that the doorman made no such comments; however, Tunge claims the discussion of bisexuality "clearly made him uncomfortable." For his part, Lyle's Martin says employees may have screwed up, but is outraged by the "unfairness" of the stickers. "It's a tremendous overreaction," he says. "They are saying everyone at this bar is racist and homophobic because a doorman said to shut up, rather than telling them to be quiet because some customers might be bothered. What kind of person makes such a sweeping generalization?"

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