Dress code at downtown Des Moines bar called racist
A dress code at a new downtown Des Moines bar that barred patrons from wearing clothing such as baggy jeans, plain T-shirts and construction boots is being criticized as a racist attempt to keep out minorities. Wochit
A dress code at a new downtown Des Moines bar that barred patrons from wearing clothing such as baggy jeans, plain T-shirts and construction boots is being criticized as a racist attempt to keep out minorities.
Tipsy Crow Tavern, 102 S.W. Third St., posted the dress code Sunday but removed the sign after a firestorm of criticism on social media.
The incident reignited a long-running debate over whether dress codes in Des Moines bars enforce safety and decorum or are thinly veiled attempts to discriminate against minorities.
Critics have openly questioned the reasoning behind Tipsy Crow's dress code, contending that it was targeting apparel often worn by younger African-American men.
And they say that Tipsy Crow isn't the only Des Moines-area businesses with oppressive dress codes.
“Not just downtown bars, but all bars want it both ways,” said Arnold Woods III, a 28-year-old Iowa State University graduate who is black and says he has also been denied entry to bars in the metro because of what he was wearing. “They want a young hip place, but they don’t want minorities there because if too many black men are in a bar it brings trouble.”
Tipsy Crow owner Steven McFadden said the aim of the dress code was to keep patrons at the new bar safe.
McFadden said a nearby bar closed recently after incidents of violence and complaints. Carbon at 216 Court Ave. closed this spring after the Des Moines City Council refused to renew its liquor license in part for numerous violations of serving minors.
“We all, of course, want those good customers, but some of the disruptive clientele are now being dispersed to other nearby establishments, and many of the nearby establishments have adopted similar dress codes,” he wrote in an email to the Register.
McFadden said he posted the dress code after a group of white and black men harassed other customers last Saturday.
"… Our establishment experienced an isolated incident that made several customers feel unsafe and caused a disruption in the business,” he said.
Des Moines police were not called to the bar Friday through Sunday, Sgt. Paul Parizek said.
The Des Moines Human Rights Commission has not received a complaint about the issue.
But Woods and others say the issue is not new or isolated to Tipsy Crow.
“It’s not just downtown, but all Des Moines bars,” Woods said.
He said he remembers several years ago going to a West Des Moines bar in the middle of winter. “It was 2 degrees, and I had a hat on, and they would not let me in.”
Woods said the Tipsy Crow's list of banned clothing, which includes jeans hanging below the waist, do-rags, plain T-shirts, sideways caps and sunglasses at night, seemed to be excessive. The ban also included firearms.
“It's obvious what they are trying to do,” he said.
Tony Tyler, who saw the dress code stapled to the hostess stand at Tipsy Crow Sunday and posted a picture of it on Facebook, said he thought the list of banned clothing was odd.
“Who doesn’t wear a plain T-shirt?” he asked.
“It looks like a great place, and I heard it’s the place to be right now, but I will not go to a place that targets racial groups,” said Tyler, whose job involves promoting diversity inclusion.
Des Moines has had previous run-ins over dress codes.
In 2000, Charles Lovelady died following a run-in with bouncers outside Graffiti's, 4020 Merle Hay Road. Graffiti's employees said Lovelady, a 26-year-old African-American, was thrown out of the nightclub for violating the club's policy against hooded sweatshirts.
Relatives alleged that Lovelady had been singled out because he was black. A jury acquitted Graffiti's bouncers Tom Dueber and Jeff Portman of involuntary manslaughter.
In 2001, Des Moines bar owner Larry Smithson admitted that dress codes in his Court Avenue nightclubs Generations, Papa's Planet and Big Kahuna’s were biased against blacks.
He apologized and donated $5,000 to a black-oriented scholarship fund as part of settling a class-action lawsuit.
Ako Abdul-Samad, an Iowa legislator and founder of a community agency that works with youth, said he is disappointed that Des Moines is still wrestling with the same issue years later.
"It's like we've regressed," said Abdul-Samad, who was an outspoken critic of the dress codes when Lovelady died. "We should have come far enough that this should not be happening."
Businesses have the right to enforce dress codes, he said, noting that places such as the Des Moines Embassy Club and Wakonda Club have dress codes for members.
"Let's just not do it so that it's discriminatory," he said. "The point is if you want to have a dress code, keep it generic and not just to keep individuals out."
McFadden insisted “everyone is invited to our patio restaurant." But he said it is the bar's responsibility is to make sure customers and staff are safe.
"We will do what is necessary to be proactive in this by preventing gang members and unwanted customer violence from entering our establishment," he said.
McFadden opened Tipsy Crow in mid-June.
The tavern features six indoor and outdoor bars, a 10,000-square-foot beer garden, an outdoor stage featuring local and national music acts, indoor dance floor, outdoor fire pit, weekend bloody Mary bar and breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
Several other bar owners in downtown Des Moines said they have dress codes, but they are not as extensive as Tipsy Crow’s.
The new 300 Craft & Rooftop bans gym shorts, sweatpants and white undershirts Thursday through Saturdays. It also bans bandanas and motorcycle club vests all the time.
“On the weekends, people go out to a nice establishment with more of an upscale environment and should be dressed appropriately,” said manager James Thyberg.
Joker’s bar downtown also bans gym wear, hoodies and long T-shirts.
“Our theme is dress to impress,” said Crystal Ford, president of Barmuda, the Cedar Falls entertainment company that owns Jokers, Voodoo Lounge and the Stuffed Olive in downtown Des Moines.
“We don’t turn away a lot of people,” she said.
A doorman checking to make sure patrons are of legal age also assesses patron’s clothing for appropriateness, she said.
“I don’t feel we are targeting any specific group,” Ford said. “We want to make our bars a safe environment.”
Barmuda bans clothing that is associated or is symbolic of other things or that “breeds hostility or other activities like fighting and violence,” she said.