Bar owner Paul Hennessey says he wanted to get people talking.
To mark Cinco de Mayo, his Dana Point bar set up an inflatable wall for patrons to climb over — and handed out "green cards" that guaranteed one free drink to those who clambered to the top.
Since then, Hennessey's Tavern has gotten angry phone calls. Yelp reviewers have called the Cinco de Mayo event disgusting, tasteless and racist. Some have called for a boycott.
Hennessey argues that they are missing the point. "It was our way of protesting the fact that Trump wants to spend billions of dollars to build a wall that is pretty useless," Hennessey said Saturday.
"I guess the way it was presented, some people took it a different way," he concluded.
His words have failed to convince his critics, who say Hennessey is simply trying to spin an insulting spectacle that trivialized the real struggles surrounding immigration and the border. Laycee Barragato Gibson called it "a promotional stunt."
"This is a pretty frightening time when families are being broken up," said Barragato Gibson, who is originally from Orange County and now lives in Los Angeles. "Some bar thinks that this is funny? There's nothing funny about this at all."
Barragato Gibson was in town for a work event, heard about the wall from a friend and stopped by to take photos. By Saturday night, her Facebook post about the bar had been shared more than 100 times.
It includes a photo of a "Permanent Drinking Card" mimicking an ID card, which includes a cartoon drawing of a woman from Mexico named "Isabel Orlando." The phrase "Green Card" is emblazoned over a green fingerprint. Under the word "Citizenship" the card states "In Process."
Like others, Barragato Gibson dismissed the explanation from Hennessey, saying there was nothing at the Friday event to indicate that the wall was meant to foster dialogue about Trump or his immigration policies.
"It's easy to say that after the fact," she said Saturday.
By Saturday night, Hennessey had released a statement on Facebook, saying that the event "obviously struck a chord with many of you out there and you and a number of you did not understand our intent." He urged his customers to write to lawmakers or the president to express their concerns, encouraging them to "stop this wall from being built."
That didn't dampen the furor online. "This isn't even an apology," one person replied on Facebook. "This (is) just an excuse."