San Antonio bar defends dress code after activist tweet called it out

Downtown bar defends dress code after passerby tweeted a photo of politics and called it “racist”.

Kimiya Factory, 23, was walking near the intersection of Alamo and 8th Street on January 13 when she came across the sign outside Bentley’s Beer Garden. The sign reads: “No sagging pants or shorts. No durags or wavy caps allowed.”

Factory is an activist and the executive director of Black Freedom Factory, a local organization dedicated to cultivating racial equity in San Antonio. She said it was important for her to share an image of the dress code because it targets specific dress styles commonly associated with black culture.

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“Bars are places people should be able to go to have fun and relax,” she said. “This type of sign further marginalizes its patrons who walk into this bar looking for a safe experience of racism.”

Bar and restaurant dress codes, however, are legal, though some consider them racially insensitive. A local law professor said that as long as an establishment enforces the dress code for all races, it is not breaking the law.

“If a company uses a dress code as a pretext for racial discrimination and then refuses to serve a minority customer, that would be illegal,” said Bill Piatt, a law professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law.

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It is not uncommon for establishments to have a dress code. “No shirts, no shoes, no service” is one of the most common policies customers see posted. Some upscale restaurants require customers to wear more formal attire.

One of the beer garden’s managers, EJ Rodriguez, said the establishment would not remove the sign because he felt it was unacceptable for customers to slump.

The bar has a similar dress code to its North Side location. Rodriguez said Hispanics, blacks and whites are the main clientele downtown, and all are frequently asked to follow the dress code.

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“We’re not racist by any stretch of the imagination, we just don’t want that in our bars,” he said, adding that he wore caps and durags. He says they are meant to be worn at night.

“They’re not made for going out to the club or for wearing in public,” he said.

Factory said durags and wavy caps are protective styles that black people wear in their daily lives and believes the bar’s dress code is “clearly discriminatory in its nature.” She said she was surprised that dress codes exist in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and events in recent years that have highlighted racial inequality in the United States.

“While pant sag is not exclusive to the black community, it is still associated with those negative and harmful archetypes that black people are forced to identify with,” she said.

Factory’s tweet, which received 133 likes and 64 retweets, received a mixed reaction. Some called the sign “disgusting”, while others said the dress code wasn’t a big deal.

Piatt said the best way for people to object to dress codes they find offensive is to do business elsewhere.

Establishments across the country have faced similar criticism.

A bar in Birmingham, Alabama, canceled her dress code two years ago and apologized after receiving backlash. AL.com reported that the bar banned athletic singlets, cargo pants, construction boots, skull caps, bandanas and clock necklaces.

After a fight at a bar in Buffalo, New York, last year, its owner established a dress code on the advice of his security team. Among the items of clothing prohibited by the dress code were hoodies, excessive or oversized jewelry, bandanas worn by men and clothing that was too baggy, according to the Buffalo News.

The policy was heavily criticized on social media, and the owner acknowledged it as “offensive” and ended it, the Buffalo News reported.

Rodriguez said the Bentley sign discouraged people from wearing the type of clothing listed on the bar’s dress code.

“They don’t come to our bar because it’s just unacceptable in today’s society. Period,” he said.

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