Updated with more allegations. See the end of the item.
Last Wednesday, 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.
We 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. Both sides had obviously radically different tales to tell.
The bar's management said it was told a few days before that a small party of only 20 would be coming in on Tuesday night, 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 stated to us on Wednesday afternoon.
At a bar as small and generically genteel as Hudson, on a Tuesday night, this is a recipe for disaster.
The story from the Hudson folk goes that once the crowd hit extreme capacity and Hudson couldn't handle the rush, they decided to shut down early, at 11 p.m., an hour earlier than their quoted last call tolling at midnight on Tuesdays.
This was contradicted by the posting on the Hudson website and on Yelp, which lists 2 a.m as their usual closing time on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Sundays are noted as early nights, closing at midnight. This was an oversight according to Hudson management, which claims that the listed times were incorrect. The sites have still not amended the hours.
Thompson told us that the owner, Adam Kliebert, made the call to shut down the bar early due to the crowd, not because they were scary black people, but because his bar couldn't handle the business. He further stated there were verbal complaints in regards to the closing, but that no one got violent or outwardly aggravated, aside from the understandable frustration. Most of the party would later move on to The Flat off Commonwealth to finish out the night.
In the wake of the incident, CultureMap's Caroline Gallay spoke with Kliebert, who defended himself from racist accusations by saying "My fiancée is Latina. I am not a racist person and I had nothing to do with the booking of this party. How can I be racist if I'm marrying a Latin girl?"
CultureMap's coverage of the incident was surprisingly straightforward, considering how much the site's team had trumpeted the opening of the bar for the past few months, even going as far as proclaiming in the late fall "like a Palm Spring mirage, the bright-eyed Hudson Lounge has emerged as the Rice Village warehouse district's den of all things posh."
KRIV's Emily Akin gave Kliebert a laughable cellphone browbeating on camera with a patron from Tuesday night. Kliebert and his staff went into damage control mode with Facebook apologies and the usual words of regret everywhere else on every channel of social media. You can read their epic-size apology here.
Everyone who was at the bar and the abruptly canceled party repeatedly pleaded on social media and even to this writer that they were "upscale black patrons" and thus were not to be of any trouble to Hudson. That in itself seems awfully backhandedly racist, coming from the very people who are alleging racism.
One commenter, named JS, says "The owner just saw black people. What the owner was too stupid to realize is that about 20% of the black people there that night were lawyers. Some are even partners in law firms."
That very well may be, but that in itself is a tick inflammatory. If they were black postal workers or bike messengers, would it have made it more understandable to shut the bar down? No, because it would still be racist, their vocations not withstanding.
On Wednesday, Hair Balls came across a flyer for the event, which doesn't quite match with the party planners' official line to Hudson that only 20 people were to show up at the soiree. It lists five promoters, a claim of no cover and no line, and even lists a number to text in your RSVP.
If you are planning a small event with a dozen and half people, you don't make a flyer like that unless you are planning something much bigger in scope. Take it from someone who works with party planners and bands: if you put out a flyer, it's for maximum draw and effect.
At the end of the day the whole incident seems to Hair Balls to be a big ball of misunderstanding wrapped in a juicy layer of hurt feelings. Hudson Lounge and the party planners both seem to be at a stalemate. As of this time, Hudson has made their apologies and seems to be going about business as usual, judging from their Facebook. Hudson Lounge, to use the parlance of the Houston drinking scene, is a yuppie bar. It's an outgrowth of the Washington Avenue and Midtown drinking scene, not unlike the kinds of bars this author covered in early 2010 for a feature on Washington's new booze boom.
Just less than a month ago our own Shea Serrano visited Hudson for his weekly nightlife column and gave it glowing reviews.
To break this all down realistically to brass tacks, it's an upscale "white" bar trafficked by predominantly upper to middle-class Caucasian drinkers and a smattering of professionals of all creeds and colors on a good night.
Sure, in theory it's bad that Hudson has that rep, but it's only discriminatory and curious to people who aren't a part of its preferred crowd, or better yet, the crowd that its usual patrons would prefer not to spend time with.
If you are part of the "in" crowd, none of this matters to you, and a typical upscale bar, akin to Hudson, would prefer to keep you happy and dishing out hundreds of dollars on bottle service and expensive martinis, rather than have you worried about interlopers distressing your evening. Hair Balls used to know plenty of people who in their own words "felt safer" drinking around white people, away from men "hollering" at you.
There is in fact a dress code at Hudson, a sense of decorum held in check by the door staff, and this not a new thing in Houston. Bars have been shutting people out for their dress and keeping internal quotas since everyone can remember. It's a sad fact of nightlife, but it's a fact nonetheless. You raise drink prices, keep a strict dress code, put a valet out front, and you will regulate who and what comes in to your bar without getting into a sticky racist jam.
Certain bars in town will not admit patrons with baggy clothes, tattoos on the hands or neck, under the age of 25, and some may even advise you wear a collared shirt. One bar prefers that if you are a male, you bring comely girls with you. This is the business owner's right at the end of the day, as unfair as it sounds.
This author himself and a colleague were not allowed into The B.U.S next to Toyota Center to get beers and burgers before a Taylor Swift concert because our co-worker has ink on his neck, and Hair Balls himself has work on his visible upper chest. But it is and was the bar's right to turn us away, all grumbling and protestations aside.
This incident has no doubt shed light on an ongoing, but still never-ending, nightlife fact for many who had no idea or inclination that this was occurring all over town. The fact of the matter is that it's not just the "white" bars that are doing this, it's every upscale club, from Washington's brohallas to Main's hip-hop clubs
To add a further layer of grime to this whole mess, angry commenters on the initial CM blog piece claim that Hudson reopened after the party left and was back in business until closing time early Wednesday morning.
Both sides seem to be at fault in this matter, in equal degrees, and there seems to be no clear way for a resolution.
UPDATED: We spoke with two of the names on the party flyer, Vonn Butler and Ray Odom, just minutes ago. We discussed certain aspects of last Tuesday and clarified some of the matter from their side. Needless to say, the plot has considerably thickened and gotten worse for Hudson if what Odom and Butler are saying is true.
The pair claim that they had spoken with the director at Hudson, Jarrod Klawinski, almost two weeks prior to the party to iron out details. This is contradictory to what Thompson told us. He claimed that the first he heard of the party was just two days before and they were only due to have 20 people at the party.
The pair looked over a bar calendar with the event director, and decided on a date and evening for their event. At this time the pair was told by Klawinski that the bar's capacity was 400 people and that they closed at 2 a.m., not midnight like Hudson is alleging. At this point bottle service was talked about, but the bar would not budge on prices. Hudson was told by Odom that the crowd would be "urban."
No contract was signed with Hudson for the event, because the bar claimed that since the event was on the small side, none would be needed. This in a sense absolved Hudson of having to follow through with any details in a contract, and makes 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 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.
The ordeal with the music at the party was also a sticking point. Hudson claimed they had two DJ's on staff, and that neither could work that night. Odom and Butler 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., they said, the bar owner, Kliebert, shows up. But he left without speaking to the party. The bar was then shut down and patrons were asked to leave. Odom, Butler and Thompson
and Kliebert spoke on the phone in the office at the end of the party, and the Hudson staff was unapologetic about the sudden closure.
The group says Thompson told them that Kliebert "didn't like the crowd."
"I want the truth to be out there, and that people know that bars have a checklist. What people need to see is that it doesn't matter how you dress or if you fit a criteria. You are still black," Butler says.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
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.
Click here for a further update on this story.