Veteran claims discrimination after vest violates Raleigh bar's - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Veteran claims discrimination after vest violates Raleigh bar's dress code

(Source: Facebook/TVbikerdad) (Source: Facebook/TVbikerdad)

UPDATE: Rockhouse Live issued the following statement, subsequent to the original interview:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Tuesday, August 18 2015, Memphis, TN. 

Zach Bair is a veteran.  So are many of his employees, customers, former band members, and artists who perform at his restaurants and venues, RockHouse Live Memphis, and RockHouse Live Midtown. 

He was understandably shocked when he received a call and responded to an interview request by WMC on Monday stating that a customer claimed he was denied entrance to the Memphis location because he was a veteran.  WMC subsequently aired a story including statements from both the customer and Bair, but Bair decided to issue a clarification statement since the story just scratched the surface of the incident, and left a question mark about Bair’s policies.

“I got my call from my day manager stating the reporter was on-site,” said Bair, a USAF veteran who was stationed at Barksdale AFB in the early 80s.  “When she told me what it was about, I turned my car around and came directly to offer my side of the story.”

The incident in question arose when Bobby “Bullet” Lewis, who claims to be an Air Force active duty member stationed in Little Rock, and who boasts he has had “18 combat deployments,” attempted to gain entrance to RockHouse Live, 5709 Raleigh Lagrange, in Memphis, Friday, August 14th.  Bair arrived on scene just as Lewis was “screaming at the doorman” that “[he] would not f****** remove his vest for anyone!”  The doorman politely asked him to remove the biker vest or turn it inside out, in accordance with the policy of the venue since it was opened.  Instead, he spewed a few more expletives and walked out the front door.  Bair, after happening upon the altercation, was advised by the doorman that Lewis was a veteran, so Bair told the doorman he would try and calm the situation, since he himself was a veteran.

“So I go outside where Lewis and his girlfriend are getting on their bike, and, being as friendly as possible, I spoke to Lewis, introduced myself as the owner, and said, ‘hey, I understand you are a veteran too.  I’m an Air Force veteran myself.  I respect what you did for our country.  But our policy is that we don’t allow biker vests in RockHouse, and that has nothing to do with your status as a veteran.’  Instead of him calming down he proceeded to tell me he had done ‘18 combat tours’ and that I was disrespecting him by not letting him wear it.  I replied that it wasn’t about disrespect (especially since I was a veteran too), but that it was simply our dress code.  I welcomed him to come inside, just without the vest.  His response was, ‘I ain’t f****** coming in there.’  And I wished him a good night.”

Lewis then apparently contacted WMC claiming he had been discriminated against because of his veteran status.

Bair continued, “The whole ‘ridiculousness’ of the situation is that I myself am a veteran, I made him aware of it, and many of my customers and employees are veterans too (and/or bikers).  Having someone remove a vest is simply our policy of keeping our customers safe and sound, not any form of discrimination.  Just as if you go to a fine dining establishment that requires you to wear a collared shirt or prohibits ball caps or open-toed shoes.  Its no big deal.”

Senior Chief Petty Officer Ron Crawford (ret.), a 26 year veteran of the U.S. Navy, who did four deployments to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Storm, Desert Fox, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, is a local musician who plays frequent gigs at RockHouse Live with his band Section 8 – a band largely comprised of active or retired military personnel.  He laughed at the notion that Bair or RockHouse discriminates against vets.

“To think that Zach would discriminate against a vet – or anyone - is crazy,” quipped Crawford.  “Quite the opposite is true.  He has welcomed all veterans into RockHouse, and even has offered a standard veteran and active duty military discount since he opened two years ago.  Our sound engineer is a Vietnam vet.  And, we brought navy personnel from Naval Support Activity Midsouth in Millington to RockHouse Live to celebrate the U.S. Navy’s 238th Birthday, October 13, 2013.”

Colonel Craig Grotzky, United States Marine Corps (ret.), also had quite a bit to say on the matter.

“As a retired USMC colonel and combat veteran (Operation Restor Hope, Mogadishu, Somalia 1992/93), I can say with all honestly and sincerity that Zach Bair, owner of RockHouse Live, has absolutely always treated me and the other veterans with the utmost admiration and respect, “said Grotzky.  “He is a veteran also.  To say he discriminates against veterans is a blatantly false statement.  The fact is that he goes out of his way to support military services.  One of my favorite memories of living in Memphis is when he hosted a USN birthday ceremony at RockHouse Live.  It was complete with the playing of Anchors Aweigh and the traditional cutting of the USN birthday cake.  As I stood there at attention during the playing of Anchors Aweigh, I was thankful that we have people like Zach Bair who go out of their way to support their fellow veterans the way that he has.  After the ceremony, Zach personally thanked us for being there.”

When asked about his aversion to “biker” style vests, Bair explained that it just avoids potential problems.

“It’s a common practice among businesses and has nothing to do with veterans,” said Bair, “one that has been in effect since we opened in 2015 and has ignited prior controversy on social media.  Many, if not most, venues and restaurants will not allow biker vests, aka “colors,” into their establishments.  This prevents rival biker groups to get into altercations which scare away customers, or worse yet, fueled by alcohol and emotion, leads to bloodshed such as the tragic incident at Twin Peaks in Waco, TX.”

Bair explained further that there are a lot of biker patrons that willingly remove their vests so they can hang out at RockHouse, even if they may not like it; and that Bair himself has a motorcycle and respects the culture and has biker friends.

“RockHouse Live does not discriminate against anyone, for any reason, period.  Rules are rules.  The military has them.  Biker clubs have them.  And we have them.  And to be clear, many bikers are great family men and women, and it is only a small percentage that ever cause problems – but unfortunately we have to enforce the rules regardless of whether it is a Veterans group, Law Enforcement group, Christian, or otherwise.  Everyone gets equal treatment in my establishments.”

The owner at Rockhouse Live Bar and Grill in Raleigh said he has a dress code policy to keep his customers and motorcycle groups safe, but a veteran claims the policy is discrimination. 

Robert Lewis is an active duty Air Force member stationed in Little Rock. He was in Memphis on Friday night with his girlfriend looking for live music.

Lewis said the night hit a bad note when he walked in the door of Rockhouse Live wearing his Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association vest.

"Our doorman asked him to remove the vest or turn it inside out," said bar owner Zach Bair. 

Bair said any vest or jacket resembling motorcycle clubs is against dress code.

"I said ‘I’m not taking my vest off for anybody’ and turned around and walked outside," said Lewis. 

Lewis said Bair came outside to explain the policy and he, in turn, clarified what his vest represents.

"I just wanted to let him know he was refusing entry to an 18 combat United States veteran," said Lewis. 

The bar has no visible signage about the dress code but Bair said his doorman greets all patrons and enforces the rule. 

"I explained to him that I am a veteran," said Bair. "I served four years in the Air Force law enforcement and we give a 10 percent discount to veterans. A lot of these issues involving these biker rivalries are fueled by alcohol and with alcohol, fights may ensue and we chose not to have that in our environment.” 

Lewis said he feels the policy disregards his service for his country.

"It's not only disrespectful toward the military, but disrespectful to the United States," said Lewis. 

"It’s part of who we are, and I think it was discrimination," added Lewis' girlfriend, Linda Guidry. 

"It applies to any biker group out there," said Bair. "We know there are Christian groups, veteran groups, law enforcement groups and we can’t really enforce that policy with just one group so it has to be enforced fairly across the board."

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