ST. PETERSBURG — “Put your pony tail on your other shoulder and I’ll have him removed,” bartender Max Gutierrez wrote in a note that would make him famous.
As it turns out, the woman to whom Gutierrez slipped the message didn’t take his advice. But she and a friend who was with her that night so appreciated his efforts to save them from a harasser that they took to Twitter on June 13 with their thanks.
The next thing Gutierrez knew, the photo tweet showing him and the note had 800 likes. Then 100,000. Then 200,000. It landed on bartender pages in Chicago. News outlets in Belgium, the Netherlands and Brazil covered the story. He had to get a new battery for his overworked phone. Strangers are buying him shots.
“It’s been overwhelming and humbling,” Gutierrez, 32, said Tuesday.
He and the woman, Trinity Allie, reunited this week at the bar — No Vacancy in St. Petersburg’s Edge District.
“You never know what could have happened,” Allie told WFLA, Ch. 8. “Say, he didn’t step in and this guy followed me and my friend out when we left.”
Gutierrez knows about codes meant to signal to a bartender that a customer is getting unwanted attention. Order an “Angel shot,” for example, or in one place he worked, say, “Hey, it’s a little warm in here, can you turn up the AC?”
But on this night, Gutierrez thought up a code of his own. He said he has learned how to read body language during his years as a bartender and he could see that the two women in front of him were uncomfortable. So he took a bar receipt, as discreetly as possible, wrote a note at the bottom, and passed it to Allie.
“If this guy is bothering you, put your pony tail on your other shoulder, and I will have him removed,” Gutierrez scribbled. “He’s giving me the creeps.”
One warning sign for Gutierrez: The man had walked into the bar with a dog that he handled like a conversation starter. The man started chatting up the women. They gave clipped responses. At one point he started touching one of them on the shoulder.
Neither woman moved their ponytails, and Gutierrez said later they didn’t seem to think they needed any help — at first. The man got up, leading Gutierrez and the women to believe he was leaving.
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Still, the women moved a few seats closer to Gutierrez. Then the man returned.
At first, he walked toward them and stopped with his back turned — before stepping slowly toward Allie. He got so close, Gutierrez said, that she was forced to lean forward in her chair.
Gutierrez decided to step in, again.
“‘Hey man, that’s enough, these girls clearly aren’t interested,’” he recalled telling the man. “‘You are not taking no for an answer.’”
The man left without further incident, as aggressive flirters usually do at this point, Gutierrez said.
“Which makes me think they know what they’re doing.”
The women thanked him. He bought them a round of drinks. They asked for a photo of him and the note, which he re-wrote on a fresh piece of paper so it would be clearer. Gutierrez thought the image was just for Allie’s friends on Instagram.
That the post went viral came as a surprise to him.
“This isn’t a conspiracy,” Gutierrez said. “We didn’t set anything up to become famous.”
Some Twitter commenters accused Gutierrez of trying to push the harasser away so he could flirt with Allie. Gutierrez denies that. Mostly, the response has been positive, including from his boss, though he certainly doesn’t think of himself as a hero, he said.
Allie and hundreds of thousands of others seem to think otherwise.