Chess players have worn out their welcome at a local coffeehouse.

"There is something un-American about it," he says. "This group is being arbitrarily discriminated against. How do they come to the conclusion to target this group of people? Are they rowdy? No. Aggressive? No. Hostile? No. What seemed to be the problem? The pierced, punk-rock types seem to have some problem with the disenfranchised chess players who are poor tippers and because they have to go pick up their cups and saucers without a tip."

Far from smelly misfits, Lassak insists, chess players are an "eclectic" group. "There's no cohesive front," he says. "It's an interesting collection of the academic and the disenfranchised. And in a coffeeshop like St. Mark's, there's a casual sense of being bohemian or artistic or whatever one does in that type of atmosphere."

Lassak now plays on the 16th Street Mall, where there's always a group of people gathered around the public tables at lunchtime and usually a game on at all other times as well. The guys at the tables will tell you that St. Mark's isn't the first place to kick out the chess players, either. They've been booted from Pablo's, the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery and other spots.

Mark A. Manger

"Clay is a gentleman, but he's not the norm," says Jenkins, who met Lassak last year, when a few members of the Metro chess club gathered at St. Mark's on Thursdays. "There are a couple of locals like him who are real class acts. But then there's the jerks. And a couple of the St. Mark's employees have pretty bad attitudes, too. I don't know what happened there, but it was probably bound to happen." The club has since gone back to playing in a break room at the Tivoli Student Union.

But its members still miss their old hangout. "We liked St. Mark's because there were other chess players there, so it was an opportunity to play other players," Jenkins says. "It had a good atmosphere. It was appealing because it felt kind of clubbish, a dark little hole in the wall."

Alstad insists that his image of St. Mark's isn't very different. "What I loved about my store is how many different kinds of people there were -- businesspeople, old ladies, cops, students, Japanese people, even the grungy chess players," he says. "At one point, I bought three nice chess sets for them. But after eight years, I just got tired of hearing about it.

"I probably should have just kicked out the troublemakers," he adds. "This was just my solution to a problem I couldn't quite weed out myself."

Alstad isn't going to make a public announcement about it, but he recently took down the signs banning chess, and an employee at the shop says players will be allowed back in on a case-by-case basis, "provided they buy something."

That's what Lassak says Alstad told him when Lassak called to complain about the no-chess policy. "I was assured that chess playing will be reinstated when the subset is gone," he says. "But I don't want to go back to that place. I'm alienated. All of a sudden, as a chess player, I'm not welcome."

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