A mixed-race couple says they were the target of a hate crime at the Triangle Tavern.
Melanie Chongolola had heard the warnings: Don't venture south of Washington Avenue alone. There's no telling what could happen to a black woman.
But Chongolola didn't heed cautions like that. The twentysomething figured she was living in the 21st century and if a major political party could nominate an African-American for president, she and her white boyfriend David Nestor shouldn't have problems walking the streets of South Philadelphia.
"I just figured it was an attitude of the past," she says.
Chongolola and Nestor met about eight years ago while attending college in Pittsburgh. Eventually, they went their separate ways: Nestor to Ecuador for a two-year Peace Corps stint, Chongolola to London, and later a semester at sea. But as soon as they saw each other again, the relationship was back on.
That reunion--"We immediately realized we still liked each other a lot," recalls Nestor--brought them to Philadelphia a couple years back and, on the night of May 23, out to dinner near 11th and Christian.
After dinner the couple decided to grab a quick nightcap so they ambled into the Triangle Tavern at Passyunk and Reed, a fringe-of-the-Italian-Market mainstay they found "cozy" when they stopped by on a bar crawl months earlier.
Nestor dropped a $5 on the bar--$3 for the beers; $2 for the barkeep--and tried to unwind. And even though there were only three other people inside, Chongolola claims things quickly turned nasty.
Sitting by the front door was a 60-ish-looking man clad in a white Triangle Tavern T-shirt, the same man who was sitting there the night of the bar crawl. He was mumbling, Chongolola says. Angrily.
"It didn't seem like he was directing anything at us at first so I decided to go put a couple songs on the jukebox so we could tune him out," Chongolola recalls. "When I got close, he said, 'Look at the fucking monkey.'"
Nestor asked the man if he had a problem. "Then, the guy got up and tried to choke David," Chongolola alleges. "He said, 'This is my f'in place; I'll do what I want.' He was spewing every last racial slur I've ever heard."
Mooley. The N-word. You name it. That's what Chongolola claims she heard while she tried to pull the man away from Nestor. She says the man then wheeled around, sending them both into bar stools.
In the process, the man ripped her Anthropologie Free People shirt and sent the contents of her purse flying across the floor, not too far from where Nestor's hat and glasses had been knocked off. The bartender came around to separate everybody.
Heading outside to call the cops, Chongolola and Nestor watched their alleged assailant "stumble" to a nearby white Cadillac and pull away. They got the license-plate number and waited for units to arrive. While their complaint was taken, they were told the Caddy was registered to a James Dachino of Johnston Street.
Dachino owns the Triangle Tavern.
At this point, the interracial couple realized the situation might be more complicated than they'd imagined.
They were taken to a nearby police station, and then to the detectives' office near 24th and Wolf. The machine that was needed to produce a photo-lineup was down, so a detective told them they'd have to come back. Weeks passed without a call, so Chongolola followed up. Finally, about a month after the incident, they were told to come back between 12 and 8 a.m. on a Saturday when he'd be working.
"I guess they figured we were just going to blow it off," Chongolola now says. "We didn't."