By Liz Brazile
With new developments and fancy concept bars popping up on street corners in OTR every month, it can be hard to remember that the neighborhood wasn’t always frequented by a majority of young professionals garbed in Ralph Lauren and Sperry Top-Siders. What was once largely regarded as a local wasteland following the 2001 riots is now an epicenter for commercial entertainment with an urban twist. But just who is included in said entertainment has become a troubling question for some Cincinnati residents.
Treehouse Patio Bar, only open since the end of May, is under fire after allegations of having racially discriminatory dress code policies were widely shared on Facebook last weekend. Treehouse currently has a 1.9 star rating on their Facebook page as result of the backlash.
Courtenay Summers, 24, says she and a group of guy friends went out last Saturday with hopes of joining in on the fun they’d heard about at Treehouse. They were also enjoying one last hoorah with friend, Keita Arthur before he’d leave for the Air Force. Summers, the first to be screened was allowed entry. However, she says as Arthur approached the door, the bouncer on duty told him that because of his necklaces—one plain, gold link chain and one Jesus piece, both resting at chest level—he wouldn’t be allowed to enter.
At the time, no dress code was posted for public viewing at the bar, nor was it listed on any Treehouse web pages, Summers says. Treehouse co-owner Zac Costa has since released a press statement in which the dress code is stated as follows: “No weapons, no white t-shirts, no sagging pants, no oversized necklaces, no basketball shorts, no poor personal hygiene or dirty clothing.”
Following the encounter, Summers took to Facebook to voice her concerns to Treehouse staff, advising them to make their dress code accessible to the public: “Will there be the adding of a dress code that is clear and posted that all entering and paying customers may follow? Or is that based just on skin tone and how you’re feeling that day?” Summers asked on the Treehouse business page.
The Treehouse administrator responded: “Sweetie, your guy set you up on a wild goose chase, we are here for everybody to kick it and have a good time. If everybody knew how to dress there wouldn’t be a dress code…,” via the Treehouse business page. The comments have since been deleted and the employee who responded on the thread has been terminated, according to a comment made by the Treehouse Facebook account:
One of many one-star reviews that came pouring in on the Treehouse business page following last weekend’s events.
In a similar but unrelated version of events, Matthew Williams, 26, and friend Javier Baynes were also denied entry by Treehouse door staff last weekend after allegedly being told their look was “too urban”, which Treehouse denied in the press release:
One of several public posts made by Williams following his experience at Treehouse.
“There was a feeling of shock,” Williams says of the initial encounter. “I felt like maybe I’m in the wrong, maybe I’m overreacting.” People who initially responded to his posts regarding the incident questioned whether or not Williams was upset simply because of routine dress code enforcement, he says. However, once photos surfaced of people wearing items stated as being against the Treehouse dress code policy at the bar surfaced, Williams says the responses changed.
The outpour of support on his Facebook posts regarding the incident made him realize that there was a deeper issue, he says. “They start all these bars and restaurants and then treat you funny because you’re of a darker hue.” Treehouse, however, says that the bar “will never employ anyone with racist or hateful ideals” and that staff is “deeply saddened that this situation on social media ever occurred.”
Gabriel Deutsch, local hospitality consultant and former Queen City Radio co-owner, has been a witness to calculated discrimination in the bar and restaurant industry, especially through dress codes. “It’s just common knowledge what it is that we’re attempting to achieve with dress codes,” Deutsch says. “They’re clearly designed to keep people of a certain socioeconomic strata from patronizing your establishment. Racism and prejudice is so engrained in our society that a lot of us don’t even realize when we’re doing it.”
Current Queen City Radio owner and operator, Lousia Reckman says she made it a point to discourage her employees from profiling patrons from the inception of the 9-month-old bar. “We opened our business and trained our staff with the awareness of the gentrifying neighborhood around us, and with the commitment to serve every person who enters our bar with equality and kindness,” Reckman says.
Queen City Radio also took to Facebook to address concerns about inclusion in the OTR bar scene.
The owners of Treehouse could not be reached for direct comment.