When Israel Espiricueta walked into The Boiled Owl Tavern last week, he expected the booze to start flowing for him and his two female companions. After bartender, local musician, and Weekly contributor Steve Steward recognized Espiricueta’s face, he then checked the name on his ID and refused the trio service.
Last December, Espiricueta was accused of sexually assaulting an unconscious patron after-hours at The Library Bar, a downtown hot spot he owns in addition to East Austin’s Rhino Room. He was subsequently arrested and charged with sexual assault in Travis County on February 5 before posting $10,000 bond and being released from jail, pending trial.
After Steward exercised his right to refuse Espiricueta service at the Owl, locals on social media lauded the bartender/bassist/scribe. As expected, there were also a few people who rose to Espiricueta’s defense, alleging this was a “rights violation” because people are “innocent until proven guilty.”
Call it the Law & Order effect, but far too many people have a mistaken impression about how discrimination laws work in this country. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or disability. The anti-discrimination laws do not confer group status to people accused of a crime. Innocent until proven guilty is a legal standard, not a societal requirement.
The fact that Espiricueta could be accused of using alcohol to commit sexual violence on a woman and still waltz into a Fort Worth bar with the expectation to keep on chugging is sadly unsurprising. Even the state agency in charge of bar violations has taken a cavalier approach to the incident. The after-hours drinking and alleged sexual assault at The Library were clearly captured on security cam footage. Fort Worth police provided a copy of the tape to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) when the cops learned a liquor license application for Espiricueta was pending. Inexplicably, the TABC officials claim that, despite the evidence provided by our police department, they have found “no violations” and the license was granted on April 3.
Unlike the TABC, apparently, Texas dram shop laws mean there are plenty of real legal ramifications hanging over the heads of the service industry. If a bartender over-serves a patron, that barkeep is potentially liable for damages if the idiot drives his or her car into a duck pond on the way home and drowns. But greater than the legal responsibility is the one that comes ethically for our drink slingers.
In an often diminished capacity, we slide on up into these spaces and expect that who and what we are drinking around has been deemed relatively harmless by the person on the other side of the rail. To choose to refuse service to a person accused of an alcohol-based violent act against another person is the responsible choice. The decision to put every patron’s safety as paramount comes at a cost – mainly to the bartender’s wallet. People like Steward in places like The Boiled Owl who take their job beyond simply money exchanging hands for booze is worthy of at least a tip of the hat, if not a few extra bucks in the tip jar at the end of the night.
The Boiled Owl Tavern
909 W Magnolia Ave, FW. 817-920-9616.