Earlier this week, a Baltimore seafood restaurant went the not-so-great kind of viral, after photos of its dress code were posted on Twitter.
"Strictly Prohibited," The Choptank wrote in the kind of red stylized font you'd expect to see on the door of a 12-year-old's treehouse. It then listed a dozen rules and punctuated them with a disclaimer that a number of people interpreted as being discriminatory at best, flat-out racist at worst.
The Choptank said that it will not welcome excessively baggy clothing ("Pants must be worn at the waist, no shorts below the knee," it added), athletic attire, jerseys except on game days for Baltimore teams, brimless headgear, backwards or sideways hats, work and construction boots, and sunglasses after dark, among a handful of other things. At the bottom of its list of rules was the sentence: "Management may enforce these policies within its discretion."
Author and Elle magazine senior staff writer R. Eric Thomas posted a picture of the dress code, and said that he asked the restaurant to explain its "blatantly discriminatory" regulations; instead, he says The Choptank blocked him temporarily. "Honestly, rather than unblocking I was hoping The Choptank would revisit the intentions and effects of the specificity of their dress code," he wrote. "I’m even open to doing the work of explaining where this went wrong and how it can be amended."
After Thomas' tweets, The Choptank was thoroughly dragged, online and off. "But, but...if they don't have an aggressive dress code policy, how will they be able to get rid of black people without it being obvious that they're racists?" one man asked. "This is racist as hell and I will never enter your restaurant & will actively warn others away from it, have a great day," another wrote.
On Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board published a piece urging The Choptank to "immediately" scrap its already contentious rules. "Sure, the dress code doesn’t explicitly say that African Americans or other minorities aren’t welcome at the eatery," they wrote. "But the way the code is written definitely leaves the impression that is the group of patrons the Atlas Restaurant Group, owner of the crab house and several other Baltimore restaurants, is trying to target." (If you can't wear casual clothing to a crab restaurant, where can you wear it?)
The Choptank initially deflected the accusations ("We simply implemented the dress code standard that is used by several other properties in the area," it wrote) before making some very minor changes to the policy.
But the Baltimore Business Journal reports that it has since replaced the words "Strictly Prohibited" with "House Rules," it deleted that "at management's discretion" disclaimer, and it edited some of the other language, adding a religious exemption to that "brimless headgear" thing, allowing athletic wear until 10 p.m., and changing "excessively baggy clothing" to "pants must be worn at the waist."
"We're trying to keep an upscale atmosphere for our guests and we want to give them the best possible experience," Atlas Restaurant Group CEO Alex Smith said. "We're going to enforce it for everybody—it doesn't matter what race, ethnicity or creed. We're not going to budge on that." (Smith's father is Dr. Frederick Smith, a vice president and director at the conservative, unabashedly pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcast Group.)
But after making a number of potential customers feel unwelcome, they might not budge on their decision not to eat at the restaurant.