The management of a Chippewa Street nightclub Saturday kicked out 40 to 50 members of a private party because the party contained too many African-Americans and not enough whites, according to two Buffalo party planners and a patron who witnessed the incident.
The management of 4Play nightclub, 45 W. Chippewa St., told party promoter Devon Jones that more white people needed to come to the club by 11 p.m. or the mostly black crowd would be kicked out, Jones said.
At 11 p.m., lights were turned on, music stopped playing, and a crowd of about 40 or 50 was escorted out of the nightclub by the bar's security staff, Jones said. Two eyewitnesses gave The Buffalo News accounts that matched the one Jones provided.
"I honestly think it's wrong," said Jones, who was promoting the event as an "after party" to a fashion show held at the nearby Forbes Theatre in the Buffalo Christian Center on Pearl Street. "I have no problem partying with a white guy, I have no problem partying with a Hispanic guy [or] another African-American. We're all human beings when it all boils down."
Christian Battaglia, listed on the bar's Facebook page as owner of 4Play, could not be reached to comment late Monday. The club was closed and locked Monday, and Battaglia's home phone number is unlisted.
Jones said the event was arranged for the crowd that attended the fashion show. He said a third-party promoter arranged payment with the bar. He said he didn't believe the dispute was money-related, as was alleged by the bar's staff.
Jones said the bar's owner approached him at about 10:15 p.m., claiming there was a previous agreement that 50 percent of the bar's patrons would be white, and the other 50 percent black. Jones said he had made no such arrangement.
Promoter Chris Crook said he heard the same exchange between a white member of the bar's management and a third promoter.
"I know it sounds [messed] up, but pretty much we have to shut it down," Crook heard the bar staffer tell the promoter.
Patron Giovanni Centurione said that after walking outside the bar, he heard an employee say to the promoters that there were "way too many black people in here."
"Chris and I started looking at each other like, 'Did he really just say that?' " Centurione said.
Centurione said the patrons were given no refund and chose to move their party to another bar he said he saw packed with white people later in the night.
"I think he said what all the other club promoters wanted to say," said Madelynne Ross, who managed the group of models that moved from the fashion show to the bar. "Now it was blatantly said. There [are] so many people [who think] it's just the last straw."
Jones said he didn't believe the bar's owner was racist but said strict dress codes applied to most bars in the entertainment district can be used to discriminate against blacks.
4Play's dress code, as stated online, stipulates that no straight brim hats, red hats, work boots, bandannas, headbands or overly baggy clothing can be worn. The bar's Facebook page states that its bouncers are New York's best and that they "CAN deny Anyone!" The club was previously known as Big Shotz.
"Honestly, it's a safety concern," Jones said. "If you're coming in with a big hoodie on or a big coat, honestly you could put anything in one of those coats. I'm not for it."
He said it's been tougher to promote parties since the Aug. 14 City Grill shooting that left four dead after a patron at a private party started firing outside the Main Street restaurant.
Jones and Crook said safety-driven concerns often are used to control the racial makeup of a bar. Centurione said an African-American male was encouraged Saturday by security to take off his baseball cap, while a white patron wore a similar cap in the bar.
"My experience on Chippewa is that it's pretty prejudiced," Crook said. "They nitpick on everything a black male has on unless he's with five or six white females or males. If it's a majority white crowd and there's one black person, it's very iffy that they'll get in. Clothing is a way of separating, of nitpicking, so that they don't let black people get into the club."
Mark Croce, who ownes several properties in the Chippewa district, said he believes the dress code, if used properly, can keep out "bad actors" who cause violence and mayhem. But he said the code needs to be applied uniformly.
"It's not like one group gets to play by certain rules and another group gets another set of rules," Croce said. "If you have a rule against hats, as far as I'm concerned, that rule should apply universally. If they were turned away by the race, [that] is discrimination."
Centurione said many of the models and their friends were in fashion attire that was formal.
Ross started an online petition calling for a boycott of the club. As of Monday night, more than 50 people had signed the petition.