Bronx Cheer: Black Music Allowed at Rice Village Bar. Black People? (Allegedly) Not So Much.

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Sgt. Mohamed Sesay, not good enough for Bronx Bar
 
The weekend visit to Houston had been going well enough for Army Sergeant Mohamed Sesay. Now stationed at Killeen's Fort Hood, he'd been back in the States for less than a week, after serving for over a year at Camp Bucca prison in Iraq, where he had helped guard the estimated 20,000-30,000 detainees -- many of whom had been transferred there from Abu Ghraib.

But now that he was back in America, the Sierra Leonean-American soldier came to Houston to have some fun at the invitation of his friend Lamine Faye, a Houstonian originally from Senegal.

The two West Africans hit several clubs in Midtown and on Washington Avenue on Friday night, and on Saturday started out downtown. All without incident. Their luck would change when they decided to end their evening in Rice Village's Bronx Bar.

Faye had been there before, as recently as two months ago, and had enjoyed the place. "The only reason we wanted to go there was that it has a nice atmosphere and they play hip-hop and it isn't too rowdy like the more traditional hip-hop clubs," he tells Hair Balls. That wasn't the only way it differed from most hip-hop clubs.

Sesay and Faye arrived around midnight. On their way from their car to the door, they ran into a knot of people -- mostly black and Hispanic -- standing around outside the club. These strangers warned Faye and Sesay to expect trouble. "They told us that we weren't going to be allowed in the club," says Sesay. "They said minorities were not being allowed in."

"We looked at him like he was crazy," says Faye. "We told him he had to be joking. He said 'I'm not even being funny. This is for real. I've been here for 15 minutes and this guy lets every white person walk into this club and he's not letting any minorities in.' When we heard that, we had to go and see for ourselves."

The two men walked up to the door, where the bouncer told them to wait. And they did. And kept waiting and waiting, as the bouncer let in a long string of white people. "I was thinking 'He said to wait. Alright, I'll be patient,'" remembers Sesay.

After five or ten minutes, a group of women burst out of the club. "They were furious, I guess because they had been observing the bouncer all night," Sesay says. "They came out and said 'Get out of the way. We're leaving this club because you're not letting minorities get in all night.'"

Sesay asked the bouncer if that was true. According to Sesay, the bouncer said "Hey man, I told you to wait. You'll have to wait."

While waiting, Faye attempted to reason with the bouncer. Faye said the bouncer asked him if he had a boss. Faye said yes. "So then he said, 'When your manager at your job tells you to do something, what do you do?' I said 'Look man, I understand, you've got a job to do. Is your manager here?' And he said the manager was unavailable. So clearly the bouncer let me know that he had received instructions not to let any minorities in."

Two Houston Police officers were stationed by the door, in uniform but presumably off-duty. Sesay approached one of them. "I said, 'Officer, you see what's going on here? Can't you do something? And he said there was nothing he could do, 'cause he was just security. I was like, 'No, you're not just security. You're supposed to serve and protect, my friend. And if you see something wrong, you at least intervene and let them know the laws, if they are not aware of the laws.'"

Sesay was getting upset, which worried Faye. "He was getting really frustrated, and I was getting nervous because I don't know if he was suffering from PTSD or what the heck he was gonna do," he remembers. "But I could see from his face that he was realllly getting agitated."

But the soldier didn't quite lose it. He was still trying to reason. "I said, 'Hey man, if I could put my life on the line for 14 months for this country, I should be able to go in any club that I want to."

But the more Sesay thought about it, the angrier he got. "Lamine had to calm me down. If [the bouncer] had said something, I probably would have punched him. It was a good idea that Lamine settled me down."

Around this time, the second policeman came down from his perch on the stairs near the club's entrance. According to Faye, this policeman -- Lopez by name -- was belligerent.

"He said 'Calm your ass down or I'm gonna fuckin' Tase you up with a gun.' Like yellin' at him in front of everybody. Really cursin' him out, telling him to shut the fuck up and stuff."

Faye told the cop, "Listen man, you can't talk to him like that. He's not assaulting anyone, he's just expressing himself." And according to Faye, the cop said "Well, you know what? There's plenty of other clubs over here. Why don't you two just take yourselves to another one?"

Faye and Sesay left. They looked back at the club and saw the cops and the bouncer exchange high-fives, congratulating each other on a job well-done.

"It wasn't worth fighting for," says Sesay. "But I swore I was gonna let the public know, and that I was gonna file a complaint about it. Nothing like this should be tolerated in this country. Every race in this country fights in the military. If you've been in the military, you see all races -- Hispanics, blacks, whites, Polish. All races. We all put our lives on the line for this country, and none of us should be refused service wherever they go. Nobody.

"The fact that you don't know the person is even worse, because you don't know who your are talking to, you don't know who you are mistreating," Sesay continues. "If I wasn't down there putting my life on the line, some of these freedoms that the bouncer enjoyed -- he might not enjoy them because there might be a terrorist out here fucking blowing shit up. I'm over there making sure these guys are secured in their fucking cells, I'm in the towers 24-7, I don't have weekends off, I work every single day. Fourteen months I was out there. And this guy's gonna tell me I can't get in? Oh boy. I didn't know what to feel."

And Faye and Sesay were not alone. If you Google "Bronx Bar" and racist, you get a surprising number of hits. Both the Yelp and Citysearch capsules for the club turn up plenty of smoke, but it could be just that. Those reviews could conceivably be the work of a rival club owner stirring up trouble.

But then you are also steered toward the blog of Demetrius D. Walker. There, under the title "Racism Still Exists In the Obama Age," you find a tale similar to that of Faye and Sesay. Walker, a young black male, successfully entered the club one night, but his friend, a rapper named REO, had lagged behind the racially mixed group. When he got to the door minutes after his friends, he was turned away by the bouncer.

"This doorman was so disrespectful he wouldn't look at either of us," Walker says. "I tried to tap him and say 'Hey, this is the last guy in our group,' but he turned his back on me and wouldn't talk to me. And as REO was trying to talk to him -- he was standing at the front of the line saying 'Hey is there a problem? Is there something wrong? I'm meeting the dress code, what's the problem?' the doorman would just turn his back. And whenever some white people would come up, he would just check their IDs and then let 'em on in. And this went on for 15 to 20 minutes. It was ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it before."

As with the two Africans, the police backed up the doorman. Walker knew it was a fight he couldn't win. "A few years back I was in a similar situation in Indianapolis and ended up pretty much getting beat up by three police officers, so I saw where this was headed," he says. "I was just like 'Let's get out of here, go home and take action in a different way.' Hopefully once this story gets out, we can get people to stop going there. I want to do it the smart way versus someone getting hurt."

Walker has been doing things the smart way for a long time. His scholarly bent punched his ticket out of one of the most notorious neighborhoods in America, first to an elite New England prep school and then Vanderbilt University, where he was vice-president of both his fraternity (Alpha Phi Alpha) and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Today, in addition to working in marketing for an apparel company, Walker frequently appears as a motivational speaker, enjoining impoverished inner-city youth with one of his maxims: "Ambition plus determination equals success."

None of that meant a fig to the bouncer. He just saw two black faces. He had allowed Walker in, but his friend REO was one too many. "He let me in but I could tell he didn't want to," says Walker. "And there was definitely no chance that REO was getting in. From his actions I could tell that there was no way he was gonna let two black guys -- out of the hundreds of people that were there -- inside."

There's one final irony in all this. Walker is a native of The Bronx. The real one in New York City. That he can't enjoy a bar named after his hometown gives him a rueful chuckle. "It's a hip-hop club called the Bronx Bar," he says. "They're playing hip-hop all night, and hip-hop was born in The Bronx, and I was born in The Bronx and I know what The Bronx is all about. It's a very culturally diverse place. But this place should be called something else. I don't know, I'd have to come up with another name for it."

Like perhaps The Vidor Bar.

(A message left with the Bronx Bar's corporate office went unreturned, as did an email to Bronx Bar general manager Greg Cranston. If we hear from them, we'll update this item with whatever they have to say.)


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