Behind Bars: Marty Calhoun at O'Reilly's Pub

Erica Thompson

Update: Regular patrons might have noticed that O’Reilly’s Pub owner Marty Calhoun removed the much-debated sign on Wednesday, May 17. “We’re actually in the process of painting new ceiling tiles and doing our spring cleaning, so we’re just rearranging a bunch of stuff,” Calhoun said by phone. “That’s the only reason it came down.”

Calhoun also shared she may put the sign back up in a week when the painting and reorganizing are complete. “My husband is pretty adamant about it not going back up, but we’ll see,” she said. “We’re gonna have a discussion about it.” Stay tuned.

On Saturday, May 6, a picture of a sign hanging in O'Reilly's Pub began rapidly circulating on social media. The sign, which still hangs in the approximately 50-year-old Clintonville bar, states: “This is not a safe zone, space or sanctuary. You will be required to handle your own business. All thin-skinned, overly sensitive whiners should vacate this area immediately.”

The post, which has since generated over 150 shares on Facebook, drew a near equal amount of positive and negative sentiment. Some commenters interpreted the sign as insensitive, if not racist, homophobic and xenophobic; others took it as a harmless joke.

O'Reilly's owner Marty Calhoun said she was informed of the post that weekend, but didn't realize the magnitude of the public reaction until she finally took a look on the following Monday.

“I cried for two days,” said Calhoun, who began working at the bar 34 years ago. “I couldn't eat. I was a mess because people were calling me bigot, white trash and Nazi. … The things that people are saying on Facebook, not only about me and about the bar, but to each other — it's just devastating.”

Calhoun said someone on Facebook threatened to vandalize the bar, and some called in to complain. “People were like, ‘So if somebody's gonna be sexually harassed in your bar, they've got to handle their own shit?'” she said. “My point to that is: ‘Who would do that? What human being would ever allow that to happen in their presence?' … That's not who we are.”

“It was not meant with any malice and it's still not meant with any malice,” continued Calhoun, who views the sign as just an average, crude bar decoration, intended as a joke. “I understand those words are offensive to people, but I think it's been blown out of proportion and taken out of context. What the sign, to me, says [is], ‘When you walk in here you need to be accountable for yourself. You need to act like an adult.'”

Calhoun said she is aware that, given the current political climate, including President Trump's immigration travel ban and his administration's talk of stripping funding for sanctuary cities, patrons may feel threatened by the sign.

“I understand that people make it a political issue. … It's not about that. We're all-inclusive. We have probably the most diverse group of people that come in here that you'll see in all of Clintonville,” she said, stressing she won't tolerate discrimination in the bar.

Calhoun apologized in a May 9 post on O'Reilly's Facebook page, but refused to be “bullied” into removing the sign based on the complaints. If it does come down, it will be for re-decorating purposes, she said.

“[O'Reilly's] is a safe place,” she added. “If you've been here, you know. And if you haven't been here, then come in and we'll show you.”