Off Limits

Nashville Scene, September 14, 2006

The Velvet Rope Has Come to Nashville. Sort of. On the Rocks, a bar on Demonbreun, has instituted a new dress code banning those who are wearing certain brands of clothing. The brands, which represent what fashionistas would call “urban wear,” are some of the biggest names in hip-hop fashion: Southpole, Ecko, Enyce, Phat Farm, Fubu, etc. These threads tend to be worn extremely baggy and saggy and are also the uniform of urban and suburban rap-gangsta wannabes and, in some cases, real-life gang bangers.

The managers of the place say that the new dress code is meant to keep the “thug and gang” element out of their bar so that they can keep fights and stabbings to a minimum. “We don’t want bandanas, guns or knives,” says Jeff Ponchilla, one of the managers at On the Rocks. “We want a safe, party atmosphere.”

But at least one group of Nashvillians has taken umbrage with the new rules. When a crew of Vanderbilt Law School students went to the bar last weekend, a number of black students in the group refused to enter on the grounds that the sign was racist. It’s true that these clothing labels are heavily marketed toward black consumers. FUBU, one of the banned labels, is actually an acronym that stands for For Us By Us. We’re pretty sure that by “Us” they don’t mean country music fans. The law students complained to the management, who refused to take down the sign.

Ponchilla insists that since the new rules have been in effect, it’s mostly “white thugs” who have been refused entry. “We’ve kept way more white guys out than black,” he says. “By far.”

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Although dress codes aren’t all that common in Nashville’s laid-back scene, East Coast clubs from Miami to New York often have dress restrictions that are nearly identical to the ones posted at On the Rocks.

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