Tomorrow marks one week since my last visit to Partners Cafe, Crown Street’s venerable gay bar. It is a wonderful place, filled with three floors of whatever it is that goes on at Partners. Last Friday’s event was the Mx PRIDE New Haven pageant. The drag queens drew a very mixed crowd—students, middle-aged men, other drag queens. At 1:00 AM, the winner was crowned, and the crowd shuffled off the dance floor, down the stairs, and out the door. Some headed back to campus and some to their cars, presumably to drive off to Hamden or Milford or wherever one lives once they turn 46. Many of this latter camp remained in the parking lot to smoke, shout, and be drunk. This scene sounds very standard, and indeed it would be, were it not for the 30-foot portrait of Anne Frank observing their every move from above.
First, a generalization: bars are for adults — the 21+ crowd. Bars are not, typically, for kids, and as such, it would be a little suspect if they were full with pictures of children. At least it would be suspect for someone to frequent a bar featuring child-themed imagery, especially one with a a 12-year-old girl spanning the entirety of an exterior wall. Of course, there’s a spectrum of bar-child suitability—something like Barcade with its pinball machines seems much more amenable to children than a place adorned with paintings of men doing what can only be described as inspecting their shafts hanging behind the bar (i.e., Partners). Partners has three portraits: two naked dudes on the inside and one child on the outside. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think that sort of imagery necessarily goes together. Most importantly, did I mention the child is Anne Frank?
There is a very large mural of Anne Frank on the south wall of Partners; black and white, eternally smiling. Is it the right place for it? It’s hard to say if there exists a right place for an Anne Frank mural. Amsterdam, perhaps. Somewhere with a connection to Anne Frank. Maybe on a school. A civic building. Mixed-use commercial establishments are a little strange. Call me old fashioned (again) but I think it may be in poor taste to plaster pictures of dead children on private businesses, especially places of entertainment. What are customers supposed to think when they walk out? I had a great evening and… oh… Anne Frank? In my experience, they think nothing, not even about the atrocious history it represents. The faded face is nobody special, just paint on a wall. A few first-time visitors are taken aback, but among the regulars, Anne has become one of their own.
The mural was painted ten years ago by notable (here defined as Instagram-verified) street artist Believe in People. Mr. People has never clarified his intentions. He just walked up to the wall one day and left it muralized. Partners did not commission it. Yet ten years later, they have not removed it. At this point, I don’t think they should. They’re in an untenable position not really of their own making. For 19 hours a day, the building sits idle, its wall just a wall. And after all, what would be worse: an Anne Frank mural, or painting over an Anne Frank mural?