‘It’ll never happen again,’ bar owner tells protesters

By Jefferson Siegel

Members of a group accusing the Continental bar of a racist door policy gathered outside the Third Ave. watering hole again last Saturday night. Despite bitter-cold weather, however, there were signs of a thaw in relations between the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, the protest’s organizer, and the bar’s owner, who goes by Trigger Smith, but is known to most as just Trigger.

Trigger joined the demonstrators on the sidewalk for most of their 90-minute protest. At first dancing along to their chants, he also spent a half-hour talking with a woman who said she was previously denied entry to the bar.

The protests grew from an incident last June when four young black women claim they were denied access. On that summer night, one of the women, Shaniqua Pippen, 25 from Brooklyn, pressed one of the bar’s bouncers, who was black, for an explanation.

“Do we need to be regulars or do we just need to be white?” Pippen asked, claiming the bouncer replied, “Your people don’t know how to act.”

Posts on several Web sites have also complained about blacks and others arbitrarily being denied entry to the Continental. A Facebook page, “Boycott Continental Bar in NYC,” has gained almost a dozen members in the past week alone. One hundred forty-two members have so far joined that social network site’s wall.

Revelers entering the bar Saturday night did not appear to be dissuaded by the 20 demonstrators holding signs and chanting. A small police presence observed events from a distance.

Shortly after the protest began, Trigger appeared wearing his trademark peaked bamboo hat. He approached several of the protesters, inviting them inside to talk.

“We’re not going to meet with him in his bar,” said protest organizer Jinnette Caceres of the ANSWER Coalition. “He wouldn’t meet with us in our office because he wants a sense of power and entitlement. He wants to meet with us now because he’s feeling the pressure.”

“Early on, I was willing to meet,” Trigger told this newspaper. “People of all color are welcome here, but there’s a vibe, a style and dress that’s not welcome here.”

As Trigger continued imploring the protesters to come in and talk, some cautiously began to engage him in conversation.

“We have a dress code and a door policy,” Trigger told one woman.

She, in turn, asked him to explain, “Who do you turn away?”

“Jersey Shore types,” Trigger replied. Yet, on the Continental’s Web site is a link offering directions to the bar; topping the list are directions from the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, both of which connect New Jersey to Manhattan.

One young woman eventually engaged Trigger in a serious and lengthy dialogue. Ashley Diaz, 22 from Brooklyn, was one of four friends who, with Pippen, tried to enter the bar last June but claim they were denied entry by the bouncers.

“We were four females — nothing over the top — and we got refused,” Diaz said.

“If you come here any night of the week and don’t see black and Asian women here, I’d be shocked,” Trigger told Diaz. “The only thing I can say is maybe someone was drunk. Why would I turn away paying customers?”

Diaz assured Trigger that no one in her group was drunk.

“I’m going to talk to the bouncers. I’m sorry for that, I truly am,” he told Diaz.

As Caceres and Diaz continued to press Trigger on his alleged door policy, he again sought to defend his motives.

“I’ve dated women of all colors,” he said. “I’ve donated money to Obama’s campaign. I had a party here celebrating Obama.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get in,” Trigger again told Diaz, “It’ll never happen again.”

“Your conversation makes a lot of sense,” Diaz replied, “but this could have been done a long time ago.”

After an hour and a half in the cold and snow, the gap between both sides appeared to have narrowed. Trigger watched the protest disperse.

“Hopefully, we’ll meet and everything will defuse,” he offered.

ANSWER had already made a list of demands, including requesting the bar hold multicultural theme nights, offer diversity training to managers and staff, and post a statement of nondiscrimination on the bar’s Web site.