Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

Is the District nightlife scene a good fit for 'Girls Gone Wild'?

May 19, 2011 - 12:45 PM
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Where do beer and boobs mix? (Photo: Associated Press)

Last Saturday night, Bridget Kemps and some friends headed to Penn Quarter's Iron Horse Taproom to play some Big Buck Hunter. Her crew was treated to a very different kind of safari.

After a few hours of game play, several televisions in the downstairs bar began playing Girls Gone Wild's Search for the Hottest Girl In America, a clothes-optional survey of the bodies of U.S. women. “At first we all thought it was one of those cheesy infomercials where they censor out the boobs, but it was not,” Kemp told me via e-mail. "There was really no direction you could look without seeing a TV, and it was so distracting that it was hard to have conversations with my companions," Kemps says. “I really just wanted to leave because I was pretty offended.”

The next day, Kemps took to e-mail, Yelp, and Twitter to inform the bar that she was made "legitimately very uncomfortable" by the programming choice. Kemps pressed the bar via Tweet: "Can you please explain to my why you thought it was appropriate to play porn in on every tv in your bar last night?"

Iron Horse General Manager Daniel Williams has been wrestling with that question since Kemps' concerns came to his attention this week. “I fully understand why someone would find this offensive,” Williams told me. “I don’t want to create an atmosphere where we’re purposefully offending anybody."

But Williams says that Iron Horse never makes a decision to turn on a Girls Gone Wild flick—it just doesn't always make the effort to turn it off. The bar favors the Mixed Martial Arts programming on HDNet, and in the early morning hours, the channel's content sometimes shifts from MMA to T&A. At first, “we saw it come on, and were like, ‘what the hell is this?’” Williams says of Girls Gone Wild. “It kept coming on out of nowhere, and we really had no idea. But then when no one said anything to us about it, I guess we got comfortable with it. And we’ve got to reign it in," he says. Now, "we're reevaluating. It's not our intent to make anyone uncomfortable."

Late at night in a District bar, discomfort is relative. D.C. gay bars like Omega DC and The Green Lantern have been known to air hardcore pornography in their establishments. In a general-interest haunt like Iron Horse, though, even non-sexual programing can sometimes cause a stir. Williams remembers patrons getting grossed out over one televised investigation into "the world's biggest tumor." But the bar has never received any complaints about its MMA fights, in which men and women "are literally punching each other in the face until they are bloody and unconscious," Williams says. "People cheer when someone gets knocked out, but there's an uproar when someone sees an exposed nipple."

Still, Williams agrees that the GGW programming requires some stricter scrutiny. Williams says the bar staff relegates more risque programming to a couple corner TVs in the basement, and never airs the show on street level. “If we do let it stay on, we try to regulate it,” Williams says. But with 12 TVs down there, "we sometimes lose track of what’s on them,” Williams says. Kemp says the show "was on every TV and there was no way to look to avoid it"; Williams says the program couldn't have been on more than three or four sets.

When it receives direct complaints or senses a bad vibe, Williams says that Iron Horse will work to tailor the TVs to the current crowd's interests. And he says that if Kemps had requested a channel change on-site, "we’d have no problem changing it at all." But Williams says the bar isn't mulling a blanket ban on the show. “There have definitely been groups of girls sitting at the bar watching Girls Gone Wild and they’ve enjoyed it," Williams says. "It can be a conversation starter at the bar late at night. Other times, Girls Gone Wild comes on, and the sense is very much, ‘this is gross. Let’s change it.” And we do.”

Williams and Kemps have since hashed out the disagreement over e-mail and phone; Kemps says she appreciates Williams taking the time to give her a call and address her concerns in-depth. Her only quibble? "My only concern with his response  is that it seems like the bar doesn't have any intention of not showing Girls Gone Wild in the future," she says. "It still seems weird to me that a sports bar would be showing this it the first place."

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  1. C4talyst

    C4talyst

    Jun 11, 2011 - 04:10:19 PM

    No more Amanda Hess? TBD seems to make big changes on a weekly basis. I give this site til the end of 2011 before Robert Allbritton pulls the plug. It was a great idea...poorly executed.

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  2. Cletus

    Cletus

    May 27, 2011 - 03:32:55 PM

    "It kept coming on out of nowhere, and we really had no idea." haha. that's the type of excuse I'd use if I was 12. "Mom, I don't know who spilled glue in your Redbook. I just happened".

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  3. TJ

    TJ

    May 23, 2011 - 09:06:36 AM

    Of course you would get all these comments on your last blog.  THIS SUCKS!!!

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  4. LaLa Seidensticker

    LaLa Seidensticker

    May 20, 2011 - 12:49:08 PM

    I'm not offended by nipples, porn in general, or bawdy bars. However, there's a difference between an European commercial featuring boobs, and being in a bar trying to chill with some friends, while a TV blasts Girls Gone Wild, which blatantly sexist, and whose entire premise is taking advantage of intoxicated women. At least most porn models get paid for their work. I'm glad to know that Iron Horse plays this kind of crap, so I will make a note to avoid patronizing them.

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  5. Robert Valente

    Robert Valente

    May 20, 2011 - 10:40:44 AM

    I like boobies!

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  6. nennyjelson

    nennyjelson

    May 20, 2011 - 10:26:37 AM

    I would consider Iron Horse less a sports bar than a bar that encourages people to gather together for whatever reason and drink good beer in a laid back environment. I have noticed Girls Gone Wild on the TV late at night before, and despite the fact that I consider myself a progressive woman, it didn't faze me at all. I thought to myself, "Huh," and then returned to my conversation with my friend undamaged by the vision. I have also seen Caps games, non-Caps hockey games, Jeopardy, Cash Cab, soccer games, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, basketball games, Law & Order, and a variety of other shows. I have never had a request for a channel change turned down unless it was a program that another customer had specifically requested. I've also had my program choices defended by bartenders to other customers (college hockey, thank you very much). The staff at Iron Horse are some of the nicest people around (and some of them are women). I get the disgust at the show. I find Girls Gone Wild gross. It’s not the nudity but the “girls’” need for male attention and approval that disturbs me. I see it and want to tell them, "Honey, the only thing down that path are a couple of free drinks, a night you won't remember, and a trip to the clinic to check for diseases." I would love to bash them over the head with a copy of The Feminine Mystique until they get some self-respect. But we live in the society we created, and this is one of its products. Maybe some people at the bar were enjoying Girls Gone Wild. Maybe some of them were creepy jerks. Maybe some were women. Regardless, the most direct way to deal with programming you don't want to watch (and really this is the best way to deal with any situation in which you're uncomfortable, if you want anything to change), is to ask a bartender of staff person to change the channel - particularly if you get to the heart of the matter: "Seeing these sad, drunk fools makes me want to drink water."

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  7. noodlez

    noodlez

    May 20, 2011 - 09:54:43 AM

    GIRLS GONE WILD IS PORN? MS. KEMPS EITHER NEED TO GET OUT MORE OR HER FOLKS NEED TO BRING HER UP TO SPEED. WHILE I UNDERSTAND THE PREMISE OF HER COMPLAINT I QUESTION WHY WAS SHE UNCOMFORTABLE. THEY WAS SHOWING PARTS OF A FEMALE BODY. PROBABLY BOOBIES. THEY SHOW BOOBIES ON NAT GEO, WOMEN BREAST FEED IN PUBLIC AND WAIT TIL THE HEAT/HUMIDITY HIT IN AUGUST! NOW IF THEY WERE SHOWING MAN PARTS UP AGAINST LADY PARTS THEN SHE WOULD HAVE A LEGIT COMPLAINT.

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  8. mildbestwishes

    mildbestwishes

    May 19, 2011 - 05:56:09 PM

    It is not the place of the staff of any bar to decide what is or is not appropriate for adults' eyes. They have a very tight ID check at the door, so presumably everyone there was 21+. If someone of that age cannot handle seeing breasts (yet apparently can't keep their eyes off of them??), maybe there are larger issues to deal with....and be sure to never go to Europe b/c you would probably be pretty offended just by their TV commercials. The bottom line here is that it doesn't sound like she asked anyone to turn it off. I spend a lot of time at Iron Horse and I know every person who works there. There is not a single staff member who would not change the channel if someone requested it. All of the men who work there are also extremely respectful toward women, so I cannot imagine they would have turned a deaf ear had they known someone was so offended.

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  9. glassescase

    glassescase

    May 19, 2011 - 05:54:20 PM

    I get the impression that the patron did not talk to anyone at the bar at the time. That would have been my first step. It's admittedly in poor taste, but most choices made at a bar after midnight are done so in poor taste. If no one complains, the management has no real way of knowing that people are offended. Personally, I frequent Iron Horse and have found Daniel and everyone else that works there to be exceptionally nice and accommodating. I've also never had a problem asking one of the bartenders to change the channel. They basically always do it (you might have problems if you want to watch Jeopardy when a hockey game is one.) They even left Buffy the Vampire Slayer on at one of the corner TVs so my friends and I could ogle David Boreanaz (also shirtless.)

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  10. DCish

    DCish

    May 19, 2011 - 01:18:42 PM

    iron horse is a sports bar in very touristy china town, not really fit for porn. this GM seems to tihnk there is some justification by comparing it to patron reactions of intesne fights...sporting matches can be expected at a sports bar and nipples can be expected at a strip club. obviously his logice is flawed as well as his management abilities.

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