EXCLUSIVE: L.A. Bar Community Shaken By Sexual Assault Accusations Leveled At Marcos Tello

By B.E. Mintz |

Warning: The following article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.

For years, Marcos Tello was regarded as a power-broker of the Los Angeles bar scene, a pioneer credited with helping to establish craft cocktails on the West Coast. And, for years, allegations of sexual assault against Tello were a silent specter haunting that same cocktail community.

Over the last month, a group of women began exorcising that culture and the murmurs got louder, too loud to keep ignoring. A report was filed with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) regarding an alleged act of sodomy by Tello. El Silencio Mezcal severed their relationship with the bartender, formerly their National Brand Ambassador. The Pineau des Charentes Trade Board abruptly cancelled an event at downtown hotspot Birds & Bees where Tello works in a much publicized consulting role.

Neat Pour spoke on the record with four women and received written statements from two others, each detailing sexual assault allegations against Tello. In addition, more than two dozen other individuals associated with the drinks consultant and his projects were interviewed. A familiar narrative emerged in which a night of drinking among colleagues–an occupational imperative among cocktail professionals–ended with Tello allegedly separating young women–many of whom had previously sought his mentorship–from the group, followed them home or brought them to his house and made sexual contact against their will.

Neat Pour also presented Tello with the specific allegations leveled by the women. Responding through his attorney, he categorically denied the accusations, declaring them false. Lawrence Moore, publicist for the majority of the venues associated with Tello, was also asked for comment. Moore did not respond to several phone calls or an email.

Marcos Tello’s resume could not be more impressive. Early years under the mentorships of Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, and Sasha Petraske. A hand in setting up the bar programs in high profile destinations including Birds & Bees, Seven Grand Whiskey Bar, The Edison, 1886 at The Raymond, Pedaler’s Fork, Killer Shrimp, Los Balcones, The Flats, and the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Ink in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, CLASS Magazine (UK), Food and Wine, Playboy, GQ, Maxim, and Bon Appétit. Appearances on Access Hollywood, Martha Stewart Radio, CSI:NY, “Great Cocktails,” and “Next Food Network Star.”

With such sterling credentials, it is not hard to imagine how a young woman in the industry might feel awed upon meeting Tello for the first time. Such was the case in April 2012 when Lauren Trickett, then 27, first encountered Tello in Long Beach.

New to the Industry

However, that awe was gone by December 1, 2017 when Trickett walked into the Culver City Police Station and filed a criminal complaint against Tello. Although Shield laws prevent the Department from revealing additional information, Trickett provided a copy of her statement to Neat Pour.

Ms. Trickett met Tello in April 2012 while running her first bar program at Tantalum in April 2012. Impressed by his work with BarSmarts, the USBG, and Sporting Life, Trickett joined Tello and a group of colleagues for drinks after her shift. After a night filled with alcohol, the others filtered out until only she and Tello remained; Tello told her that he needed to crash on her couch as he was too drunk to drive according to Trickett. She said that after arriving home, she agreed to let Tello crash on her couch, but minutes later, he walked into her bedroom naked and forced himself on top of her.

“I told him to stop. I remember trying to pull my underwear up and using my hands to hold my legs together… I told him I was a virgin and I wasn’t going to have sex with him,” said Trickett. “He wasn’t dissuaded but instead rolled me over and proceeded to penetrate me anally. I froze. The more I resisted the more it hurt until I gave up.”

Like many survivors, Trickett described her emotions after the fact as a mix of humiliation, self-blame, and shame. She faulted herself and told no one for years. But, given Tello’s long list of bonafides, he was still unavoidable at the industry events she frequented and the industry she worked.

Nearly a year later, Trickett earned her first consulting gig, but she needed help with the contract from Tello. He was happy to oblige and once again Trickett found herself in a bar with him. This time they were with a group in San Diego following a BarSmarts event. Trickett said that Tello asked her to speak outside the bar, where he pushed her face first against a chainlink fence and pulled down her underwear. A patron then drunkenly stumbled outside, providing an interruption for her to flee back inside recalled Trickett.

“No one tells you that you can be threatened because of someone’s power, even more than their physical strength”

Even that night, Trickett felt professionally obliged to stay at the bar with the group that included Tello for the rest of the night. Over the ensuing years, she tried to avoid him, but remained cordial during the inevitable encounters. Only the recent spat of exposés on sexual violence began to shift her epistemology.

“Looking back,” she reflected,” I want to I yell out loud things like, ‘Why didn’t you stand up for yourself? And, ‘How stupid could you be?’ But when you learn about things like rape and assault as a young woman, it’s presented as a cut and dry scenario, and no one tells you that you can be threatened because of someone’s power, even more than their physical strength. In the light of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and so many others I am learning the truth is: Sexual assault doesn’t always play out like an episode of Law and Order: SVU.”

Patterns

In interviews with NP, three more women, who prefer to remain anonymous due to concerns over their careers, all independently reported strikingly parallel scenarios to Trickett’s. In this article, we’ll reference these women as Thalia, Penny, and Andi. The alleged incidents all began with Tello offering to help out a newcomer to the LA craft cocktail scene by showing them around town. The women then described their would-be mentor bringing them a particularly strong drink at the end of the night. Andi and Penny, professional bartenders, offered the same adjective to describe the cocktail: off.

“I don’t remember too much until I was in his bed at his apartment. He was pulling my clothes off. I asked him to stop many times.”

Tello then insisted on getting each of them home and ordered a car service, but instead the Uber/Lyft took them to his own house said the women. Thalia said, “I don’t remember too much until I was in his bed at his apartment. He was pulling my clothes off. I asked him to stop many times. I was hysterically crying and attempting to put my underwear and pants back on. Eventually I ended up naked and he was forcing himself inside of me.” She said that she continued to resist while Tello ejaculated inside her.

Andi and Penny both recalled similar fuzzy rides ending at Tello’s house and culminating in a plan to sleep on the couch. Both women said that instead of letting them sleep on the couch, Tello violated them and physically forced them into non-consensual sex.

Silent No More

It was not just newcomers to the industry who shared their stories about Tello. By any scale, Ria Soler is a heavyweight in the spirits world. Before her current position as West Coast Brand Ambassador for Wildman, she logged time at Pernod, The Varnish, and Peroni. Perhaps, these boldfaced credentials helped out on November 10, 2017 when she approached El Silencio with her own complaints about Tello, their then-brand ambassador. On November 11, the mezcal company severed all ties with Tello.

“It is my hope that if I fight past my own fear of recrimination, disbelief, and censure, that other women who are far more traumatized then I am will feel emboldened to share their stories and not hide in shame of what someone else has done.”

Soler shared the email that she sent to El Silencio with Neat Pour. The communication detailed an alleged encounter between Tello and Soler that followed Absolute Sensory, a star studded promotional event with Alinea they worked together on October 22, 2010, a time when she was just starting out as an intern at Pernod Ricard. Soler said that Tello hit on her as they worked the event, offering himself as “dessert” at one point. She relented later in the evening and began to engage in consensual, protected sex with him according to Soler. However, after ejaculating inside of her, Soler says Tello informed her that he had removed the condom during sex, smirking, “You better get the morning after pill.”

“I would not have come forward with this, and indeed, had pushed it all the way to the back of my mind, had I not heard the far more harrowing stories from the other women that he has assaulted,” Soler wrote. “It is my hope that if I fight past my own fear of recrimination, disbelief, and censure, that other women who are far more traumatized then I am will feel emboldened to share their stories and not hide in shame of what someone else has done.”

When approached for comment, the mezcal producer simply stated, “Silencio has severed our working relationship with Marcos Tello, an outside consultant of the Company, earlier this year” and noted, “Silencio has a zero tolerance policy for any type of harassment.”

Soler severed her own connection with Tello years ago, but in a small, male-dominated industry, it’s not that easy. Despite her desire to shun him, professional considerations oblige her to maintain a surface friendliness. “Since the incident seven years ago, we never hung out one-on-one in any social capacity again,” she explained. “In the past couple of years I have done business with him because he is a man in power in my industry and I had to. Otherwise, I made sure our paths did not cross.”

An Open Secret

Fifteen different individuals interviewed by Neat Pour used the same term to describe the accusations against Tello: an open secret. Several service industry workers told us stories about warning female friends not to put themselves in one-on-one situations with Tello.

Cari Hah of Big Bar LA said that she began hearing the whispers four years ago. “When I started hearing about these allegations, they didn’t surprise me. For me, these stories are disappointing,” said Hah. “I support these women 100 percent. I don’t care about his status; the women that have been harmed are most important. There are things much more important than how much you know about booze.”

Hah noted that these stories often get dismissed because drinking and after-hours partying are so prevalent in the industry. “In our industry, because alcohol is involved it often lessens the impact of the victims’ statements, but that shouldn’t make a difference. Wrong is wrong.”

However, Bethany Ham was not in on the secret when she had her own falling out with Tello. At the time, Ham worked with Tello Downtown L.A.’s Birds & Bees. The two have a long history of work together, but by October 2017, Ham was livid with Tello, a series of work issues involving attribution—the type of spat common in the industry—divided the two.

Word of the dispute leaked into the tight gossip circles of the service industry and it wasn’t long before Penny approached Ham to commiserate about her own experiences with Tello. Penny misinterpreted the signs: the difficulty with Tello’s power position, cordial, but distant interactions, and a desire not to work with him in the future. Assuming that Ham had been assaulted by Tello, Penny shared her own story with her.

At the same time, the recent wave of press about celebrities embroiled in their own sexual violence scandals also inspired a few of the other women to speak with peers in the industry about their own stories. Ham soon heard many of these narratives as well. After discussing the unfolding situation with one of her closest friends, Thalia, she was shocked to learn that Thalia also counted herself amongst the survivors of Tello’s violence.

Photo by Eugene Lee

Ham landed in turbulent waters, but the tides were shifting. An unfortunate camaraderie had developed between the women who shared similar experiences with Tello. A desire for action emerged. Ham said that after Soler approached El Silencio and was positively received, she decided to request a meeting with her own bosses at Birds & Bees.

At noon on November 20, she met with the owners of the bar, at an El Segundo Starbucks. Ham said that she detailed the various allegations against Tello to her bosses who listened and acknowledged that they had received phone calls about the issue. The two men then switched the topic and proceeded to tell her that “things weren’t working out” and fired her said Ham. Appalled, she stood up and left the meeting.

Moore, publicist for Birds & Bees, did not respond to a request for comment. However, two days after this story initially ran, the bar emailed a statement to Neat Pour. Ownership disputed Ham’s story and claimed that they, themselves, requested the meeting. In ownership’s version, they first terminated Ham and then she raised the allegations of sexual misconduct. In addition, they noted that Tello’s contract with Birds & Bees expired in April 2017.

Recently, the Pineau des Charentes Trade Board cancelled a publicized event at Birds & Bees after receiving a stream of emails detailing the allegations against Tello

“We took the decision to cancel our event based on the feedback we received from a few local bartenders who preferred not to attend in the light of this news.” Bertrand Blanchez, who represent the Pineau des Charentes trade board in the U.S., told Neat Pour. However, the group declined to elaborate. “Since we have no ‘official’ confirmation nor proofs, we prefer not to communicate further on that matter.”

The Aftermath

Despite all of the noise, the situation remains a series of accusations, a few cancellations, and few other changes.

Trickett’s complaint with the LAPD sees little chance of moving forward. LAPD reported that an investigation has not been opened as of press time. Her complaint was initially mired in bureaucracy due to the lack of sex crimes unit at the Culver City station. The long time span between the alleged sexual assault and the present coupled with a lack of forensic evidence makes it unlikely that the Department will open a full investigation according to criminal justice experts consulted by this publication. However, Trickett added that the act of coming forward has given her a new will to help other women in this situation. She recently began learning about the various groups and resources available for survivors of sexual violence.

Ham quickly found herself a new job at Clifton’s. Soler remains a staple of the industry in her capacity at Wildman’s. Thalia now works as a school teacher, a path she was on prior to the alleged sexual assault.

Both Penny and Andi moved to new cities, citing Tello as the reason. Neither work in the service industry any longer.

If you have been the victim of sexual violence, help is available: Legal and Advocacy resources, more Legal Advocacy, California specific help, local and support resources, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Correction: This article originally referred to the Pineau des Charentes Trade Board as the Cognac Council. They are, in fact, two different organizations.

Updated 12.22.17: Birds & Bees emailed a response to this article. The text has been updated to reflect their reaction.

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