CHICAGO — The owner of Wicker Park's Swig Bar has fired the bouncer accused of turning away a black man last weekend because of a dress code issue and apologized for the incident.
Josh Brown, Swig's owner, said he was at the bar Saturday night but was not working near the door where the incident occurred. Brown found out about the incident Sunday when he woke up and read Will Lyles' account of being turned away in a Google review.
Lyles and David Teeghman, of East Garfield Park, were out with a third friend on Saturday night when they decided to stop by Swig, at 1469 N. Milwaukee Ave. They were at the door when a bouncer told Lyles, who is black, he couldn't come in because he was wearing a white T-shirt, violating the bar's dress code.
Lyles was kept out, even after pointing out white patrons with white T-shirts already in the bar, Lyles and Teeghman said. Swig does not have a dress code posted on its website or Facebook page, and the friends said they did not see one outside the bar.
"This is the first time for me," Lyles said of the bar's actions. "It just felt like I was subhuman or something like that."
Brown said that after reading the Google Review, "I immediately took screenshots and texted my doorman. He said it was a white tank top [that Lyles wore]. To us, it's an undershirt."
Brown denied Lyles wasn't admitted because of his race, but said he has fired the bouncer and apologized for the incident, which he called a "misunderstanding."
Brown, who has owned Swig since 2006, when he took over the former Ginbucks, emphasized the bar attracts a diverse crowd. He also said the bar has employed African-American bartenders, bouncers, DJs and a kitchen manager.
"I don't advocate for racism in any form," Brown said.
Lyles said he was wearing a white V-neck shirt — not a tank top — and others inside the bar wore similar clothing.
On Saturday, Lyles said he saw a man in a white shirt get into the bar before the three friends got to the door. And when the bouncer stopped Lyles, a friend of his pointed to white men in the bar and told the bouncer, "That guy's wearing a white T-shirt. That guy's wearing a white T-shirt," Teeghman said.
The bouncer told the three those men had been allowed in before he started working, Teeghman and Lyles said. When Lyles asked to speak to a manager, the bouncer ignored him, Lyles said.
"This was just an arbitrary dress code that was being enforced because Will was black," Teeghman said. "The policy is in place to discourage ... black men from going into these establishments."
The three left without getting in to Swig, Teeghman said, and they were "pretty upset."
Lyles and Teeghman have written about the incident in posts on Facebook, Google and Yelp.
Lyles originally said he hoped to receive an apology, and Teeghman wanted Swig to agree to drop its dress code.
"It's a ridiculous dress code. [It] only exists so they have an excuse to discriminate against black people," Teeghman said.
Lyles said he has never before experienced a problem with a bar, and no other bar they visited that night had problems with his shirt.
There was at least one black patron at the bar the night the men were turned away, according to a person who was at the bar at the time. On Tuesday night, when a reporter stopped by twice, there were about a dozen people in the bar, and the crowd included people who were black, Asian, Latino and white.
Brown told DNAinfo that Saturday was the bouncer's first night on the job and he wishes the bouncer had come to grab him so the issue could have been discussed face-to-face and not via online reviews.
He said hopes to meet with Lyles.
"He's welcome to come in here anytime. Ask for me in person. I'll get him an appetizer, we'll talk," Brown said.
Brown said he's in the process of responding to Lyles' online reviews — and says he apologized for the incident — and said he will create a formal dress code and post it on the bar's door.
"No tank tops, no pajama pants, no socks with slippers," he said.
Brown said he does not want anyone to feel uncomfortable in his bar, especially during this climate where "the alt-right is contributing to racial tensions."
Other bars have come under fire for their dress codes in recent months: The Bottled Blonde's lengthy dress code was slammed as "racist" and gained national attention, and a trans person was denied entry to PRYSM over the bar's dress code and was allegedly mocked by a bouncer earlier this year. About a year ago, Crocodile banned face and neck tattoos.