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Wicker Park Bar Owner Apologizes After Black Man Turned Away In Dress Code Controversy

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 16, 2017 2:33PM

Swig / Google Maps

A black man says he was denied entry to a Wicker Park bar this weekend because of what he was wearing—a plain white T-shirt—even though he and friends could see white patrons inside the bar also wearing white tees. The owner of the bar, in speaking with Chicagoist, apologized profusely for the incident and said the doorman who was on duty no longer works at the bar.

William Lyles, 25, and two friends went to Swig (1469 N. Milwaukee Ave.) at around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night. But Lyles—who was wearing a white shirt and cargo shorts—was told he couldn’t enter due to his top. Lyles’ roommate pointed out to the doorman that multiple white people in the bar were dressed similarly. "They got here before I started,” the bouncer said, according to David Teeghman, a friend of Lyles who was present at the time. Lyles also told Chicagoist he saw another man in a white shirt enter about “30 seconds before” he was turned away. Lyles said he asked to see a manager but was ignored. He later described the bar as being “extremely racist” over the episode.

Photo provided
“It was the first time I ever experienced anything like that. I’ve never been denied from any bar,” he said.

“I’m a simple man, I don’t ask for much. I just ask to be treated equally,” he added.

Lyles and Teeghman both posted negative online reviews or tagged Swig in posts about the incident but neither had heard back directly from the bar, aside from an earlier Google review reply in which Swig management said it would review security takes and "take the necessary disciplinary action" if necessary, Lyles said.

Swig owner Josh Brown apologized in speaking with Chicagoist later in the week. He said it was the doorman’s first day and he had been instructed to not allow people wearing undershirt tank tops in the bar, per the dress code. Lyles said he was wearing the V-neck shirt pictured and does not own a tank top.

“I do my best to make everyone feel safe and happy. I wish this had not happened, and I wish I was [at the door] to handle it better,” said a mortified Brown, who was behind the bar during the incident. He said he plans to post a sign that states a shirt must cover 60 percent of one’s upper torso in order to avoid future incidents. The dress-code stipulation is in place to ensure that the crowd "doesn't look like it just rolled out of bed" and has no racial motivations; and Swig caters to a diverse group and employs a diverse staff, the owner said. Brown will handle Saturday night door duties himself going forward.

Brown also stressed what he said was the extreme anomalousness of the incident, having owned the bar for 12 years without any similar such controversy.

“I apologize for this and if there’s anything I can do to make [Lyles] feel welcome, he’s welcome to come here, ask for me personally and I will offer him an apology and a complimentary menu item,” he added.

The incident comes not long after another local bar's dress code fell under scrutiny: It was the comically lengthy, controversial Bottled Blonde dress code, which prohibited plain white tees, "baggie, sagging... overly flashy or bright clothing," among other clothing items. That followed high-profile dress-code incidents from last year, such as the Chance the Rapper/WhirlyBall episode and one at Parlor Pizza Bar.

Lyles said he may visit the bar within the next week-and-a-half to speak with Brown, although the episode had soured him some on the neighborhood in general.

“I have conflicted emotions.,” Lyles added. “My feelings are kind of hurt… I’m more than willing to accept his apology but I just want to make sure going forward that he does a more thorough hiring or training process. Because you’re not supposed to treat people like that.”

This post has been updated.