Men say staff at SLC bar told them they ‘can’t serve Polynesians’

Posted at 9:14 PM, Feb 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-17 23:14:09-05

UPDATE: The owner of the bar has now apologized and promised to change company policy as well as provide sensitivity training to prevent future incidents like this one.

(Note: A video previously embedded with this story showed the faces of several bar patrons not involved in the incident, and FOX 13 has complied with a request to remove that footage. A version of that video with those faces blurred out is available in our updated story.)

Previous story continues below:

SALT LAKE CITY — A video is sparking a lot of anger from people online, and two Polynesian men say the footage was shot seconds after they were refused service because of their race.

They say it all happened Tuesday night at Willies Lounge on Main Street in Salt Lake City.

The two men had never been to the bar before, and they said that first trip there will be their last. The men say the bartender checked their IDs and asked them to leave because of their race.

“She looked up and said, ‘I can’t serve Polynesians’ and I was like… ‘You can’t what?’” Frank Maea said.

He and his cousin Stephen Wily say it happened seconds after they walked into Willies Lounge.

“We were just in awe, everyone in the bar was,” Wily said.

The men say others at the bar spoke up.

“One woman said, ‘Wait, did I hear this correctly? Did you just say you can’t serve these guys because they’re Polynesian,’” Maea said.

They say the bartender told them it was company policy. But the bar’s owner says it was all a misunderstanding.

“I’ve told all my bartenders if groups of unknown people, including Polynesians but not limited to, that we don’t know come in late at night: They don’t have to serve them,” said Geremy Cloyd, Owner of Willies and Big Willies in Salt Lake City.

But Frank and Stephen say that’s not what happened to them.

“They called me and said we just screened someone,” Cloyd said. “We probably should have served them. I came flying down saying, ‘Hey let me buy you dinner, or something’… they were already gone.”

Frank and Stephen say they didn’t have a chance to stick around because they were kicked out.

“They said, ‘You guys got to leave now’ and we left,” Maea said.

Some bar patrons walked out with them.

“We swallowed our pride, walked out with our heads held high,” Wily said.

Frustrated and appalled by what happened, they took to social media.

“It’s sad,” Maea said. “This is 2016. Just the ignorance behind it all, just being approached like that was just mind-blowing.”

The video is getting thousands of shares, and some people who were scheduled to perform at Willies have canceled shows because of the incident.The bar owner says it was all a misunderstanding.

“We messed up last night, a lot of times we get it right, last night we didn’t,” Cloyd said.

Frank and Stephen say they are now in contact with some civil rights groups.

A post on the bar’s Facebook page defended a policy of denying service to “certain groups,” saying in part: “Due to many issues we’ve had with certain groups of people we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. We don’t do this without just cause. We want our business to be a place where anyone can come and have drinks in a SAFE ENVIRONMENT. We do everything we can to make sure our CUSTOMERS and EMPLOYEES ARE SAFE.”