I just talked on the phone last night to Tosh Berman, the owner of the Donkey Den. I’m pretty sure he’s backpeddling at least in part, but he did offer an explanation (actually, several explanations) about the controversy swirling around his lounge right now. Seems that since my first post last week, the ongoing debate and boycott of his lounge by protesters has become big news in our little cow town. Berman has had 7 News, the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, Westword, and the Denver Daily News all in to chat with him.

Berman thinks he’s being unfairly targeted and censored. Athough there’s no way that he didn’t know what he was doing when he put an item like “ho-made fries” on the menu, and the female staffers do look like they are working at a south-of-the-border Hooters, (not unlike many other downton watering holes) neither point alone would be likely to get people up in arms about it. But when you add in the other terms that protesters are taking issue with, it seems highly unlikely that he’s totally innocent. I’m not sure I buy his explanations, but to be fair I thought I’d share them with you.

Last week, after hearing plenty of rumors about the place, I was fully prepared to write it off as not worth my time (after I saw it once for myself, of course). His side of the story is that he had no idea that the name of his club had negative sexual connotations, and that he’s appalled that people could think that he and his fiancee, Neysa Quintana, were being intentionally offensive when they created the menu and concept. (This is his first attempt at his own bar business after working as the GM for Hush for a year.)

In a nutshell, his restaurant/bar has been criticized recently for being allegedly named after “donkey dens,” a term that apparently references Tijuana sex parlors offering underage girls and “donkey shows.” They also have a “Donkey Punch” burger — “donkey punch” is a slang term for a violent sex act — and “ho-made fries” on the menu. I can certainly understand why that might ruffle some feathers, mine included. But Berman says he had no idea about the slang meanings of either “donkey punch” or “donkey den.”

When I Googled “donkey den,” I did find plenty of hits about Berman’s bar and the related posts, but also plenty of other things — a bed & breakfast in Canada, a donkey refuge, a Democratic blog, and several German gaming sites referencing Donkey Kong. I didn’t find any references to Tijuana brothels. Obviously that doesn’t mean that the term doesn’t exist, but it would seem that it’s not in common usage.

Berman went on to tell me that he picked the name based on a little taco joint he liked down in Cabo San Lucas called the Donkey Den. “I thought, what a great theme,” he said. He added that the donkey logo has boxing gloves to represent the fitness-oriented low-carb, low-fat items on the menu. Hence the Donkey Den, and the Donkey Punch burger. “It’s spicy so it packs a punch,” he explained.

As for the “ho-made fries?” He didn’t have a good explanation for that one. And the “Heads” and “Tails”names for the men’s and women’s bathroom are supposed to be named after pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, not rudely referencing women as “tails.” Um… okay. Maybe.

So now what? Berman doesn’t want to change any of the names for fear of looking guilty of knowing ahead of time about the possible offensiveness of the names. (I really don’t get that, personally. Can’t you just rename the burger-and-fries?) If he doesn’t change it, he runs the risk of being known more for the controversy than for anything else.

On the other hand, he also told me that half the clientele that has come in since the protesters started handing out boycott pamphlets think the whole thing is a joke or some sort of stunt. Berman said that his web site is now getting over 30,000 hits per day, and there is a two-hour line on weekends to get in.

Guess there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

To me, that’s offensive.