New rooftop bar under fire for controversial dress code

New rooftop bar under fire for controversial dress code

Novelty House's rooftop bar is a new hot spot in Charlotte, but it's come under fire for its dress code policy. Photo: Symphony Webber/Axios

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Uptown’s newest rooftop bar hummed its first weekend with cocktails and selfies, but internet reviews and social media comments tell a different story.

The big picture: After a year and a half of pandemic-related delays, Ian Jones was eager to open his dual-concept property in Uptown’s new Binaco Tower. And Charlotteans were ready, too — Axios Charlotte’s two Instagram posts on Novelty House and Havana Smoke garnered over 27,000 likes.

But from the start, the dress code caused skepticism. Now some are accusing the bars of discrimination based on who they let in and who they don’t.

Tasha McCaskiel, a Charlotte native and content creator, tells me she was excited to check out Novelty House with a few of her friends this weekend. Upon arrival, security told one of McCaskiel’s friends, who’s a Black man, he wouldn’t be allowed in wearing shorts. McCaskiel says her friend then changed into jeans, but was still denied entry.

  • McCaskiel ultimately spoke with management and was able to get her full party admitted, but only to Havana Smoke, the cigar lounge below Novelty House, where she says they received slow service and left.
  • “This is not OK,” she tells me after posting about the experience to her 9,000 Instagram followers. “Yes, you can have a dress code, but it cannot change based on how you look or your skin color.”

What they’re saying: “We’ve been open for less than a week and there’s definitely been some confusion about our dress code, so we have posted some guidelines on our website to help customers better understand our expectations,” Jones texted me in a statement on Wednesday. He didn’t respond to my request for a phone call or to any further questions via text.

havana smoke cigar lounge balcony uptownhavana smoke cigar lounge balcony uptown

Ian Jones, managing partner of Novelty House and Havana Smoke. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Others have noted on social media that not all individuals wearing shorts were turned away, and Novelty House’s own dress code does not prohibit shorts.

  • “Denied black male into location due to shorts, however let white males and females were allowed in. Unfortunately, I will never return,” Shermeca Stanton said in her Facebook review of Novelty House.
  • The rooftop bar has a 2-star rating on Facebook and 2.8-star rating on Google as of Wednesday afternoon.

Zoom out: Jones told me days prior to the August 26 opening the dress code was “smart casual,” meaning no athletic wear. On Tuesday, less than a week after opening, Jones formalized the dress code with a list of “dos” and “donts.”

  • When it comes to shorts, only “dressy shorts” are allowed.
  • If you’re going to wear sneakers, they should be “high-end” and “clean.” Additionally no “slides” or “work boots” are allowed.
  • The guidelines also state that no “baggy” or “ripped” clothing is permitted.
  • And for women, the dress code says, “Don’t wear overly-revealing outfits or exposed undergarments.”

dress code novelty house

Reality check: Dress codes — and backlash to dress codes — aren’t new for upscale Uptown bars.

  • Merchant & Trade loosened its dress code in February 2020 after feedback from guests. They still do not permit items like “flip-flops,” “baseball caps,” “sports apparel,” “work or hiking boots,” or “ripped clothing.”
  • EpiCentre nightclub Kandy Bar came under fire on social media in 2016 after it was accused of discriminatory door practices, the Observer reported. The bar had a 1.4 star rating on Facebook upon its closure during the pandemic.

“Charlotte won’t put up with it. We’re a diverse, growing city,” McCaskiel says. “I’ve lived in New York, and I’ve lived in LA … I can go out in (those cities) and not have a problem.”

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