Baltimore restaurant’s dress code considered racist, because it is

Illustration for article titled Baltimore restaurant’s dress code considered racist, because it is
Photo: IrinaBraga (iStock)

The Choptank, a new upscale seafood restaurant in Baltimore, has pissed off a lot of people with its dress code, which specifies the following:

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The dress code and house rules are also posted on The Choptank’s website, though without the final caveat on the sign: “Management may enforce these policies within its discretion.”

It is really, really, really hard, even if you’re being charitable, not to interpret these guidelines as targeting a particular style of clothing, one particularly favored by young Black men. And that is how many have chosen to interpret it. (Hey, when that style is worn by white people who paid a lot of money for their clothes, it’s called “streetwear,” which is probably where management’s discretion comes in.)

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Management of The Choptank has claimed that it meant no offense, and that it was just conforming to the standards of the neighborhood.

The Washington Post, however, actually asked some of those restaurants about their dress codes and found this was not entirely true. Barconina, for example, has no dress code at all. “We’re casual fine dining but basically as long as you don’t come in in your pajamas, you’re okay,” a hostess told the Post. “We’ve never kicked anyone out or anything.” Bond Street only has a dress code after 10 PM on Friday and Saturday night.

The Choptank is owned by the Atlas Restaurant Group, which also owns half a dozen other upscale restaurants in Baltimore. Founder Alex Smith and his brother and co-owner, Eric, are the grandsons of billionaire developer John Paterakis Sr.; according to a profile in Baltimore magazine, Alex Smith is aware of his reputation for being “a complete jerk,” though the overall gist of that profile is that he is not.

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Anyway, that’s all beside the point, I guess. But why would you want to eat at a restaurant that has a written policy to keep other people out? The dress code at The Choptank is all about things you can’t wear. That’s not hospitality. If you’re after some appearance of elegance and decorum, why not just say, “Jacket required” and provide a collection of jackets just in case someone walked in unprepared?

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

steviexmcfly
Stevie McFly

This form of legal racial discrimination is creeping north, I see. A lot of bars in my college town (Wilmington, NC) pulled shit like this. And, unsurprisingly, it was always selectively enforced.

There were two bars across the street from each other that had Bomb Night on Wednesdays ($1 Jaeger bombs and vodka bombs, $2 domestics), and around 1 AM, most people would cross from one to the other. The first allowed anyone, no problem, as long as they were 21 (or had ID to that effect anyway). The second had a dress code.

I’d stay at the first one or go to a different bar when everyone crossed the street, but most of the time, some white girl I was talking to would try to convince me to come across the street. “There’s no way they won’t let you in with what you’re wearing,” they’d say, and occasionally, I’d go with them just to prove a point.

A sample pair of harem pants from a designer friend’s limited menswear run were considered “athletic wear.” A denim vest was considered “cutoffs,” while the shorts of half the girls inside, some white boys’ jorts, and sleeveless flannels of some rednecks were not. A teal deep V from American Apparel violated their rule against solid-color t-shirts, ostensibly to prevent people from rocking gang colors, while white boys just past the bouncer in Blood red and Crip blue shirts were apparently okay. I don’t know what mid-to-late-aughts Williamsburg set I was supposedly repping, but I was not allowed in.

The only times I was allowed in that bar were two film wrap parties and times I was brought in by white colleagues who knew the owners and/or bouncers. It was a garbage bar anyway, but I’m still upset it was allowed to discriminate that way on principle.

Other bars had similar policies on paper, but bouncers were unwilling to enforce them or, at the very least, were willing to let us go to our cars and change or remove whatever the offending garment or accessory was (and usually apologized and shit-talked the owners’ bigotry). That one, though, was basically a white supremacist nightclub whose values people were willing to ignore because the town was 75% white.