by James Hudson
The Tucson chapter of the political social group Drinking Liberally has been banned from 4th Avenue bar The Shanty, its longtime hosting venue, following an alleged incident on June 25th, which prompted Shanty owner William Nugent to ask, via the Shanty Facebook page, that “Drinking Liberally, as a whole, not return to The Shanty." In the statement posted Friday evening, Nugent also singled out chapter members Jim Hannley and his wife Pamela Powers Hannley, and accused the group of "inappropriate and badgering comments" directed at regular Shanty patrons. Nugent cited DL's "rude behavior displayed toward staff and a general sense of entitlement," though he stated that DL members themselves were always treated with respect from the historic bar's employees.
According to those familiar with Tucson's chapter of Drinking Liberally, which has been holding weekly meetings almost exclusively at The Shanty for nearly a decade, tension has been building over the last year between the two. Nationally, Living/Drinking Liberally has dozens of chapters in 42 states, with its goal to “build democracy one drink at a time.” As Nugent stated, Tucson's DL meetings were initially "a casual setting to converse about government issues and current events." The Shanty and DL have long been a go-to stop for any local or statewide political candidate seeking the approval of well-connected Tucsonans on the left. Together, the two have hosted functions featuring Rep. Raul Grijalva, former Rep. and Shanty fixture Gabrielle Giffords, and several Free Baja Arizona rallies, including the taping of a Daily Show segment with correspondent Aasif Mandvi that never aired.
One local Drinking Liberally member who did not wish to be named pointed to the departure of longtime DL host and Tucson attorney Michael Bryan as one of the key factors in the group recently losing its vitality and relevance within Tucson's political circles. As this member bluntly put it, after Bryan left, “they were just left with the nitwits. In the end, the more obnoxious holier-than-thou slacktivists were all that was left. Given how they treated other patrons and how little money they spent, I'm surprised Bill (Nugent) didn't kick them out sooner.”
The final straw for Nugent occurred during a June 25th meeting billed as “Broadening Broadway.” The rear patio which Drinking Liberally normally uses was being occupied by a paid private event; DL members allegedly complained loudly and profusely about being moved inside. A confrontation between Nugent and DL followed the alleged harassment of the private event's guests by DL members. It should be noted that The Shanty has never charged Drinking Liberally for any of these patio meetings and events through the years, which can last from three hours to an entire evening.
Since the volatile June 25th meeting, Drinking Liberally has been searching for a new venue in July, jumping from The Shelter, Borderlands Brewing Company, and, this past Wednesday the 16th, the Red Garter Saloon. A photo posted on Facebook during the Red Garter event included the comment: “We had a great time on the patio at the Red Garter for DL classic. More joined us later. So nice to have plenty of parking, a decent pour of pretty good wine, many beer choices, FOOD, service on the patio, and we don't have to bus our own frickin' tables. Good-bye, Shanty. Speaking for myself and not DL, I will never be back.”
The photo has since been deleted, but not before prompting Shanty owner Nugent to post his definitive statement on the bar's relationship with Drinking Liberally. The screenshot of the Red Garter photo and comment below was obtained by the Tucson Weekly.
UPDATE: At 10:45 am today, Pamela Powers Hannely responded on Facebook to The Shanty's statement and gave a clarification to the Red Garter photo comment:
What I wrote isn't an attack. It's the truth. His accusations are unfounded. I've never seen or heard a DL person being rude to the staff. Speaking for Jim and I only, we always tipped the bartender and became pretty friendly with some of them over the years.
The last DL meeting at the Shanty was horrid because Nugent booked a large group on the patio without telling DL in advance. That night we had a pretty large crowd also and great speaker who couldn't be heard. Some coordination by the Shanty would have been the professional way to handle the situation he created. Nugent should have come out on the patio and apologized to both groups for the double booking; instead he avoided the scene on the patio. The only reason I've been going to The Shanty since 2006 is for Drinking Liberally; there were many nights that DL folks were the only people in that bar. I got sick of the stale popcorn, crappy wine, and bird poop years ago. (Again, my personal opinion.) From a business standpoint, attacking former regular customers is not wise.
In a private message, Powers Hannely added, "The Shanty has a lot of new competition within walking distance. I think he will have to step up his game if he expects to survive."
Keep checking back on The Range as this story continues to develop.
The full text from William Nugent's statement on the Shanty's Facebook page:
The Shanty would like to address the departure of the Wednesday night group, "Drinking Liberally." The gathering was supposed to be a casual setting to converse about government issues and current events. However, in recent times, this political discussion group had been exhibiting rude and inappropriate behavior while merely using our facility to hold their weekly discourse. At times, inappropriate and badgering comments were directed at other customers, rude behavior displayed toward staff and a general sense of entitlement was shown in a setting where they were guests and treated with respect.
Jim and Pamela Powers Hannley have chosen to use Facebook as their forum to express displeasure in how they felt The Shanty treated them. This reaction was not unexpected. Again, their personal views have clouded a business decision on our part and shown why it was easy to terminate our hosting of their committee. We ask that the Hannleys and Drinking Liberally, as a whole, not return to The Shanty. - William Nugent