Surprise! A Yuppie Fratboy Sports Bar in a Historically African American Neighborhood Refuses to Address its Racist Door Policy
I don’t know for what use freed slaves built the the two-story building at 2400 Brazos, but I know that it stood in the heart of a thriving, independent African American community when it was built in 1897. The building’s best days might indeed be behind it, but as I often do in front of old buildings, I like to imagine how the original owners must have felt on the day they cut the ribbon for the first grand opening. Pride, accomplishment, and optimism must have been in abundant supply. People dressed in their Sunday best, perhaps with cake and punch.
How would those original owners feel now? Now that their once proud and independent neighborhood — the Fourth Ward — has been all but bulldozed and replaced with pre-fab, cookie-cutter, strip mall, corporate chain establishments that cater to the most clueless, racist douchebags to be found inside the Loop. Adding insult to injury, quite a few of these establishments have instituted unspoken racist door policies that discriminate against the descendants of the very people they displaced. Chief among these is the Gaslamp Gastropub, which, critics say, charges “minorities” a hefty cover to enter their shitty sports bar (if allowing them in at all) while allowing Caucasian patrons to waltz in without any impediments.
Last Friday, September 11, three young, well-dressed Houston attorneys — Brandon Ball, Ken Piggee, and Dan Scarbrough — allege that they were subjected to exactly this racist scenario. The three men, dressed in slacks and button-down shirts, two of them with blazers to boot, visited several bars in the area — Howl at the Moon, Celtic Gardens, Pub Fiction, and the 3rd Floor — before attempting to stop in the Gaslamp. There they were told that, because they were three single men without women in their party, they would have to pay $20 cover, each, for entry to this bar.
They refused to pay and went next door to the Dogwood, where they were allowed to enter for no charge and enjoyed one drink. As they left the Dogwood, however, they noticed something fishy — “minority” patrons were either being asked to pay a $20 cover or denied entry altogether, while Caucasian patrons were just waved right in — in some cases even bypassing the line at the door.
The three men posted up across the street to watch for a while and saw this pattern continue for at least 30 minutes. When they spoke to patrons such as themselves — people who had either been denied entry or asked for a $20 cover — they found affirmation for their conclusion that the Gaslamp’s door staff was discriminating based on race. Well-dressed African Americans, Latinos, and Asians were told they didn’t meet the dress code, while white males in shorts and tennis shoes were waved right in. To make matters worse, a Harris County Sherriff’s deputy stood guard and watched this potentially-illegal parade of discrimination pass by right under his nose. The clincher for these men is that this occurred on September 11, a day when our “post-racial” nation is supposed to show unity, when even the French declare “We are all Americans.” Their subsequent Facebook post detailing their experiences went viral, with almost 10,000 shares so far.
Free Press Houston spoke with Tim Sutherland, legal representative for the Gaslamp. Sutherland denies the bar has a racist door policy and alleges that the three men were asked to pay cover not because of their race, but 1) because they were men lacking the company of women, 2) that certain VIPs and regular customers have key chains which identify them to door staff as not having to pay cover, and that 3) everybody who uses the bar’s second floor or rooftop deck is required to pay the cover.
Mr. Ball and his two associates take issue with Sutherland’s claims. They said they did not see any patrons show key chains to the door staff, nor did the door staff ask to see keychains, and they were never informed of options regarding areas of the bar that they could access without paying cover.
Both sides (composed of lawyers — shocking) are considering legal action — Ball and his friends for alleged discriminatory practices, and Sutherland and Gaslamp for alleged libel.
In the meantime, when pressed about his client’s reputation for racial discrimination that dates back over one year according not to “riff-raff” Yelpers but the “Yelp Elite” and FourSquare users, even, Sutherland dismissed these complaints as meaningless. In response to whether the Gaslamp would take proactive measures, such as racial-sensitivity training for employees (as has been court-ordered for another bar with a similar reputation, the Kung Fu Saloon), Sutherland flat-out refused, saying they would take no such proactive measures in the absence of a court order.