The Sexist

Young Man, There’s A Place You Can’t Go

Adams Morgan's newest bar takes "exclusive" to a new level.

When the owners of New York's Town Tavern announced a D.C. outpost of their Greenwich Village club last fall, they made sure to tout the joint's exclusivity. The bar's opening would be an "inauguration." Its spot between Bourbon and Columbia Station—formerly occupied by "Irish pub"/frat magnet Nolan's—would situate it at the "heart of the Adams Morgan Heritage Trail." The interior would be designed with "prowess." The décor would be "rustic." The televisions, "plasma."

The bar's discerning door policy [PDF] ensured that the clientele would also be top-shelf. No garden variety Adams Morgan sad sack would pass through the Town Tavern's "master craftsman" mahogany gates. In the Tavern, all men would wear collared shirts and avoid a laundry list of other gear: no hats, no visors, no do-rags, no tank tops, no cutoffs, no sleeveless shirts, no jerseys, no sneakers, and no combat boots here. Only those with two forms of government-issued photo ID would be admitted. All "rude and/or obnoxious" patrons would be ousted. No "unaccompanied groups of males" would be allowed in. And while 21-year-old women would be free to enter, only men aged 23 and up would be able to join them.

Those last couple of provisions may treat the Town Tavern's patrons to the highest level of exclusivity—discrimination. The 1977 D.C. Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in places of "public accommodation" based on, among other things, sex and age. The D.C. Office of Human Rights says it hasn't, in "recent history," fielded an age-discrimination complaint against the Town Tavern or any other D.C. bar. Neither has the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration tackled this gender-lopsided age policy. But John Banzhaf III, a District law professor who has brought suits against hairdressers, dry cleaners, and bars' "Ladies Nights" for sex discrimination, says the door policy is a clear case of discrimination. "The act says that an institution cannot base its rules upon either the desires of patrons or the stereotypical characteristics of the discriminated group," says Banzhaf. "It seems to me that this fails on both counts."

Sean Barrett, the 32-year-old general manager of Town Tavern, says that the exclusionary policy is central to the bar's success. "History has taught us that it's the packs of 21-year-old fraternity kind of guys who seem to be causing all the problems with the ambience and the scene we're trying to set," says Barrett, who came to D.C. after four years in the restaurant's New York location, which has the same policy. "We're trying to cultivate a more sophisticated, mature kind of audience. We don't want guys carving initials in the walls, making obscene comments....By and large, those guys have a very high propensity for causing trouble, and we have a very high interest in avoiding trouble."

The Town Tavern's door policies—along with its "copper bar top and antique brass fixtures"—were tested for the first time earlier this month, with an "inauguration" which preceded President Barack Obama's by four days. On the bar's opening weekend, the façade of exclusivity quickly succumbed to the power of Adams Morgan's paying crowd. IDs were not checked twice, collared shirts not even once. Groups of males roamed, unaccompanied. The hefty $125 sticker price for the opening weekend's highlight—a black-tie-optional "inaugural ball"—was disregarded; a quick survey of the packed bar found not one patron who had actually paid up. They got what they paid for: The night's promised entertainment—an appearance by "the cast of MTV's The Hills"—fizzled to rumors that only Doug Reinhardt, a late-season hired love interest in the reality show spinoff, planned to show.

Instead, men dressed in puffy superhero costumes danced with girls in party dresses to Journey's greatest hits. It was not unlike any other night along the Adams Morgan "Heritage Trail."

Barrett says the lax enforcement of the strict rules allows for exceptions to the stereotype of the neighborhood's young men. "If a well-dressed, well-mannered 21- or 22-year-old male comes to the door, they'll be admitted," says Barrett. In his time with the Town Tavern, Barrett has fielded many complaints from younger men that the rule is discriminatory. "If the complaint is issued as a polite inquiry, then we'll let them in," he says. "But loud, obnoxious complaints—an individual yelling at [a bouncer] about being 21 or 22 with any elevation of their voice or their body mannerisms—that's the kind of attitude we're trying to stop right at the door." Although it's breaking its own rules with a wink and a nudge, the Town Tavern may still be defying the D.C. Human Rights Act's higher order. It doesn't matter that the bar may have yet to turn away its first 21-year-old male. The act also makes it unlawful to "print, circulate, post, or mail" any "statement, advertisement, or sign" that indicates that "an individual's patronage of, or presence at, a place of public accommodation is objectionable, unwelcome, unacceptable, or undesirable."

Despite the quibbles from male patrons and human rights experts, Barrett says the rule's female proponents far outweigh its detractors. "We hear nothing but rave, rave reviews from women," says Barrett. "They seem to feel much safer in that environment—they're less threatened than the alternative, which is being accosted by those 21-year-old just-out-of-college guys. From a female perspective, we've heard of a lot of loyalty to the location for that reason." Charlotte, a 26-year-old Adams Morgan resident who hit the Tavern on the bar's opening weekend, was interested—if not entirely convinced—by the concept. "As far as the 'exclusivity' goes, the place still looks pretty much like Nolan's-right up to the upstairs platform where I played many rounds of flip-cup with my kickball team," she says. "I think it's great they are trying to be a more 'exclusive' bar, but putting 'Adams Morgan' and 'exclusive' in the same sentence is kind of an oxymoron," she adds. "Though, being 26 myself, it would be nice to go to a place where I don't have to deal with annoying, drunk college boys, so I don't mind if it stays that way."

But the fraternal impulse does not expire at age 23, and no collared shirt can rein in the booze-fueled indiscretions of a crowded bar. One group of men, who outdid the dress code on opening weekend with black jackets and silk ties, claimed to have gained access to the exclusive club through the "connections" of one very large, very drunk friend. The friend granted an interview before stumbling outside to labor over an ill-advised text message. "I hear you're the guy with connections," I offered. "If by 'connections,' you mean 12-inch cock, then yeah," he replied.

One unaccompanied male—who declined to be named due to a friendship with a manager's relative—said that Town Tavern's door policies were all part of a plan to make it "the classiest bar in Adams Morgan." Despite the lack of competition, the Town Tavern has yet to achieve the title. "I hate to say this, but I think they just want a reason to turn people away at the door if they want to," he says. "I'm not sure the whole 'exclusive' thing is working, though."

  • Erin Shea

    This bar sounds like date rape city. No thank you.

    There is a bar in the west village up here in NYC called The White Horse Tavern and they have all these signs saying you must be 23 or older to patronize them. I always wondered if that was legal or not. Perhaps the laws are different in New York. Nonetheless, I have drank there at the age of 22 so maybe they don't enforce it.

  • GJF

    Please tell me the photo above is not from this bar. Exclusivity in a plastic cup??? My not so 21 year old self will not darken that bar's doorstep.

  • stephanie

    NY civil rights law also says that this type of stuff is illegal too. there have been a bunch of cases won saying that bars cant have ladies night or apply different rules to different groups of people.

  • Kat

    Pudgy, slope-shouldered, French-cuff wearing, cubicle-jockey poseurs? No, thank you.

  • MS

    Kat - You forgot to mention that awesome Blackberry holster he's got clipped to his belt. HOTTT

  • Proof Reader

    Exclusive but not elite. "No College ID Excepted Ever..." so college IDs are always accepted because there is always an exception for them?

  • monkeyrotica

    Isn't it a good thing that we know where these people congregate? They're providing a valuable public service. Now, they just need to bolt the doors when they reach capacity and set the place on fire.

  • Jim D.

    Hey, I'll grant you pudgy, slope-shouldered, cubicle-jockey, and poseurs, but don't hate on French cuffs! That fat douchebag is going to look terrible no matter what he wears - even shirts that fit, which that one obviously doesn't.

  • Glen

    Sounds like douchebag central! City Paper, thanks for crossing this bulls**t place off my list.

  • Glen

    So let me get this straight: If I'm going to meet a buddy there, I can't get in the door unless I'm "accompanied" by some talent?

  • Hill Rat

    Do people still go to Adams Morgan?

  • Rob

    Fratboy Exclusivity and Adam's Morgan? Oxymoron of the year indeed. Another bunch of good ol' boys from the South trying to start something new....sounds like date rape city indeed.

  • Max

    Why is everyone hating on this establishment? It's true what the BLINK preached, no one likes you if you're 23!

  • J

    Yeah, everyones being so negative. Try it out and then come back and bitch. Personally, as a guy, I dont want to deal with snot nosed 21 year olds looking for fights. whats wrong with keeping riff raff out? How can you say date rape central when they prefer guys come with girls rather than as a mob by themselves?

  • Tito

    Sounds like another AM jerk-off palace.
    Crappy plywood paneling badly stained a mahogany color does not make it "exclusive" just makes it another tacky place put up by an out-of-towner making a quick buck on dim-witted frat boys.

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  • Francesco Sinibaldi

    Something new in my heart.

    I'm going to
    believe that
    everything shines
    in the light
    of a footprint,
    with a loving
    desire, in the
    sound of the

    Francesco Sinibaldi

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  • JR

    1. Hey, CityPaper: It's "rein in," not "reign in."

    2. Hey, Erin Shea: It's "have drunk," not "have drank."

    3. Yes, French cuffs worn with anything less than black tie (or white tie) are in fact the mark of the douchebag--along with the pinky ring and the monogrammed cuff.

    Kind of funny that this bar wants to capitalize on the reality that Adams-Morgan has become the regionally agreed-upon spot for all the young, drunken idiots to congregate--and yet wants to exclude the very same. A-M's reputation for violence will probably keep people over the age of 25 from going there at night in any significant numbers for a long time.

    At the same time, I see no legal problem with the age limit (though I'm no lawyer). The federal ban on age discrimination only applies to people in the protected age range--which I think starts at around age 50. A quick glance at the DC law seems to indicate that it applies only to specific categories like employment and housing.

  • Amanda Hess

    Thanks for the copyreading, JR. The real lawyer I did consult gave the opinion that the age limit discriminated by both sex and gender. If you take a quick glance at the D.C. Human Rights Act, which I linked you to above, you'll find those two categories both protected under "public accommodation."

  • Charlotte

    I am SO LATE in the game, I just read this. Great article Amanda :) I have not returned to the Town Tavern since that fateful "inaugural" ball. How has the place been lately? Have they stood by their door policy?

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  • J

    Town taverns door policy still exists. But its a total 180 from when this article was written. Its actually not a bad place to go. I enjoy it!