When DeAndre Upshaw was first denied entry to Kung Fu Saloon in Uptown Dallas on Sunday afternoon, he thought the bouncer was just making a joke. "I've been going to bars all my adult life, and I've never heard of a policy against high-top shoes," says Upshaw, a 26-year-old black man.
But the bouncer at the casual arcade bar was serious. Upshaw says he was told his high-top Converse sneakers were "against the dress code." This statement was especially puzzling, because several members of Upshaw's party were wearing similar shoes. The only difference? They were white.
"This is setting yourself up for failure when you have a dress code that only applies to a subset of society," Upshaw says. The issue becomes even murkier considering the dress code isn't publicly posted. "They are not having issues. They are just trying to keep out people of color."
"It's pretty funny when we live in a society where being called racist is the thing we are upset about and not the policies that are discriminating," DeAndre Upshaw says.
Upshaw is a marketing professional with thousands of contacts on social media, including this reporter. When he posted his account of the incident on Facebook, it generated nearly 100 comments, several of which detailed similar reports of racist dress code enforcement. The incident has even spawned its own hashtag, #NoKungFuDallas.
Calls and emails requesting comment from Kung Fu Saloon were not immediately returned. Upshaw says after he was turned away, he left a message about the incident with the general manager, who called him back and was upset about the allegations of racism.
"It's pretty funny when we live in a society where being called racist is the thing we are upset about and not the policies that are discriminating," Upshaw says.
The May 18 incident is far from the first allegation of racist door policies at Kung Fu Saloon, which also operates in Houston and Austin. Last summer, an African-American man reported that he was denied entry to the arcade bar in Austin because he was wearing basketball shorts. His white friend who was clad in similar attire was allowed inside.
Online reviews of Kung Fu Saloon reveal numerous allegations of selective dress code enforcement, including a Dallas man who was barred from entry due to wearing loafers without socks in May 2013.
Upshaw says he tried to be reasonable about the ever-evolving dress code, but it was clear he wasn't going to be allowed in. "It was my friend's birthday," he says. "I was trying to figure out a way to make it work."
He says the general manager offered to let his group into Kung Fu Saloon on another night, but it was too little too late for Upshaw: "I'm not coming back — ever," he says.
Around 2 pm, Kung Fu Saloon emailed the following statement:
Management of Kung Fu Saloon is currently investigating a claim that an employee of the company made an inappropriate comment to a customer trying to gain entrance to the bar wearing unacceptable attire. Management will determine whether the comment was racially motivated and if so, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken. Kung Fu Saloon is home to one of the most diverse crowds in the Dallas bar scene – a reputation that we value and cultivate. It is not the policy of Kung Fu Saloon to deny any customer entry based on race or ethnicity. Our aim, as always, is to continue to provide a fun, safe and welcoming atmosphere to anyone, in keeping with Kung Fu Saloon policies.
On May 19, one of Upshaw's Twitter followers sent along the following video from St. Patrick's Day, when a group of black men were reportedly turned away for not wearing socks.