On the night of Monday July 5, Diego Vargas finished his shift at TABU, a popular gayborhood bar, and headed to have a post-work drink at Bar X, a nearby spot. (In full transparency: this author has a working relationship with TABU). Vargas, a tall, Hispanic Native New Yorker and first-generation American, spends a great deal of time in this part of town, as he bartends 4-5 days a week.
“Previous to the incident I felt very safe in the area day or late night,” he says, adding he and other bartenders would go to after-hours bars like Pen and Pencil or Voyeur “and thought nothing of walking around at 3, 4, 5am. A big reality of the gayborhood is everyone knows each other, especially people in hospitality, so socializing late night is part of the life.”
Afterward, he walked down Spruce toward Broad to catch a cab and noticed two people walk past him. Thirty seconds later, he says, they called out, and he turned to find them standing in front of him. A man, whom Vargas describes as a heavy-set male “about 6 feet [tall] was holding a knife and was pointing it towards me and demanded I hand over my wallet and everything in my pocket.”
Vargas said the other person, a woman, remained largely silent, but smirked as he handed over his cash. “I asked if I could have my wallet back,” he says, because it had sentimental value. “I thought I could at least try to negotiate. The male looked at her and said, ‘we have the money let him keep his stupid wallet.’ She glared at him, and he instantly put the knife back up to my throat and said, “walk away, fucker.’”
After letting the initial shock wear off, Vargas called 911 and filed a report at the precinct. “I am aware a lot of people, especially in our political climate, are hesitant to work with police,” he says, but he “absolutely wanted the police involved.”
Vargas is one of several well-known gayborhood nightlife workers who have been robbed and/or physically assaulted in the area in the past few months. A few have taken to social media to share their experiences and warn others.
“I’m alive but I was jumped and mugged by 3 men today. My brain is currently scrambled but I’m ok,” wrote one prominent nightlife denizen on his Facebook page in June.
Another long-time gayborhood bartender, Alaina Hummel, posted in September, “Hey anyone who’s walking around the Gayborhood at any time, please walk with pepper spray. I was assaulted tonight. Not a big deal but it could have been way worse. I’m saying it’s not a big deal, but it was. Totally terrified.”
In an interview with PW, Hummel shared that this was not the first time they had been assaulted around a shift. Three years ago, they also had their bag yanked from them while outside the Bike Stop. Despite these experiences, they say they love living and working in the gayborhood. “I can’t really imagine living anywhere else, as I feel like it’s kind of my identity at this point.”
“This is my neighborhood. I usually can’t leave my house without seeing someone I love and want to hug,” they say. “I’m never lacking for someone who will walk me home. And I truly love so many people in this community.”
After these incidents, Hummel chose not to involve the police. “I felt like it would not have made a difference,” they said, adding, “I did post on FB just to tell people to be vigilant.”
While the Philadelphia Police and Citizens Crime Commission were both approached for comment on this piece, neither replied in time for publication. According to the online Philadelphia crime stats map, the area between Broad and 9th, from Lombard to Walnut, has experienced 365 reported crimes, including 22 robberies and 12 aggravated assaults.
Notably, this is significantly less crime than areas of comparable size further north or south on Broad. Vargas, who said he never experienced an incident like this before in Philly or in his native New York, thinks that these crimes are not random. He says that while he was giving his report, “the officer who was taking my statement said they have noticed an increase in violence, and they believe the gayborhood is being ‘targeted.’”
“I don’t believe it’s a coincidence the people who I have heard of being mugged. Other than my friends in hospitality or performers, not a lot of people are carrying around cash at 2, 3am,” he says.
“The incident didn’t traumatize me, so to speak, but it has made me very aware of my surroundings,” he says. “I think people need a game plan for the end of the night: walk with friends, order your Uber from inside the venue…. Have a game plan because we no longer have the luxury of winging it at 3am, sadly enough, especially in our own neighborhood.”
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