On Saturday July 23rd, it was a busy night at the Buzzmill. A large group of people (reportedly around 60-80) suddenly converged on the expansive patio-bar for the craft beer, 1776 Cheesesteaks, and distilled liquors which put Buzzmill on the map.
The group hadn’t seen each other in a long time, with several folks briefly in town for a conference. It was an event everyone had been looking forward to.
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As the night wore on, the staff was straining to manage the group. Sources told Austin.com that the manager on duty became completely overwhelmed. Several of those in attendance claimed that some members were cut off for seeming too drunk, while others were accused of sneaking beer into the venue illegally. Then a fight was broken up.
Nothing out of the ordinary for an Austin bar at midnight. Then things took a turn for the worse.
The manager lost his cool and began insulting the patrons of the group, eventually refusing to serve them or anyone affiliated with them. All 80 of them. At one point, the manager got so frustrated that he threw a dish-towel at one person, and began loudly insulting the group as a whole.
While patrons outside of the group were still given drinks, this community event was marred by complete refusal of service and direct discrimination. Austin.com was told that support staff were apologetic and embarrassed by the manager’s irrational tone and attitude. Eventually Buzzmill closed down the entire bar, refusing service to everyone just to bring the altercation to a close.
There are several sides to this problem.
One is that anybody who has worked in the service industry knows it can make you very, very angry. Whether it’s a crying baby or a group of golfers, every waiter, bartender, or hostess has wanted to kick everybody out of the bar. However, unless you’re a private residence or club, you just don’t do that. To say it’s ‘bad for business’ is putting it mildly.
If the group was an Austin social ride of cyclists, it would be impossible to imagine a venue refusing to serve anyone on a bicycle, while gladly waiting on car drivers. If the members of this group had been, say, majority African-American, LGBTQ, business professionals, or simply women, Austinites would be up in arms over this blatant act of discrimination.
So, why didn’t you hear about this? Probably because the group in question was deaf, hard of hearing, and their community allies.
Before you get too upset, please meet Kylie Baker, a deaf ally, and Jason Sabala, owner of Buzzmill. Seeing the immediate need for some serious cultural healing after some scathing reviews on Buzzmill’s Facebook page and a mismanaged response to the deaf community following this ugly scene, Baker and Sabala formed a plan: A direct apology with an interpreter in the YouTube video below, and an ASL Awareness night hosted at the Buzzmill on September 8th. The video is touching, and worth a watch.
In it, Sabala states:
We at the Buzzmill feel that community is better defined by the feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Saturday night we did not follow through with our commitment to that community.
We only hope together to take this negative experience and utilize it as a teaching tool so that in future days we will not have anyone hearing or deaf that has to go through this again.
It was with a heavy heart that the owner of Buzzmill had to address the altercation of that July night, and explained that he had accepted the resignation of the manager on duty in question, who we are told is a long-time friend of Sabala’s. That may seem like the right thing to do, but it could not have been an easy decision. We were unable to reach the manager in question for comment, so his name has been withheld from this story.
To consider the impact of hearing privilege on the deaf community, one member of the group posted the following video in the review comments: