Since 1981, the Monster has been a staple of the West Village gay scene in New York. Located just across the street from Stonewall, it's an essential stop for gay bar-hopping along Christopher Street, with fabulous drag, hot go-go dancers, and live piano performances.
But recently, the bar has come under fire for racism. In a text exchange between bar manager, Italo Lopez and and DJ/producer, Mitch Ferrino, Lopez criticized an advertisement (pictured above) for Honey Davenport's drag show, Manster. He said it looked like it was promoting a "black night," which would be "bad for business."
Honey Davenport Facebook
After reaching out to the owner and receiving no response, Davenport used her Saturday night show as a platform to speak out. In a video posted to Instagram, she can be seen taking the stage, telling the audience about the situation and explaining that she can't do her number in light of the comments.
"I cannot be a part of this anymore," she says. "If you don't want my people at the party, I won't be here."
She trembled as she gave her speech, nearly in tears. The audience booed in response to the racism she experienced. When she finished, she dropped the mic and walked away as her fans applauded in support.
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In a statement to OUT, Davenport says:
"First, thank you to everyone who has reached out and spoken up in support. Taking this step away from a place that I had considered my home was terrifying, and it's a huge comfort to know that my nightlife family has my back. I'm saddened by the stance that Italo (and in their refusal to respond, The Monster Bar) has taken but unfortunately, I'm not surprised by it. This happens everywhere. I had to speak up because I knew that not doing so would mean I was complicit in perpetuating these attitudes towards other artists. Other performers need to know that they don't have to be mistreated. Our art has no home in a place where we are not respected. Not speaking up would be like saying 'You just have to take this.'
We have always been a community that fights hate. We must embrace and fight for our queer brothers and sisters of all races. Black people and people of color have had a long history of fighting for our community and we need our community to fight for us now.
Our fight is far from over. We have to keep it going. The Monster is going to wait this out and hope it blows over. For real change to happen, we need to keep fighting."
In response, fellow drag queens and producers have expressed their standpoint against the bar. Some have even canceled their events at the venue in support of Davenport.
"Any space that is unwelcome and unappreciative to black folks, I refuse to do business and build community in," said drag queen Emi Grate in an email to Lopez. "I had always considered the Monster a safe haven for queer people of color, and it is gravely disheartening to see your comments. A proper public apology is in order."
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After six months of performing every third Saturday of the month at the Monster, Grate had just renewed her show, A+ the Pan-Asian Drag Revue for another three months. As a producer, the bar had no say in who she books or how she produces her show. But after the text messages came to light, she canceled her future engagements with the Monster.
Ferrino has also made the decision to pull one of his events from the Monster. LookQueen is an inclusive drag competition that was started by Bob the Drag Queen before appearing on RuPaul's Drag Race. It ran for four years at the Monster.
"Honey and I have worked together for over 6 years," Ferrino says. "To see her experience this pain and suffering, being literally shook on stage, I knew a decision had to be made about whether or not to keep LookQueen at the Monster. Luckily, I had the guidance of a solid group of friends and in particular, Shuga Cain, my Sunday LookQueen hostess."
Upon making this decision, he received backlash from the bar's owner, Charles Rice. Rice blames Ferrino for showing the messages to Davenport, while seemingly placing no blame on Lopez for making the statements that reflected so negatively on his bar. He even mentioned the potential to close the bar.
Courtesy of Mitch Ferrino
This is not an isolated incident in gay nightlife. It highlights a larger issue that people in the industry face. Like many queens, Grate has experienced racism, as well as sexual misconduct and other unprofessional behavior from bar managers.
"In our search for venues, we producers have become aware of racial dynamics recently," she says. "However, we also should be wary of venues with owners, managers, and other producers who are not transparent about terms and conditions in using the space and tech, have little to no tech support, have volatile temperaments, don't pay their staff and artists on time or at all, and sexually prey on their staff and artists."
No one from the Monster has responded for comment.
UPDATE: Although no one from the Monster responded for comment, owner Charles Rice posted a statement to the bar's Facebook page. He apologized and announced that manager Italo Lopez has resigned in light of the situation. He also assured that the staff will undergo racial sensitivity training.
But many in the comments are not pleased with this course of action. Drag queen Emi Grate and others believe that it's not the staff, but management that is the issue. As Rice and the other managers are apparently not present most evenings or on weekends, she believes that they're out of touch with their clientele.
"My point is, management is out of touch," she says in a Facebook post. "They don't know who their patrons are or how to treat them. The patrons are mostly black and brown queer people of color."
Some are even calling for Rice to sell the bar.
The Monster Facebook