David Elrod is a software engineer, but several nights a week you’ll find him at the Crystal Saloon in Juneau, where he enjoys fixing the vintage pinball machines in the upstairs game room.
He’s been tending bar for 16 years, but he says an incident earlier this month was the first time anyone threw a glass at his head.
A group of four men he hadn’t seen before came up one night to rent a pool table. They gave their IDs in return for a set of pool balls, but left them on the counter and started using a table that was in use already. The person who was playing at that table — a regular, Elrod said — was outside smoking.
When asked to use one that wasn’t already occupied, the men got angry. Elrod told them to leave and turned around to grab their IDs.
“And right then, I just felt the glass just whizz past my head,” he said.
What happened to Elrod may be part of a broader trend in harassment toward service workers that may have started early in the pandemic.
“I can tell you that there’s been an uptick in bad behavior, almost anywhere I go,” Elrod said.
Elrod grew up in Juneau but has lived out of town since high school. He moved back to Juneau from San Francisco last year. He worked in bars there too.
“I didn’t sign up to get glasses thrown at my head,” Elrod said. “But I know I signed up to deal with people who aren’t always in their best state of mind. I don’t know how much consolation that’s supposed to give me.”
While harassment may be increasing for bartenders, Elrod said the women who work behind Juneau’s bars see it more often.
Morgan Gaither has been bartending for more than a decade – a lot of that time in Juneau. She works at Squirez in Auke Bay and manages the Alaskan Hotel and Bar.
She has a no-nonsense demeanor and says she feels like that protects her a bit, but she hears about harassment from the women she works with.
“So one thing I don’t enjoy is when my female bartenders, who are smaller, sweeter or quieter than I am, have feedback for me, like ‘Oh, this guy said this to me,’ or ‘someone did this to me.’ Like, pick on someone your own size,” she said.
These days, Gaither said, people don’t seem to be as afraid of consequences as they were a few years ago.
“Sometimes lately, it seems like people are very out of line,” she said. “And then they’re not sorry for it later, or sober.”
When people are violent, she kicks them out and, depending on how bad the behavior is, it could be just for the night, or forever.
She said she doesn’t like being the one to enforce bans or kick people out.
“It is a balance in a small town. You don’t want people to feel excluded or shamed,” Gaither said. “If they’re just having a hard time or you know, have a mental illness or something. But at the same time, everybody else has to be safe.”
Gaither said she has often worried about retaliation. Juneau police advised her to report any verbal abuse she receives in the bar or on the streets.
Juneau police responded to the attack at Crystal Saloon, and the person who threw the glass has been charged with assault and property damage, according to the court files. A court order says he’s not allowed to go to the Crystal Saloon, be near Elrod or even drink alcohol or go anywhere that sells alcohol.
Lt. Krag Campbell with the Juneau Police Department said they don’t have long-term data ready to analyze from the past couple of years to say if there’s any trend in violence like this, but service workers in Juneau don’t need a report to feel like things have changed.
Elrod said heʼs been more nervous about going to work since he was attacked.
Gaither said her staff recently organized a private Facebook group for the bartenders in Juneau to post about problematic patrons. She hopes this will help everyone who works in the industry stay safe.