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Artists Boycott Gayborhood Bar After It Prevented Palestinian Burlesque Artist From Performing

After taking issue with a sign that performer Leila Delicious brought to her performance, bar Tabu now faces backlash

The front image of a bar.
Tabu in the Gayborhood.
Ernest Owens is the Editor of Eater Philly, and the food expert to go to when you’re out of options.

On Saturday evening, Gayborhood performers and community members protested outside of local bar Tabu (254 S. 12th Street) following the venue’s recent decision to keep a Palestinian burlesque dancer from performing their act.

Leila Delicious, a queer Palestinian-American artist, tells Eater Philly that on Friday, December 8, she was denied entry to perform during her scheduled gig at Tabu because she brought a prop sign with her that read “Our generation will free Palestine” on the front and “Biden, demand a ceasefire. If you support genocide, you Isreal dumb!” on the back.

After other performers at the bar failed to convince Tabu’s management to reconsider their decision to not let Delicious perform, the performer says she eventually left, and shared her experience on social media.

The controversy with Tabu culminated in a public protest and boycott of the venue on Saturday, December 16 from several community members and performers. Nearly 70 performers have now said they will not work at the bar unless representatives publish guidelines around what it allows performers to do, give a public apology to Delicious retracting the accusation of promoting genocide, and acknowledge that “such false accusations can place one’s safety in jeopardy.”

Delicious, who was a frequently booked performer at Tabu, says she was surprised by the bar’s decision, given her extensive history of pro-Palestinian artistry in her act, long before the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

“I’ve always incorporated symbols and props of Palestinian liberation and resistance throughout my performances there,” Delicious says of making pro-Palestine messaging a part of her overall aesthetic. “Whether it was eating watermelon on stage, rubbing olive oil all over my body, or saying ‘Free Palestine’ on stage — none of these pro-Palestine messages were new for me.”

Tabu representatives didn’t respond to Eater Philly’s request for comment on this story.

In a now-deleted post on the company’s Instagram on Saturday, December 9, Tabu accused Delicious’s sign of “promoting genocide against Jews” and said the “other side” of her sign “contains text targeting the Jewish community.” A screenshot of the message is below.

A graphic with a text statement.
Statement posted on Tabu’s Instagram page on December 9th, 2023. It’s since been deleted.

Tabu’s statement was criticized by community members online as being an “outright lie” given that Delicious’s sign did not call for the genocide of Jewish people.

Following the backlash over their initial statement, Tabu manager and co-owner Phil Sobleski emailed the bar’s employees on Sunday, December 10, “to clear the air about what really happened on Friday night.”

According to Sobieski in the email that Eater Philly obtained, “security alerted me about a performer’s sign which was to be used in the show that night. Upon reading the sign, I decided that the sign was inappropriate and something we did not want shown in our building.”

“Some are saying that our censorship has gone too far,” he wrote in the email, while also noting that Delicious was not banned from the venue. “Would they say the same if we turned away signs with racist or anti-trans rhetoric? Ultimately, we will continue striving to be a safe space for everyone, including those who may have been offended by the sign brought in Friday night.”

After first deleting their December 9 Instagram statement, Tabu posted another on December 10 (that has also since been deleted) with more clarity surrounding their decision to deny Delicious access and to “sincerely apologize to all members of our community who were adversely affected by our decision.” A screenshot of that statement is below.

A graphic with a statement.
Statement posted on Tabu’s Instagram page on December 10th, 2023. It’s since been deleted.

On Tuesday, December 12, Tabu hosted a town hall forum at the bar that allowed for community members and performers to give them feedback. In a 95-minute audio recording of the event, obtained by Eater Philly, the town hall discussion appeared to be contentious, as several guests can be heard arguing with management throughout the discussion. Several longtime Tabu performers expressed disappointment about the town hall on social media and in the press, given the lack of clarity surrounding bar’s free speech policy, and the fact Delicious has not received a public apology.

“As a Palestinian from Gaza, performing is now the only way to be grounded in my body and keep survivor’s guilt at bay,” Delicious told Eater Philly. “To be turned away at the door, crying outside in the cold, from an establishment I have given so much money, art and vulnerability to, was both shocking and devastating.”

In another now-deleted statement originally posted on Tabu’s Instagram on Wednesday, December 14, the company described the town hall as having “constructive dialogue” and says they “initiated direct communication with Leila Delicious and [are] committed to arranging in-person discussion for further collaboration.” A screenshot of that statement is below.

A graphic with a statement.
Statement posted on Tabu’s Instagram page on December 13th, 2023. It’s since been deleted.

But Delicious says such attempts from Tabu’s management were “anything but that.”

“They called and asked if I could speak with them in person alone,” Delicious says of Tabu reaching out to her last week. “I had requested if I could speak with them via Zoom with my attorney present, but they declined. Speaking with them alone didn’t feel safe.”

“While we are devastated by Tabu’s actions, we are extremely inspired by the outpouring of support and solidarity shown to Leila by her community of artists,” says Amer Zahr, Delicious’s attorney and president of New Generation for Palestine, a Palestinian-American advocacy group.

“I am simply calling for justice, dignity, and respect,” Delicious says.