Dress codes and discrimination: A night in OTR

The views expressed in the following article are the opinion of the writer and do not reflect the opinions of the Newswire staff.


How many of you are aware that some bars enforce dress codes? How many of you have to be aware that bars enforce dress codes? I was aware that bars like this exist in big cities such as Chicago and New York but had no idea that some bars in Cincinnati actually turn away patrons based on what they are wearing.

Rules posted at the door can forbid ripped jeans, hats/bandanas/do-rags, baggy pants, sleeveless shirts, work boots, excessive gold jewelry and white shirts. Sounds ridiculous, right? Most of us wear white shirts and ripped jeans multiple times a week. These rules are made to keep “trouble” out but directly target people of color. Dress codes like these are infamous for being racist and are enforced in bars around Cincinnati.

Tree House Patio Bar is a go-to place for students and young adults because of its fun vibe, cute fairy lights and trendy swings. The bar sits in Over-the-Rhine (OTR) and gathers a significant crowd most weekends.

Over Labor Day weekend, my boyfriend had friends visiting, and when they asked where to go, we excitedly suggested Tree House since we had never been before. To get into the bar, one must go through a bouncer who pats down patrons before letting them in. It wasn’t until we were ready to be admitted when we saw the dress code posted. This dress code excluded a wide variety of clothing and accessories, all of which would be commonly seen in an urban area like OTR. Even then, we didn’t truly see the dress code until one of my friends was stopped for having a white shirt on. Stunned, we started arguing that it was a nice white shirt paired with black jeans and Chelsea boots — an outfit that is in style right now. The bouncer was firm, and as we stepped aside to figure out our next option, we watched as the bouncer admitted two of the men behind us who were wearing nearly the exact same outfits as our friend who was denied.

There was no difference between the quality of their white shirts, their age or gender. The only difference between them was that the men who got in (and weren’t patted down by the bouncer) were White while my friend was Black. Dress codes are meant to do one thing, and that is discriminate based on skin color.

Racism is nothing new, and things like this happen all the time. The reality is that the least dangerous thing to happen to a person of color is get denied from a “trendy” bar. Tree House Patio Bar is hurting the community around it and further gentrifying an area facing poverty. This is not an isolated case, either. In 2017, the bar caught heat right after its opening weekend after publicly being accused of having a racist dress code. Since then, members of the community have made more accusations, and more people have been turned away because of petty rules that target Blacks and Latinos.

Why do we still tolerate this? As a White woman, I know how easy it would be to ignore the existence of the dress code and walk right in since it does not directly affect me. I encourage every one of you not to do that, though. There are plenty of places to go to that don’t support discrimination like this. As mentioned, my friend’s incident was not an outlier, and it is not something that should surprise anyone.

We cannot keep giving places that are blatantly racist a pass. We cannot keep supporting systemic racism because it may not affect us. We need to have serious discussions as to why these dress codes are racist, and a larger conversation needs to continue as to why people of color are vilified in so many spaces. Be aware of what is happening around you and in the city you live. Dress codes are a tiny component of the racism that occurs daily, but it is one that we should make ourselves aware of.

Do not blind yourself with comfort. Do not give prejudice a pass so that you can enjoy yourself.


Kate George is a senior communications major from Akron, Ohio. She is a guest writer for the Newswire.