Bar Is Subject Of Bias Investigation

bar story continental drink specialsSimon McCormack Investigators with the City Commission on Human Rights have begun looking into an allegation of bias at the Continental bar.

The City Commission on Human Rights has begun investigating an allegation of racial discrimination against the owner of the Continental bar, who has been accused of denying admittance to African-American patrons.

The commission, which is charged with examining civil rights complaints in the city, has been looking into an allegation of bias at the bar for the past month. A spokeswoman for the commission confirmed that an investigation is underway but, citing confidentiality concerns, declined to provide any additional details.

The owner of the bar, Trigger Smith, said that he intended to cooperate fully with the commission’s investigation and denied that there was anything improper about the admittance policy at the Continental.

“There’s not a prejudiced bone in my body,” Mr. Smith said in an interview with The Local earlier today. Mr. Smith acknowledged that the commission had conducted another investigation into allegations of bias at the bar several years ago. However, he said, that case was closed. Mr. Smith, who is white, said that his own review of the bar’s policies led him to believe that there were “a fair mix of colors” in the bar.

A spokeswoman at the commission could not confirm that the earlier investigation had been closed; she added that such a step typically means that there was “insufficient evidence to prove the allegations.”

Last month, a demonstration outside the Continental drew more than two dozen protesters who complained of a pattern of discrimination in the club’s admittance policy. Several demonstrators said that they had been turned away from the bar because of an unwritten dress code.

Mr. Smith said today that he expected more demonstrations and more investigations because he plans to continue his unwritten dress code of “no baggy, saggy jeans.”

“It just so happens that more minorities wear these,” Mr. Smith said of the clothing that he does not allow in the bar. He added that he “won’t be politically correct and just let anybody” into his bar.

Mr. Smith said that he will not speak with members of the Answer Coalition, who organized last month’s protest and have planned another demonstration for Jan. 29. Mr. Smith also said that he would not comply with the coalition’s request that he post a statement opposing discrimination on Continental’s Web site, and host multicultural themed nights at the club.

Jeanette Caceres, an organizer with Answer, a protest organization named for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, said that besides the demonstration later this month, the coalition will hold a news conference on Monday at 6 p.m. outside the bar, which is located at 25 Third Avenue.

DSC_1398Meredith Hoffman Shaniqua Pippen, here during a demonstration outside the Continental bar last month, said that protests have helped to raise awareness of what she and others say are instances of bias at the bar.

Shaniqua Pippen, another protester, has also begun reaching out to the 129 members of “Boycott Continental Bar NYC,” a Facebook group pre-dating the coalition’s involvement in the issue. The group’s wall posts, dating back to January 2009, feature a raft of complaints about bias by the bar’s owner and bouncers, some of whom are African-American. “I love when the black bouncers turn me away at the door and then tries to explain to me how hard it is to be a black man,” one group member, who identified himself as Rich Reid, wrote.

Ms. Pippen said she feels December’s protest was helpful in making the neighborhood more aware of the issue, and that “it helped a lot of people who hadn’t shared their stories.”

One man, Kenneth Carew, 24, said that he was turned away from the bar in 2008 when a bouncer said, “Your people don’t know how to act when they’re not in their own environment.” Like Mr. Carew, the bouncer was African-American, he said. Nevertheless, Mr. Carew said, he was troubled by the incident.

“I hope my story shuts the bar down,” said Mr. Carew.

Mr. Smith, calling the discrimination claims “offensive” and “ludicrous,” said his door policy is actually the way his bar has survived in the competitive and turbulent East Village nightclub scene.

“I’ve been here for 19 years for a reason,” Mr. Smith said. “I run a tight ship.”