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Uptown nightspots accused of being racist ... again 

 (Editor's Note: As of Tuesday, Aug. 10, Therapy Cafe is reportedly closed. More here:  

Feb. 1, 2006, Creative Loafing published an article titled "Party Politics," which examined if nightclubs, bars and lounges in Uptown Charlotte were welcoming to people of all races. Now, a little more than four years later, the question of a racial divide in center city nightspots has been thrust into the spotlight again.

It started when Kirk Brown, CEO of the African-American-owned promotion company Six Figure Entertainment, sent out an e-mail on July 29 accusing Therapy Café, a downtown restaurant/bar, of "racial profiling." Six Figure Entertainment and Therapy entered into an agreement last month that would allow Brown's company to host events at the restaurant on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The e-mail stated in part: "We've ... become aware of an undertone of racial insensitivity to the patrons of SFE as noted by many of you via the automatic addition of 20% gratuity to your bills." Brown said his allegations stem from the fact that a manager at the cafe told him one Saturday night that Therapy was adding a 20-percent gratuity to patrons' bills because "black people don't tip."

Adam Rees, general manager of Therapy, said a gratuity was added, but not because of race. "A lot of our servers were quitting because of inadequate tip percentages ,and we wanted to say: 'Hey, on nights when you guys are going to do an event for us, let's see if we can do a gratuity,'" Rees said.

Brown tells a different story.

"[At] our customer appreciation event ... This is where everything blew up. This was our third week with Therapy ... we had already talked about the 20-percent gratuity. And the night of the event, the manager came to me and said: 'We're going to add 20-percent to everyone's bill because the waiters aren't getting tipped,'" he said. "I said: 'People tip on service, and if your service is not right, you're going to get tipped on that.'"

Jason Stone, co-owner of Therapy, said after two meetings with Brown where he'd stormed out and said he wasn't going to work with Therapy any longer, they decided to go in another direction. "Within an hour of that conversation, we'd been labeled as racist. It is a sickening feeling to read this," said Stone. "It makes me physically ill to see that someone is calling my business racist. That is the last thing in the world I would ever tolerate in my business. If there was even a whisper that someone acted this way, they would be immediately terminated."

The owners of Therapy fired back quickly on the Internet, posting on their website: "Therapy Café has recently been made aware of some e-mails going around from Six Figure Entertainment claiming that management has 'an undertone racial insensitivity.' This is completely untrue."

The battle between Six Figure Entertainment and Therapy — which, according to local news website, is facing a lawsuit for breach of contract from another promoter, Christopher Dennis, who'd rented the restaurant for an event during the CIAA Basketball tournament — highlights an issue that many African-Americans say they face when going out in Uptown.

Tiffany L. Jones, owner of Digital Divas, a promotion company with a black professional following, said it's not easy getting into Uptown clubs.

"What's interesting about Charlotte is that these venues don't want to deal with African-Americans when they first open and things are going well," Jones said in an e-mail to CL, "but when things start to go downhill, they are quick to call the African-American promoters to come pack the place out so they can make some money before they shut down!"

Uptown clubs like Suite in the EpiCentre claim that they don't turn anyone away because of race. "If you've ever seen our crowd on any night, we've got a great diversity of membership," said Jim Kleinberg, operating partner at Suite.

But, Kleinberg said, it's more than likely someone's attitude and not their race will keep them out of Suite. "You can have twin brothers wearing identical clothes at the door," he said, "and one gives the door guy a hard time, and he won't get in. As opposed to the guy who asks, 'Hey, sir, how long is the line?' and he gets let in for being a nice guy."

Event promoter Kelley Eaves said clubs in Uptown seem to have the wrong impression about black partygoers. "Charlotte is full of professional, young single minorities ... and we like to go out and have a good time."


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