Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Isn’t that what the friends say when a dysfunctional relationship finally ends? That is how I feel about the recent messy divorce between Drinking Liberally Tucson (DL) and The Shanty. For nearly a decade, Drinking Liberally had been meeting once a week on the patio of The Shanty but not after a horrid mess on the patio on June 25.
Shanty owner William Nugent double-booked a party on the patio for that Wednesday night at 6 p.m.– the same time slot when DL comes to The Shanty each week. In the past, Nugent and the DL organizers have communicated in advance when there was another patio event, and DL moved locations, canceled, or went inside. No problemo. That communication didn’t happen before June 25 meeting. Not knowing there was another event, DL scheduled a speaker and had 15-20 people show up. The party had 50+ people. (In fact, when my husband and I arrived a little late– since we wanted real food before the meeting– I suggested that DL walk out en masse and never return. My advice was not taken.)
Neither group on the patio was happy. If there had been any hot heads in either group, it could have gotten really messy. Both groups deserved an apology. The situation was handled so poorly by The Shanty that it was the last straw for many of us in DL. Contrary to a Range story posted on Saturday that stated The Shanty dumped DL with a Facebook notice dissing loyal customers, those previously loyal customers dumped The Shanty on June 25. (Doesn’t this sound like a messy break-up? You can’t dump me because I already dumped you!)
After that night, DL organizers decided to conduct a summertime patio tour to find a new home for Drinking Liberally. They have tried the Shelter, Borderlands, and the Red Garter. As usual, I tried to help DL get a crowd by sending reminders on Facebook– like this one for the Red Garter event.
We had a great time at the Red Garter. It was one of best attended DL “Classics” in a long time. We talked. We ate dinner. We grumbled. We shared. This prompted me to take this photo of the group and post it on my personal Facebook page. In a comment, I say that I’m never going back to The Shanty, but I wasn’t particularly nasty. Apparently, Nugent took issue with my posts and added a nasty post on The Shanty’s Facebook page saying that DL and particularly my husband and I were not welcome at that bar. (Hey, I dumped you first.) Ironically, although Nugent said on Facebook that both Jim and I had used “…Facebook as a forum to express their displeasure in how they felt the Shanty treated them…”, Jim didn’t make any comments about The Shanty on Facebook. Mine are here, and as you can see, I didn’t dis The Shanty. I just said I was never going back.
Some DL History…
In 2006 when I started going to DL, the group consisted of founder Mike Bryan (also the founder of Blog for Arizona) and a handful of liberal intellectuals who enjoyed debating wide-ranging political topics. These were the glory days of Drinking Liberally Classic– no speeches, no politicians, just us– debating, joking, laughing, and learning from each other.
Over the years, DL expanded its range and began having speakers– primarily Democratic candidates and activists for liberal causes. At first, politicians started coming informally, during election season. We had many lively forums– former City Manager Mike Hein answering a barrage of question about Rio Nuevo, Gabby Giffords taking two hours of questions from 60+ people the first time she ran for re-election to Congress, the 10-person debate of TUSD candidates, and many more. DL organized speech after speech on the patio of the Shanty– from candidates and elected to every political office– City Council, the Arizona Legislature, Congress, and statewide office. Speaking to the Drinking Liberally crowd was trial by fire for politicians; they knew they would get questions from us that they wouldn’t get anywhere else. Drinking Liberally made The Shanty the place for liberal politics with our programs, the weekly e-mail blasts, word-of-mouth, and more recently social media. We gave The Shanty a lot of free publicity. Eventually, politicians started booking The Shanty for political events and fundraisers themselves, and often these events were on the regular DL nights. (No coincidence, in my opinion.)
Although DL drew large crowds for big events and debates, there were also many nights, when no one was at The Shanty but a handful DL regulars and the bartender. There were cold nights on the patio, when we looked longingly at the gas heaters and wished Shanty owner William Nugent had filled them, since he knew we were coming. The wine-drinking contingent of DL constantly wined about the short pour of crappy wine served in an inappropriate glasses at The Shanty, but we were in the minority; some of us suffered through it, while others dropped out. The other running complaint about The Shanty was the stale popcorn. Yuck. No amount of jalapeno cheese flavoring could improve that styrofoam. Luckily, after a few years of that, Nugent allowed us to bring snacks and to-go food to the patio. Toward the end of our relationship with The Shanty, we were expected to bus our own tables. I guess that is no surprise, since there were only three to four times in eight years when we had wait service on the patio. One reliable [sarcasm alert] anonymous “news” source told The Range that DL didn’t spend enough money– in the eight years we were there every week. (A $2/hour waitress to serve patio patrons would have gone a long way to boost booze sales to us and others.)
DL should have left The Shanty years ago, in my opinion. In 2009, we did quit The Shanty after Nugent hung a banner on the outside wall of The Shanty for Republican City Council candidate Ben Buehler-Garcia, who ran against City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich twice. For several months, DL met at Elle on Broadway– a great location for those of us who preferred wine to beer, real food to colored styrofoam, and a well-lit parking lot to parking on side streets off of 4th Ave.
Guys who Drink Beer
In other words, many of the DL women preferred Elle, and it’s not surprising. The Shanty has always been a guys’ place. It’s a beer joint. When I moved to the West University Neighborhood in 1981, The Shanty had a reputation for having a great beer selection. In the 10 years I lived within walking distance of The Shanty, I went there once and didn’t go back until DL started going there. As a woman who hates beer, The Shanty had– and still has– no appeal to me personally. They serve lousy wine, they have no food, the parking is sketchy, and the ambiance is 1970s college bar. Also, what’s up with the nearly complete lack of women employees? Since 2006, I have seen one waitress on one night. She told me that it was her first night at The Shanty. She was a great patio waitress. I never saw her again, and I have never seen anyone but white guys tending bar there.
The Shanty had a niche– guys who drink beer. Now, not so much. Within walking distance of The Shanty, there are dozens of beer joints and bar/restaurants with large beer selections and many other amenities that The Shanty lacks. Since the new 4th Ave. underpass and street car line were completed, beer joints have proliferated in the downtown area– Thunder Canyon Brewery, Borderlands Brewery, Barrio Brewing, World of Beer, Tap and Bottle, the Rialto’s new bar, and more. Add these to the long list of new bar/restaurants and established businesses on 4th Ave, it is obvious that The Shanty has plenty of competition in the beer joint genre. To be fair, though, The Shanty is not the only bar or restaurant along the modern street car line that serves lousy wine.
As a blogger and social media maven, I have personally publicized DL and PDA events at The Shanty through blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, and the Blog for Arizona calendar– for years, for free. Not anymore.
Customers have choices where they spend their money. We consider the drink selections, food choices, location, parking, ambiance, and customer service.
Regular customers and the positive buzz we create for your business are golden. In a time of heightened competition, the last thing a business owner should do is publicly burn bridges with customers– even former customers he apparently dislikes.
In “The Anatomy of the Buzz,” author Emanuel Rosen cautions that people are far more likely to share their bad experiences with a business than the good experiences. That book was written in 2000. Now customer buzz and crowdsourcing opinions on social media are common place. We have Facebook, Twitter, Trip Advisor, and multiple other social media applications to share our experiences, and we will share our experiences. Smart businesses take customer complaints as suggestions for improvement and ways to increase market share.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post and all others on this site are my own personal opinion. I am not an organizer for Drinking Liberally– just a long-time attendee. This opinion does not represent the official opinion of DL.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: We have a great reason to skip multiple fundraisers in the future. [Sarcasm alert, sort of.]