Bar Beat

Gaslamp Does an About-Face on Cover Charge Policy as Lease Negotiations Continue

Last night, local television station KPRC aired the results of an undercover investigation that tested whether Midtown club Gaslamp, which we have written about before, has a racist cover charge policy. The policy has been alleged by dozens of people, including attorneys Brandon Ball, Dan Scarbrough and Ken Piggee, over the past several weeks. The results were not encouraging.

KPRC divided the participants into groups by race and sent them to various clubs in Midtown. One group was all-Caucasian, one was a group of African-American women and another was made up of Hispanic women. There were also duos of African-American or Hispanic men.

No one in any of the groups was charged a cover fee visiting Midtown clubs Dogwood, Midtown Drinkery or Red Door. At Gaslamp, though, the African-American and Hispanic men were each charged a $10 cover fee. Conversely, a pair of Caucasian men not only got in for free but were given VIP access as well.

Interestingly, the Hispanic women were treated differently, too. While the Caucasian group and the black females were given free access to VIP areas, the Hispanic females were not. The three women were initially asked for a $20 cover each, and then the doorman offered them a deal and asked for $40. Bouncers at a different entrance asked for $10 for each of the Hispanic women.

Gaslamp owner Ayman Jarrah and his attorney, Tim Sutherland, continue to claim that such discrimination is based only on dress code, not race. What’s baffling, though, is that Sutherland said in his now-infamous Gaslamp statement that the club would not be charging any cover fee until October 31. So, why was one being collected at all?

“We didn’t do a cover for a couple of weeks and then we started charging a cover again. Not my doing,” said Sutherland. “It’s not like it was a secret. We just didn’t issue another statement to reverse course on that.”

That conflicts with his being quoted in KPRC’s report as saying the cover fee charge was a “mistake” and that Sutherland has “taken our matter so seriously that he’s asked those bouncers not to come back to work again.”

It also conflicts with what Jarrah wrote in a text message this morning, reiterating that the new doorman was being dismissed. “I have not been at Gaslamp for past four weeks and we [have] been changing door guys. They just do it at all night club[s] and he starts [to] do it in Gaslamp. We have to get rid of the new one, too.”

This latest chapter in the Gaslamp saga led us to wonder: What about Jarrah’s claims that he wanted out of the club? In a phone interview on September 24, 2014, he said, “I am looking to meet with the landlord today to see if he will buy me out or let me sell the business. I want to step out of the whole business.”

That effort is, in fact, proceeding, but it’s going to take some time. According to Harris County Appraisal District records, the Gaslamp building at 2400 Brazos is owned by Clifford Kitten Family Limited Partnership. Clifford Kitten is a local thoracic and cardiac surgeon. He didn’t want to discuss the Gaslamp issue, and referred us to the partnership’s manager, Darrin Winner.

Winner says that Jarrah has indeed attempted to get out of the lease, but not in a way that is acceptable to the partnership. He says the matter is now being handled by an attorney, and he could not discuss any details. We asked for the attorney’s contact information and Winner declined to provide it, asking if he could talk with the attorney first and have him get in touch. We’ve not yet heard from the attorney, but will post an update if we receive a statement.

Sutherland says, “Ultimately, in a lease like this one, the landlord has discretion in deciding whether you can bring a new buyer in to assume the existing lease term. No one is going to buy your business if they can’t also assume your lease, because then they have to renegotiate with your landlord.” Sutherland claims there are several parties in both Houston and Austin who are interested, but “it’s not like selling an iPhone on Craigslist.” Negotiations are going to take some time, and ultimately it will be up to the landlord as to whether another tenant will be accepted.

A change in ownership at 2400 Brazos will likely make people happier, such as“Shelby N.” who posted this review on Yelp this morning:

“I'm disgusted by their racist staff members. This past Saturday (10/17/2015) a group of friends and I (Vietnamese, 3 Hispanics, and 1 Caucasian) were charged a $10 cover after 3 Caucasian women skipped us in line and were allowed in free. We weren't wearing any clothing that didn't comply with their dress code. No such thing as equality at this crappy place.” 

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook