The Summit And The Suds

Baltimore Bar Patrons Call Obama Chat Wise, Stupid, Silly Distraction

July 31, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,

Beer flowed Thursday at the White House, and if you listen to part-time bartender Zach Yarosz, offering up suds was a brilliant attempt by President Barack Obama to defuse a hostile situation.

It's a strategy Yarosz has used himself.

After working for years in several Baltimore bars, Yarosz has many times dished out alcohol to hotheads on the verge of trading punches when an argument turns personal.

"They calm down if you buy each one of them a drink. It placates the situation," said Yarosz, 27, as he sat in the Mount Royal Tavern in Bolton Hill, downing Budweisers with about 15 others as Obama prepared to host a "beer summit" with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge, Mass., police.

But others in the tavern said the president should not have butted in and is making matters worse.

"It was stupid for him to get involved without knowing the facts," said Ron Carback, 59, of Baltimore. "I think he basically has to make amends for putting his foot in someplace it shouldn't have been in the first place. So, if that works for him, that's fine. I'm not sure it's going to add anything."

The controversy exploded last week after Crowley arrested Gates, former host of the PBS show African-American Lives, on charges of disorderly conduct. Police had responded to Gates' home after a neighbor reported that someone was trying to break into the house. In fact, Gates was returning from an oversees trip and had locked himself out.

Though the charges were later dropped, Gates says Crowley treated him unfairly and refused his requests for the officer's badge number. Crowley says the professor was loud and accused him of racial profiling.

Obama weighed in at a news conference, saying that police acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates, who is his friend, although the president acknowledged that he didn't know the details of the incident. The story took off, with opinions coming from all corners.

Trying to defuse the situation, Obama called both men last week and invited them to sit down over a beer. The three met Thursday in the Rose Garden, each one drinking his favorite brew in a well-publicized attempt to move forward from the incident.

"I'm fascinated with the fascination about this evening," Obama said during a news conference before the beer summit. "This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day and, hopefully, giving an opportunity to listen to each other."

Sipping on his second Pabst Blue Ribbon Thursday afternoon at Mount Royal Tavern, a 41-year-old patron who would give his name only as Chris, said the matter has been overblown and is taking attention away from legitimate legislation.

"It's a silly distraction," he said, not wanting to give his last name and be recognized as a midday drinker. "It's a local matter. It's just deflecting attention away from health care, which should be the emphasis of what's going on right now."

Carback, who was drinking a club soda, said he is a regular at the bar and that debates there tend to shy away from race, religion and politics.

But Obama's beer summit was too intoxicating a topic to pass up.

"I just think they're two people who overreacted. I don't care if you're black, white or purple, you give a cop a bunch of crap, you're going to have bad consequences," Carback said.

Ultimately, Carback didn't think last night's summit would do any good. Another patron called it a dog and pony show.

But Yarosz, the bartender, has seen the calming effects of a good beer.

"I like the laid-back approach," he said.

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