Grilled at the bar

Having a gay old time at the Lakewood Panini's? You may be out of line.

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Even after he stopped working as the house DJ, Scott Jones and his friends still liked to hang at Panini's in Lakewood. It's close to home, and the combination dance club/neighborhood joint has a comfortable feel.

Then, around Halloween, two friends, Mark Elliott and Jason Reynolds, were booted from the bar. The pair had been kicking it up on the dance floor, doing back flips and hamming for the crowd, as they were prone to do.

No one thought much of their eviction, especially when a co-owner invited them back the next night. Jones, an exuberant man with a radio voice, chalked it up to the misunderstandings incumbent in the bar world. But Elliott and Reynolds, who did not return repeated phone calls, would continue to be booted over the next few months, seemingly at random.

"If they come in with girls, they're fine, no big deal," says friend Denise Rosenlieb, another regular. But if their group was all-male, or if Elliott and Reynolds chose to dance, the general manager, whom they know only as Richie, would give them the boot.

The friends suspected that Richie thought them gay, and that he didn't want Those People gracing his club. Yet the group, which assures Edge it's 100 percent USDA heterosexual, would continue to patronize the bar. After all, they were friendly with staff, Rosenlieb played for the Panini's softball team, and even Richie was friendly on most nights.

Then, a few weeks ago, Rosenlieb was drinking with her sister. Some male friends showed up. Rosenlieb claims Richie promptly ejected her. Jones demanded an explanation. "He told me the reason he wasn't serving me was that the people I hang out with are gay, and he didn't want Panini's to be a gay bar."

Richie says the incident never happened. "I doubt it." But before Edge could even get his last name, he halted our inquiry. "This conversation's over. Thank you." Click.

Jones, however, won't let it die. "This is Lakewood, dude. I think, if it was in another city, I would have just forgotten about it."

But even in the gay capital of Ohio, where antidiscrimination laws are plentiful, there seems to be little he can do. A search of Lakewood statutes reveals no protections for straight guys accused of acting gay.

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