Nightcap Turns Ugly

A mixed-race couple says they were the target of a hate crime at the Triangle Tavern.

By Brian Hickey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 35 | Posted Sep. 10, 2008

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Square deal: The Triangle's owner says the couple's allegations are false. (photo by alex keene)

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."

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Comments 1 - 35 of 35
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1. 12321 said... on Sep 10, 2008 at 04:19AM

“Is south Philly that dangerous for a lone black woman @ night? I am just curious. Someone chime in.”

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2. AC said... on Sep 10, 2008 at 08:45AM

“SP is dangerous for black men and women alone. I lived in Bella Vista for a couple of years and had an occasional run in with a smart mouth youth when I went too far south. Being involved in an interracial relationship as we, I've known not to go too far south or too far north or risk catching flack from the primarily Italian south or the primarily Black north. Nothing has ever gone beyond words however.”

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3. exmage said... on Sep 10, 2008 at 09:45AM

“SP is dangerous for black men and women alone. I lived in Bella Vista for a couple of years and had an occasional run in with a smart mouth youth when I went too far south. Being involved in an interracial relationship as we, I've known not to go too far south or too far north or risk catching flack from the primarily Italian south or the primarily Black north. Nothing has ever gone beyond words however. ”

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4. Jeffrey Tull said... on Sep 10, 2008 at 06:32PM

“Mr Hickey, Reading your account of how a "Nightcap Turned Ugly" at the Triangle Tavern in last week's issue has left me bewildered. As a patron of the Triangle I find the owner and staff courteous and inviting. They've worked hard to create a friendly and fun environment where the locals regularly enjoy each other's company. These folks are African-American, Asian, Italian, Irish, and Latin. They are gay and they are straight. They work in construction and at ivy league jobs. Hipsters drink side by side with the neighborhood old-timers. Hate crimes? Racism? Absolutely not. Not at this place. Jeffrey Tull Philadelphia ”

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5. Colin said... on Sep 11, 2008 at 07:23AM

“This article smells fishy... did the author think to interview regular patrons of the bar? As someone who has been to the bar many times I have never seen, nor heard of anyone else black/white/mexican/ etc have ANY trouble at this bar. And seriously, don't go south of Washington? What the hell? Move to the suburbs if you're so irrationally afraid of one of the nicest neighborhoods in Philly.”

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6. Lee said... on Sep 11, 2008 at 08:44AM

“I am a foreigner to this land and i live just around the corner from the triangle. Although i have never been a patron there the comment of 'dont go south of washington ave if your black' is rediculous and almost ignorant. Of all the places i have lived in Philadelphia i like this area the best. It is fantastic, and is very multicultural. Although i cannot comment on the triangle incident itself which is dispicable, on the whole this particular area of south philadelphia is wonderful in all respects, and i have never had a problem, nor have i witnessed any person of any race have a problem. ”

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7. moss said... on Sep 11, 2008 at 09:02AM

“Suggesting that someone moves to the suburbs when they try to raise awareness about racism is not a solution. Old attitudes die slowly, especially in certain nieghborhods, but that doesn't mean we should accept them and not stand up against injustices. I too live in South Philly and love it, but incidents like that at the triangle are not isolated and need to be brought to attention in order to stop. I am not pointing fingers at anyone, but Philly can be a jaded city and shitty stuff happens way too often. ”

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8. David Webber said... on Sep 11, 2008 at 01:13PM

“About 20 years ago, my wife and I took two out-of-town friends to the Triangle Tavern, to show them this classic south Philadelphia establishment. At the bar, our friends asked me to order sherry for them. The bartender leaned over to me and said, "If we served that, we'd have coloreds in here." My wife and I have never gone back. It's a shame if attitudes at the Triangle Tavern have not changed in the past two decades.”

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9. redbone sucks said... on Sep 11, 2008 at 01:15PM


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10. redbone sucks said... on Sep 11, 2008 at 01:22PM


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11. Jaded said... on Sep 11, 2008 at 06:13PM

“That guy is such a tool!!! A couple of months ago my friends and I were having a few beers. The tool was at the end of the bar, drunk, and was being a little too touchy. I asked him to please stop touching me and his response was, "don't you know who I am?", like he was someone important. He than proceeded to tell me that he was in the "mob", yet allowed me to snap a photo of him and his little buddy. When I loudly asked him to stop touching me, he got in my face and than told his bartender to throw us out! Since when does owning a bar give you the right to put your hands on someone? YES, stuff does happen at that bar, people just don't bring it up. They leave and have enough sense to NEVER go back! There are a lot of other local bars in that general area with owners that can keep their hands to themselves.”

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12. Local Drunk said... on Sep 12, 2008 at 07:19PM

“Sounds like you've got an ax to grind with the owner, paley. It IS HIS PLACE,..and if he asks someone to leave and they start hootin' and hollerin' and throwin' beer bottles and acting like a smacked ass,... well then that's on THEM! And by the way,...feel free to UNLOCK YOUR CAPS. People might think you're shouting at them”

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13. K said... on Sep 13, 2008 at 07:42AM

“The Triangle Tavern is not representative of the changes to the neighborhood over the last 15 years. It's one of the few last strongholds of the old attitudes (see Geno's steaks for another) of racist white South Philly. Please don't tarnish the whole area with this brush. Bella Vista is a wonderful, vibrant, and diverse area. In places like the Triangle, they hate any kind of change -- white yuppies, Mexican and Vietnamese immigrants, etc. In a few more years they'll lose their last remaining clientele (they'll die out) and that eyesore will be gone from this great neighborhood.”

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14. bullshit said... on Sep 13, 2008 at 12:58PM

“"...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...." What complete and utter bullshit!”

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15. LJ said... on Sep 13, 2008 at 02:48PM

“I had the rare (dis)pleasure of watching the returns of the Pennsylvania primary at the Triangle. That night, drunk patrons directed every racial epithet in the book directed at Sen. Barack Obama, and none of the half-dozen odd people in the room seemed to object. I don't know anything about the owner, but the Triangle does strike me as a place where the ignorant feel untethered by the culture of tolerance. All that notwithstanding, I used to live around the corner from the bar, and found the area safe and culturally diverse. The Triangle is not indicative of wide-spread racist tendencies in South Philly.”

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16. semper fi said... on Sep 13, 2008 at 04:17PM

“This couple and the author of this story isnt trying to "raise awareness of racism" They are crying wolf. What about the injustice this very one-sided article promotes (don't go South of Washington if you're black)? I agree with Colin. If you're so irrationally afraid to live in one of the nicest neighborhoods around go live somewhere else. Save the race-related hyperbole for the current presidential campaign. ”

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17. pjr said... on Sep 13, 2008 at 05:17PM

“ As a white liberal who lives in a predominantly black area that has suffered a pattern of hurtful racially motivated intimidation attacks. (vandalism and verbal harassment). This flagrant stupidity isn't isolated to just white or black areas. It is a grim reality that hurts everyone in the city. Not to swift.”

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18. lady vengeance said... on Sep 13, 2008 at 08:26PM

“Clearly Miss Chongolola did not believe the rumors that South Philadelphia was dangerous, or she would not have ever ventured into the Triangle Tavern. That statement is used to make a point that she didn't believe such racism could exist in this day and age. Unfortunately, she was proven wrong. Read the entire article before commenting. Instead of jumping to conclusions and defending that bigot and his classless bar. I don't believe that they are crying wolf. Why would anybody make these accusations? Racism is not something people WANT to deal with, but when confronted with it something HAS to be done about it. ”

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19. Lacey said... on Sep 14, 2008 at 02:26PM

“Well, what a fascinating one sided story! The writer should return to school to finish learning how to be a "JOURNALIST" How is it that the so called victim didn't mention that there was another Afro-American woman there. She saw and heard it all, and she stayed after it was all over. Had the reporter sought out the truth, he would have found out that "THE VICTIM" became abusive after she was told to leave the bar. The bartender went to remove there second, or third drinks she refused to let go of the bottle. The owner then tried to remove the drinks from the bar. It was then that she began to attack him. Scratching his face, and arms. Her friend then got into the mix. As the bartender came around the bar "SHE" throws the beer bottle at the owner smashing it against the wall. Finely the bartender was able to get them to leave. These omissions by "THE VICTIM", and the "ALLEGED REPORTER" are shame full. When you accuse someone of HATE you yourself must be above board, and factual. I am not going to try to paint the owner as a saint, he sorely is not. However, I do go into the Trangle and can attest to the FACT that all are welcome, Mexican, Afro-American, Asian, INTER-RACIAL and yes even me a Transsexual ! In this bar old and young manage to get along in a manor that other bars can only wish to have. If your a jerk, or get out of hand, have to much to drink bothering other costumers expect to be asked to leave. As for the owner I think he has even thrown him self out a few times. South Philly did not deserve what she and this paper put fourth. Thank you, Lacey! ”

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20. Anon said... on Sep 15, 2008 at 02:26AM

“A: You--Lacey--are a f-ing crackhead. Thank you for painting such a clear picture. B: If what you say is true, then why are you posting it on some bogus local paper, and not being silenced by the counsel who might represent the owner? C: F South Philly, the NE, and any other area that feels it is still living in 1965--wake up and smell the Obama.... times are a'changin'. D: I'm white, and from the Deep South. Your "mafia" has run dry, and you are just a ill, broken down, cheap replica, of your elders' hateful fantasies....... Go to hell. I hope that 60 year old racist white trash gets what he deserves--a steady stream of west philly "negros" who pile money into that sh*thole until Chongolola wins it through the court system...... F*ck all you South Philly racists!”

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21. Bones said... on Sep 15, 2008 at 06:55AM

“This article would have been better if the writer had included a statement from the owner of the Triangle. Even if the owner refused to comment, including THAT fact would have been better than nothing. The appearance of impartiality would have made this article better. This is an important issue that affects South Philly residents. The topic ought to be covered responsibly.”

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22. Sally said... on Sep 15, 2008 at 07:15AM

“the owner did comment. remember? he said, "it was all bullshit". take it how you want, but to me that sounds like he has something to hide. I hope he has to lick the bottom of their United Color of Benneton loafers and pay through the nose. ”

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23. citizen said... on Sep 15, 2008 at 10:03AM

“Re: "Nestor refuses to stop believing that the old-school feel of South Philadelphia is what makes the neighborhood unique." Hey, buddy, the flip side of "the old school feel" is the xenophobic and racist attitudes that lurk just below the surface. Get used to it. All that charm has its price.”

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24. elliott said... on Sep 16, 2008 at 05:58AM

“Lacey is correct. I talked with the same woman who saw what actually happened. The author of this article is just fishing for exposure.”

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25. rob said... on Sep 16, 2008 at 07:40AM

“let us not forget about us white people who are assaulted by blacks in our own neighborhoods while coming to and from work. where are all these pieces? sorry that had to happen to you and i'll probably never go to the tavern ever again because of that, but how not-naieve are you about race in america? this could and most likely WOULD have happened in grays ferry or 7th street. anyone agree?”

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26. rob said... on Sep 16, 2008 at 07:50AM

“one final note to the author: good job! when all else fails and your on the copping block cause you haven't handed in a good article in some time, resort to race like the rest of black and liberal white america. people like you and the obviously racist blacks posting here make me sick.”

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27. Russell said... on Sep 17, 2008 at 06:57AM

“How desperate are people now to get money. I've lived in South Philadelphia for about 4 months now. One night I traveled over to C&D Triangle Tavern and had this feeling like that of Cheers. I've been going back since. Everytime I go into that bar I see something new, black people, white people, transvestites, lesbians, gays, mexicans, and even homeless people. NEVER have I ever seen a situation where things got out of hand unless someone was too drunk and was asked to leave. How dare everyone for not looking to get the full story. Comment first, talk about times changing, blah blah blah. How about you learn the entire story first, make an opinion, think about it for a little, then comment. South Philly isn't racist, some people are just ignorant. Maybe the "author" will do a better job next time, and maybe the trash of South Philly will get the full story next time. I'm pretty sure there is a camera in the triangle. I say pull out the footage and see who is right and wrong. That's getting the full story, that is using your resources. Congrats to the idiots who commented about a presidential candidate who has nothing to do with this. While I'm at it let me comment on global warming and how the heat makes people easily angry...because in your sick sadistic world, that makes sense and it's a perfect correlation. I truly believe that these people are just looking for some hand-outs and money. Look at the person who is sueing my buddy for falling in front of his house while he was home, and never even knocked on the door. Yeah, makes perfect sense right? According to Brian Hickey, yes! Well Philadelphia, I'm going to close by saying if your SO disgusted by this area, or even by the bar. DON'T GO!! Go to another place...I've seen a bar where they do shots of robitussin, maybe that might be your place. Thank you, and I hope that you sick sadistic people get nothing, and the Triangle comes out on top. Slobs.”

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28. queensss said... on Sep 19, 2008 at 01:31PM

“I think people should be aware of surrounding at all times. People still a lot of hate their hearts for people of color. mostly because people are at their own conscienous level and there's a lot of ingorant people we the people can make a change in people Know one deserve to be treated like that. ”

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29. Anon said... on Sep 20, 2008 at 12:29AM

“triangle just closed it's doors. haha. good enough. for now.”

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30. mirthhouse said... on Sep 22, 2008 at 05:58PM

“Something very similar happened to me & some friends when we were at that bar last winter. The owner started to make racist comments, then became physically abusive to one of us when we (of course) started to leave. It was unfathomable, since we are all ideal bar patrons: polite, quiet, and excellent tippers. We just figured he was a drunk racist asshole and told all our friends never to go in there. Definitely a hate crime though. That bar, fortunately, is not representative of South Philly bars, or of the neighborhood bars in this fine city. I've lived in Philly my entire life and I've never experienced anything like that incident at Triangle. It was just really ugly and disturbing. I hope something can be done about that horrible guy. He makes the whole city look bad. ”

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31. AC said... on Sep 27, 2008 at 10:25AM

“Did you READ the article? Maybe you should read more responsibly - here's your quote: "While the police remain mum on the status of the investigation, Dachino answered the Triangle Tavern phone last week. Asked about the allegations, he said, “It’s bullshit. I talked to the detective last month. It’s all bullshit.””

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32. m j copley said... on Dec 13, 2008 at 05:47AM

“its ashame to read stories such as this. racial crimes-sad. still there is a lot to be hopeful in the usa. look at the elected president of the, the most powerful man in the world. so there is plenty to be thankful. as far as the investigation of the above incident. its probably ongoing, but difficult to prove. he said she said sort of thing. the closing of the triangel is also sad. plenty of happy times on years gone by. like life everything comes to an end merry christmas and a happty new year--mickey jc”

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33. Laura said... on Dec 16, 2008 at 11:41AM

“This is ALL true. That guy who owns the Triangle is a BAD BAD man. Good riddance to bad rubbish!!! Now we can get a cool new bar for the new age we are living in, in place of that travesty the Triangle.”

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34. avery tiano said... on Apr 6, 2012 at 09:16AM


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35. espinaca verde said... on Feb 10, 2013 at 08:19PM

“you dumbellas should go to north philly, bars on erie avenue would be a good choice. see if you are welcome there.
I like to be among my own people, eyetalians, greaseballs, goobahs, whatever you want to call us. we love ourselves, we think we're grand, we go to the movies and hold our hands, we put our arms around our waists, and when we get fresh we slap our own face. So there, bah fangu to you outsiders.”


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