Exclusive: The Monster Bar Owner Responds to Racism Debacle That Made Honey Davenport Quit
The long running West Village bar-dance club The Monster seemed to live up to its name when popular drag artist Honey Davenport went onstage this past weekend and weepingly told the crowd that she’d gotten wind of an upsetting text from the general manager.
DJ-promoter Mitch Ferrino had received the questionable communication from the GM and passed it on to Honey, an act that pissed off owner Charlie Rice. Related Honey, “[The text said that] the advertising for this party looked like they were promoting an event for black people, and that was bad for business. He said that the two dancers that we had on our stage needed to be replaced with beautiful people. After six years of literally laying everything I have on the line on this stage, I can no longer do it.”
The video went viral, and many people—including myself—shared it in outrage, while being surprised since my best nights at that place have involved extremely mixed crowds. The next day, The Monster owner Charlie Rice posted a message apologizing, mentioning a “language” issue, and saying that the GM (Italo) had resigned and Rice was instituting racial sensitivity training for the remaining staff. In this exclusive interview, Rice says he’s been victimized.
Hello, Charlie. Please give me an update on the situation, from your point of view.
The straight scoop is it’s a smear campaign by a disgruntled employee—Mitch Ferrino—who had an axe to grind with my manager Italo. They asked for his head. I would have fired Italo, I would have done what people told me to do. I gave Mitch a platform to become a DJ, and Honey Davenport, as well, but Mitch Ferrino is a self-admitted burned-out bartender and his identity is blurred with the identity of the business. He’s always been above his peers. His is a personal grudge against leadership. I am beside myself over the fact that this guy is taking me to task because we had butted heads—primarily Italo had. Now he’s trying to assassinate my character.
But it seems like you’re blaming the messenger. Italo said something appalling. Why lay it on the guy who helped it go public?
Italo said something. He doesn’t have the best command of the language. He’s an immigrant. It was a setup. There was no problem before with our black host, but because Italo didn’t have the right command of the language, Mitch took it and ran because he had an axe to grind.
But what Italo said what pretty clear. It was not written in unintelligible English.
This is true. What I did was I fessed up and Italo resigned. I put out a statement that the public wanted me to do, which was contrite. Some of the things that Mitch is putting out are true. But this is a campaign to smear and assassinate character.
You believe Italo had no racist intention?
No. It was a misstep in his language barrier. He can’t articulate English as well. My lover opened the place in 1981 and when he died, I took over in 2004. We both offered a place where people of all colors could come. I said, “Mitch, I can shutter the doors and there’ll be one less place for people to go.” They got what they wanted. They got his head. We did what people asked us to do. Italo made the mistake. I’m a man of color. I’m a Mexican-American. I love gay men. At 13, I was bullied because I’ve been called the N-word, a dago, and so on, and I considered suicide.
From left: Joseph Scialo, Rice's late partner and the original owner of The Monster, poses with Rice.
Why exactly do you feel Mitch resented Italo?
Because Italo tried to rein him in. Mitch was always saying “I can do this job better than anyone else.” He pitted people constantly against each other. I trusted him and paid the bills and put a roof over his head. But here’s the scoop. From what I’m told, the moment he got the text, he took it to the next level and had Honey as a pawn. They thought this would be a shoo-in for racism, but it’s strictly a grudge between Mitch and Italo. Mitch is intoxicated with power and he’s taken poor Honey as a queen with a cause. A lot of people are hurt. They’re making a revolution. They’ve already killed a man’s livelihood. I respect their spirit towards the racist movement, but I‘m not racist, neither is Italo. But Italo is gone.
But I know Honey and she’s sincere. This seems like you’re contradicting what you said on Facebook—that you’re sorry and are instituting sensitivity training. Now you’re making it sound like it’s not a problem.
What I said in that statement is what I meant. We’re still doing sensitivity training, but I can’t go to a meeting they want me to have at the Stonewall because they’re so heated and my mind is a little bit of a mush. Honey wants to have their crew to document this. [He feels there’s an ulterior motive here.] But I can’t go to a forum without having my sensitivity training soon.
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Following my converstaion with Rice, he sent me another statement, which reads:
At 67, I never dreamed I’d have to re-experience the bullying past and what is akin to assassination of character. And to "tar and feather" me and demand I sell the bar is grossly wrong. I took responsibility for my manager's stupid remarks and deserve better than the threats I’m currently receiving. The general public doesn’t have the history regarding the business’s private actions, so they can’t "fill in the rest of the picture."
Now the beauty of social media is that it’s completely democratic. Everyone has a say. Everyone’s voice counts and everyone has a chance to ‘paint a world’ from their own perspective. Ultimately, anyone who was hurt does not want excuses. I understand. All this is a sensitive topic. That being said, we now live in a country--a world—where hatred reigns, and the reaction to that hatred is often just as wrong and destructive. The current culture on social media gives free license to anyone with an axe to grind to jump on the bandwagon. It’s the platform where anyone can nitpick the credibility, leadership and successes of The Monster management and staff.
I’ve reached out to Ferrino for more comment and will keep you all posted. He said on Facebook about Rice, “This is the crazy I’ve been foolish enough to thinking I loved working with for the past 11 years. Wow.”
I contacted Honey Davenport for her update and she replied:
On Monday, I received calls from Italo and Charlie, reaching out to apologize. Italo continued to refer to the situation as a misunderstanding, which to me misses a critical point. Mitch and I did not misunderstand what he said, and we were not okay with it. And although I appreciated the gesture, I did not appreciate the mischaracterization of what happened. After receiving a voicemail from Charlie, he and I have been corresponding to discuss the next steps.
In his public statement, Charlie said that "facing [this situation] head on, using it as a teaching moment, admitting mistakes, and encouraging growth is the way to progress" and I am inclined to agree. In that spirit, I have invited Charlie to have a public conversation with me and a moderator to discuss what that growth and progress could look like while reflecting on the teachable moments to create positive change.” [See Charlie’s comments about that above.] “I don’t want to see The Monster close, nor do I want the employees who had no part in this to suffer as a result. But there are still changes that must be made.