Local News

Bar manager accused of racial discrimination at another Raleigh club

Posted June 22, 2012 10:04 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2012 4:09 p.m. EDT

— Allegations of racially discriminatory practices at a downtown Raleigh bar are nothing new to the man who allegedly put a 21-year-old black patron in a headlock and removed him from the bar last weekend.

Todd Chriscoe, general manager of The Downtown Sports Bar and Grill on Glenwood Avenue, was the subject of a 2001 WRAL Investigates story, which looked into membership and dress code policies at a private Raleigh club on West Street.

At the time, Chriscoe co-owned The Office, which billed itself as an upscale dance club with a strict dress code policy. One thing expressly prohibited by the club: FUBU clothing, a fashion line targeted primarily to African Americans.

Four months after The Office opened, WRAL Investigates sent one white couple and one black couple, both wearing nearly identical outfits, to try to get into the club, which closed in 2009.

The white couple, who said they didn't have a membership, were admitted and told by the doorman that they could get a membership inside the door. The black couple, however, was told that they couldn't come in and that memberships could only be obtained during daytime hours with three full days required for processing.

When confronted about the disparity, Chriscoe said it had nothing to do with race.

"You guys are trying to make it out to be a racist thing and we're not racist at all," he said in 2001. "What we are is an extremely private club, and we hammer people on the dress code because we want to have a very upscale, nice environment."

The Office later released a statement saying their club was a "virtual melting pot of members."

"What we tell our door people is to not let anyone in that their wife or girlfriend would not feel comfortable standing next to at the bar," the statement said. "Is this discrimination? Possibly it is."

Fast forward to the early morning hours of June 17, 2012, when a 21-year-old graduate assistant at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill claims he had a run-in with Chriscoe at The Downtown Sports Bar and Grill.

Jonathan Wall alleges that he and a friend went to the bar early Sunday morning and that they were initially told they couldn't go in because the bar required a membership.

Once inside, Wall says, he was quickly confronted by Chriscoe, the bar's general manager, who told him he had to "buy a drink or leave."

Wall says there were no other black patrons in his vicinity. When he explained that he was waiting for his friend to use the restroom, he says, Chriscoe put him in a headlock and forced him out of the bar.

"It was shock, more than anything," Wall said in a news conference Friday. "It was like one of those feelings, like, 'Is this really happening?'"

Wall said the experience was "demoralizing" and that it underscores the need for dialog about racial discrimination in the 21st century.

His allegations have sparked email and social media campaigns, and even prompted several other people to come forward saying they, too, were treated differently at the sports bar because of their race. 

The bar issued a statement Friday, denying Wall's claims.

"Mr. Wall was not roughed up or improperly treated. Mr. Wall was not the subject of racial discrimination," the statement reads.

It continues, saying that Wall "took advantage of a crowded door situation" after being told he could not enter without being a member or the guest of a member.

William Potter, the bar's attorney, says that because of its liquor license, by law, the bar is a private club that limits access to members and their guests.

Plans for a protest at the bar Saturday night have been put on hold because of safety and security concerns due to the high number of people wanting to attend.

The state NAACP has gotten involved to help Wall's supporters organize a larger protest, possibly next weekend, with thousands of expected attendees.

WRAL News spoke with Chriscoe Friday, but he declined to comment on Wall's allegations. He referred all questions to Potter.