The Drink in uptown Waterloo makes headlines for sign displayed at the bar

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Photo by Sidney MacDonald

The Drink Uptown, a popular nightclub in Uptown Waterloo, has recently come into the public eye and faced scrutiny due to a video posted on social media of a sign with concerning content displayed at the establishment.

The video, which was posted to Facebook on Dec. 29 by Spencer Harrison, showed a group of people laughing at the signs content. The sign, reading “I thought she was 18,” was a product of The Drink’s VIP booth experience, where they allow groups to request personalized signs to be displayed in their booth.

In her post, Harrison addressed the inappropriate nature of the sign and her disappointment in The Drink for curating and allowing this sort of language in their establishment.

“The fact that they made this sign LETTER by letter, carried it into a group of men, whilst laughing and making LIGHT of ‘F****** girls under the age of 17’ is saddening, unacceptable, sickening and should not be tolerated,” wrote Harrison.

The first [safe space] training session is set to take place in the last week of January and will be run by the Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo Region. This training will be applied to any new staff hired by The Drink in the future, as well as staff of other restaurants and establishments under the umbrella of ownership.

– The Drink, public statement

Her post gained significant traction and shortly after, The Drink released a public statement regarding the issue.

The statement addressed the offensive sign, stating “the sign that was presented was inappropriate. Nobody should have to see what was presented to this group and for that we apologize.”

“At The Drink Uptown, we have not approved and reviewed all presentation signs made to groups before our staff make these presentations. We have given the freedom to groups to make personalized messaged and it is clear that we need to do a better job ensuring that inappropriate messages are not presented.”

The statement was not only apologetic, but action oriented, asserting that the establishment would provide diversity, inclusion and safe space training for all staff and affiliates of The Drink.

The first training session is set to take place in the last week of January and will be run by the Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo Region. This training will be applied to any new staff hired by The Drink in the future, as well as staff of other restaurants and establishments under the umbrella of ownership.

“It’s a program called ‘Raise the Bar’ with the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region,” said Chad Yurkin, Managing Partner at The Drink Uptown.

“So basically, all of our staff, DJs, promoters, managers — like extended family almost — anybody that’s got some kind of representation or identity surrounding The Drink will be participating.”

The primary focus of the first training session will be something called “the continuum of harm,” which recognizes that different people may experience the same content in vastly different ways. What seems harmless to some people may actually be offensive or distressing in the eyes of others.

“It’s a matter of showing the impact of what one person might not think is offensive or can be taken a certain way, to other groups. And then obviously that increases everybody’s awareness and opens people’s minds,” Yurkin said. “You need to be aware of the worst side of it.”

In addition to sensitivity training, The Drink will also be implementing a review process for all customizable signs requested in the future.

The primary focus of the first training session will be something called “the continuum of harm,” which recognizes that different people may experience the same content in vastly different ways. What seems harmless to some people may actually be offensive or distressing in the eyes of others.

“The personalized nature of the experience is what people enjoy, but we need to be aware that offensive material, or material that can be perceived as such, just can’t be allowed. So there will be a lot more scrutinization by the staff,” Yurkin said.

While the content of the sign is what sparked controversy, it is the attitude and culture which allowed this sign, a deeper-rooted problem, which needs to be addressed in order to create an atmosphere where all parties feel comfortable and considered.

“It really isn’t about a sign. It’s about messaging. It’s about sensitivity to different groups and why something would be offensive in the first place,” Yurkin said.   

“Removing the sign is the easy thing … I think removing that is not solving anything. Embracing that the problem is more than a physical sign, the problem is the people who have those sentiments.”

The club has spoken to the group which requested the sign, communicating that the subject matter was not appropriate and would not be tolerated in the future.

The group has not been banned from The Drink Uptown.

The establishment recognizes that people make mistakes, but the incident is on record and may influence their ability to receive the personalized VIP booth experience in the future.

“They haven’t been banned, but they have been allowed to make a mistake. And I think everybody made a mistake. Staff in bringing it out, us in not catching it, and people for reacting the way that this did,” Yurkin said.

“I think that people should be allowed to make mistakes. I think it’s an important conversation that we’re having and a more important program that will be in place to ensure that is doesn’t happen again.”

On Dec 30, Harrison posted a response to The Drink’s public apology, commending them for their timely and action-oriented response.

“It is encouraging that this response came back so quickly. This is not only an apology but an action oriented apology,” wrote Harrison.

“We cannot wait to see on social media the training that will be taking place,” Harrison wrote.  
Businesses and individuals should take note of this establishments response. Thank you for hearing our voices and committing to do better.”

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