One of the Hill’s less charming practicesAll the buzz this past week has been about the Manhattan bar and restaurant ― the place on the second floor of the big building across from 7-Eleven that just reopened as a hip, spacious, open-air eatery.
And where there’s buzz, and food, and atmosphere, there’s an Itaewon Wanderings column. So this week’s installment, by all rights, should be all about the Manhattan.
But there’s one little problem: My conscience. It’s a little bothered that the restaurant has a sign out front saying, “We do not accept Nigerian nationals.”
So instead, this week’s column will be about a very unhip dynamic: bigotry.
Sadly, the anti-Nigerian sentiment around Itaewon is pretty ubiquitous. Lucky Strike, just across from the Manhattan, also has a sign that says, “No Nigerians allowed inside.” Bars up Hooker Hill also ban Nigerians, or people they think might be Nigerian, with extreme prejudice. And locals, when asked about these policies, as often as not say they approve.
One owner of a bar up on Hooker Hill keeps her door locked during working hours, so if a black guy is at it she can pretend she’s closed. Why? “Their faces are scary.... They just push their way in.... They don’t take no for an answer.”
The manager of another bar toward the bottom of the Hill says she doesn’t allow Nigerians in because “They’re crazy... If there’s a Nigerian in my bar no other customers will come in.”
A Russian waitress at a bar adjacent to the Manhattan said that while her place lets Nigerians in, she agreed with the Manhattan’s policy. “When Nigerians come here,” she said, “they order one beer and stay for three or four hours.
Back at the Manhattan, I asked the owner what prompted his policy. He grimaced and said Nigerians make too much noise and get in fights.
So there you have it. Nigerians are noisy, stingy and scary-looking. But come to think of it, so are most of my (mostly white) American and Canadian friends. As for me, I’m not noisy and I don’t think I’m stingy, but it would be hard to deny the third charge (see photo above).
It’s not hard to guess how Nigerians feel when they see the signs at Manhattan or Lucky Strike. “I feel bad,” said one guy hanging out at the Ebony hair salon, around the corner from the Manhattan. “Really, really bad. I want to ask them why. And if it’s because we are too noisy, I will tell them, Stop serving alcohol. Because everyone gets noisy when they drink alcohol.”
To be fair, Manhattan, Lucky Strike and their ilk aren’t by any stretch the first businesses in Itaewon to ban people based on color or nationality. Plenty of clubs have banned foreigners, and plenty have banned Koreans. But the bottom line is, when you’re the victim of the ban, it’s infuriating. And if you’re not a noisy person, it’s bound to make you one.
Noisily or not, I’ll sing Manhattan’s praises next week. Conscience permitting.
by Mike Ferrin