Behind Bars: Yalan Papillons at Double Happiness

Erica Thompson

"There's no fighting here, everybody gets along; this is Double Happiness!"

That's what owner Yalan Papillons remembers shouting when a brawl erupted in the bar two Halloweens ago. In the process of controlling the situation, she broke two nails and chased one of the culprits down the street in her white Marilyn Monroe wig.

There have been no other physical altercations at Double Happiness, a neighborhood bar and music venue, which opened in the Brewery District in 2010.

"This is the place where everybody should feel comfortable," she said. "No one should feel any racism. No one should feel any sexism."

Unfortunately, Papillons and her family are used to the former. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Papillons' Chinese grandfather and Japanese grandmother fell in love, and were forced to have a secret wedding. Tough times followed after they settled in Taiwan with Papillons' mother.

"When [my grandmother] went to the morning markets, she had to act as a mute because if anyone were to hear her accent, it would be horrible," Papillons said.

Papillons also endured discrimination as a child growing up in Ohio. Born from a Chinese-Japanese mother and a white American father, her unique appearance drew insults from kids of all backgrounds. Other Chinese children found her unappealing because of her green eyes. They called her a "turned-over cake." Also, one red-headed girl with "Bo Derek beads" frequently tied Papillons to a tree.

Those experiences did not diminish Papillons' pride in her heritage, which is prominently represented at Double Happiness. From the floor to the lanterns hanging from the ceiling, the cozy space is awash in red and gold. The bar top is covered with beautiful, vibrant, Asian-themed artwork. The wood shelves above the bar hold Chinese door gods, and a lovely print of Quan Yin, a Buddhist goddess of mercy, hangs on the brick wall.

In addition to highlighting Asian culture, Double Happiness has always been a performance space for local bands. Papillons has been a booking agent for 20 years, working for well-known venues like The Black Cat in Washington, D.C., during her career.

Papillons wants Double Happiness to be an "oasis" where bands are treated in a nice, professional manner. It helps that the staff members are musicians - including Papillons, who sang in local riot grrrl bands like Miss May 66 and Mudflap Girls from Venus.

Though she misses performing, Papillons likes providing an enjoyable gathering place for people of all walks of life. A few comments from patrons stand out in her mind.

A man from San Francisco: "This place reminds me of New York."

A man from New York: "This place reminds me of L.A."

An Asian customer: "This place reminds me of home."

Behind Bars is a new Alive column about Columbus bartenders. It will run every other week.