Last Wednesday, as everyone around here was gearing up to leave for the New Year's holiday, the Houston Press Twitter page was inundated with quick terse statements from our followers calling out the chic Hudson Lounge in Rice Village for being overtly racist after a party of African-American revelers was shut down early the night before, without any warning by the management on duty at the time.
Rocks Off made a call to the bar soon after the business hit Twitter and spoke with manager Keith Thompson, and we were also in contact with a handful of partygoers through email and our personal Twitter account. Earlier today we spoke with two of the organizers of the party, Ray Odom and Vonn Butler.
Obviously, both sides had radically different tales to tell.
Hudson management said it was told a few days before that a small party of only 20 would be coming in on the night in question, December 28. Thompson said that the bar made preparations to have two bartenders and a waitress on hand to service the crowd.
As the night progressed, this promised crowd of 20 grew to at least 150 people, as Thompson told us last Wednesday afternoon. On a Tuesday night, this is a recipe for disaster at a bar as small and generically genteel as Hudson. The Houston Press' Shea Serrano gave Hudson high marks for his weekly Nightfly column not long ago. Earlier this afternoon, Serrano told us that he was not hassled during his visit, and that no one was minding the door when he went.
The Hudson folks say that once the crowd hit extreme capacity and the bar couldn't handle the rush, they decided to shut down early, at 11 p.m., an hour earlier than the stated Tuesday closing time of midnight.
To add a further layer of grime to this whole mess, angry commenters on CultureMap claim that Hudson reopened after the party left and was back in business until closing time early Wednesday morning.
We discussed certain aspects of last Tuesday with Odom and Butler, and clarified some of the matter from their side. Needless to say, if what Odom and Butler are saying is true, the plot has considerably thickened and gotten worse for Hudson.
The duo claims that they had spoke with Hudson's event director, Jarrod Klawinski, to iron out some details almost two weeks prior to the party. This is contradictory to what Thompson told us: That the first he heard of the party was just two days before, and it was only supposed to have to have 20 people.
Odom and Butler, however, say they looked over a bar calendar with Klawinski, and decided on an evening for their event. At this time, they say he told them that the bar's capacity was 400 people and it closed at 2 a.m., not midnight. (Hudson's Web site says the bar closes at 2 a.m. every night but Sunday, when it closes at midnight, and Monday, when it's closed.)
At this point, claims the pair, bottle service was talked about, but the bar would not budge on prices. Odom says he told Klawinski that his crowd would be "urban."
Both sides agree that no contract was signed with Hudson for the event, but Odom says Klawinski told him that because the event was on the small side, none would be needed. In a sense, this effectivaly absolved Hudson of having to follow through with any details that would have been contained in a contract, and also makes any potential legal action harder.
There was a private Facebook invite for the party, closed to just a few invited guests. It was not an advertised party, and the flyer (below) came from that event posting. Odom and Butler say they were "club-savvy" in regards to Hudson, and made sure to let everyone know that this was a nice club and to dress accordingly.
Music at the party was also a sticking point. Hudson claimed they had two DJs on staff, neither of whom could work that night. Odom and Butler say they asked if they could bring their own tunes on a laptop, to which Hudson agreed. Thompson even helped set up the sound, according to Odom.
At about 10 p.m., the duo said, Hudson's owner Kliebert showed up, decided he didn't like the crowd and told Thompson to close down the bar and ask everyone to leave. Odom and Butler say Hudson staff was unapologetic about the sudden closure.
"I want the truth to be out there, and that people know that bars have a checklist," Odom said. "What people need to see is that it doesn't matter how you dress or if you fit a criteria. You are still black."
The pair added that the party was made up of black professionals, some of whom were lawyers, and some who work for prominent politicians and have worked on big campaigns for those same politicos. As the pair put it, these weren't people off the street.
We asked the guys if they would ever go back to Hudson, if the bar made plans for another party or made a personal apology, to which Butler replied, "No, fuck them. At The Flat the owner showed up to help bartend when we showed up after Hudson."
"Houston claims to be this big city full of diversity, but events like this prove that maybe it's not. We all need to stand up and own up to the racism, or fight it all together," added Odom.
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Beginning Thursday afternoon, the story caught fire on social media channels of all kinds, with patrons coming out to damn the bar for its alleged racism. Channel 2's Web site posted a lengthy apology from Kliebert to those in attendance last Tuesday, and the owner has continued to apologize on Facebook for the events that transpired that evening.
What does this mean for Houston bars and clubs? Well, this is just the first shot in what will surely be a hot topic over the next year, as Houston's nightlife confronts racial standards and double standards that are often whispered about, occasionally shouted about and rarely discussed calmly, rationally and out in the open.
Rocks Off will no doubt be on top of this story and others like it in the next months.
A version of this story also ran Monday on our news blog Hair Balls.