Three thousand miles across the Atlantic from the “No Loud Americans” sign at Pete’s Place Café in Waterville, Co. Kerry, which prompted an online outcry and subsequent media storm this week, there is an echo of sorts.
“NO IRISH DRUNKS,” declares a list of things forbidden at The Dock bar and grill in Montauk, a beach community on the Eastern tip of Long Island’s South Shore.
The words are prominently painted on bar’s front window, not scrawled on a taped up piece of paper like the “Loud Americans” note.
The other “No”s include “Yapping Mutts,” “Screaming Kids,” “Cell Phones,” “Strollers,” and “Public Restrooms.”
Not exactly the best of company.
Pauline Turley, vice chair of the board of the Irish Arts Center, one of New York City’s greatest champions of Irish culture, noticed the sign during a recent trip to Montauk.
Upset by it, Turley, a New Yorker originally from Co. Down, took a photo, which she shared with IrishCentral after the recent furor over the Waterville sign.
“I was taken aback by the way that kind of stereotype was so blatantly displayed,” she said. “’No Irish Drunks,’ that’s very pointed.”
(A sign reading “No Drunks” would be another matter, but one has to wonder how long a bar with that rule would stay in business.)
So what’s the story?
The Dock is known as one of the last local, working class holdouts in a Montauk increasingly overrun by spillover vacationers from the Hamptons.
Its owner of over 40 years is George Watson, a former NYC police officer, fireman, and Marine who served in Vietnam. Before Watson took over in 1973, the place was named Fitzgerald’s.
Judging by online reviews, clips from local papers and The Dock’s Facebook page, Watson is a popular if controversial local figure, known for his strict enforcement of “the rules” via megaphone. Patrons who whip out cell phones or fail to keep an eye on their rambunctious children get a loud reminder and are asked to leave.
Watson maintains that the “No Irish Drunks” bit is all in good fun, not an actual ban on Irish people imbibing.
“There’s a large Irish contingent out here and once they attacked me – verbally – so we added ‘No Irish Drunks’ to the list,” he said during a phone call.
Many in the Montauk community are Irish American, and the beach town is also a popular destination for Irish students working for the summer on the J-1 visa.
Watson told IrishCentral that he is of Irish descent, “and also a drunk at times.” He was the Grand Marshal of the Montauk St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2003.
A portion of his bio on The Dock's website reads "At The Dock, we feel that in order for a joke to be funny, it must be told at someone’s expense. We tell ethnic, sexist, and racial jokes - everyone gets their turn in the barrel."
"If you spoke about any other religion or race they would probably take offense to it, but the Irish have a sense of humor,” Watson said.
Is having a sense of humor when it comes to something like this sign really a good thing?
Using almost the same words as Watson, Turley wondered if the Irish are too quick to laugh things off.
“As a nation we tend to be very self-deprecating, and our humility and humor are parts of what make us so likable,” she told IrishCentral. But I do wonder what messages we are sending to our children, what stereotypes we are allowing to persist to the broader population, if we don't push back. What other ethnicity would laugh off such a sign?”
Furthermore, she said, the justification that many Irish people will read words like that and simply grin and bear it is a poor one. “Why would you put up a sign like that knowing no one else would tolerate it?”
Nor does the fact that the sign was put up by an Irish American make it all right.
“There’s that line ‘God invented drink so the Irish wouldn’t take over the world,’ and we do laugh at it,” Turley acknowledged, “but I think there are very serious undertones that we as Irish people need to think about and say ‘Hold on a minute, is that how we want to be seen?’
“I love Irish bars and hospitality; they’re the best in the world. I love to socialize and tell stories and have a good glass, but we have to remind people that there's a lot more to the Irish than their perceived ability to drink.”
The best way to do this, she said – in addition to summoning up Ireland’s four Nobel Prize winners or world-class theater canon – is to simply point out when something goes too far.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to say 'I’m sure you don’t mean to be, but that’s a little offensive.’ Unless we create some sort of awareness, these stereotypes will persist.
“If you just laugh, you’re saying it’s OK to put 'No Irish Drunks' on a window. When there’s so much to celebrate instead.”
Is the “No Irish Drunks” sign all in good fun or is it offensive? How does it compare to the "No Loud Americans" sign? Let us know what you think in the comment section.