Choptank, restaurant, Baltimore
The soon-to-open Choptank restaurant came under scrutiny for its dress code that seemed to target Black clothing style. The company has since revised the dress code, but said many restaurants in the area have similar ones. (Photo: J.M. Giordano via Twitter)

Baltimore’s Choptank Restaurant Revises but Defends Dress Code Criticized for Being Racist

Choptank, a soon-to-open Baltimore restaurant came under fire for discrimination after a photo of their dress code posted outside their building went viral. They have since revised their dress code, which prohibited styles frequently worn by Black people.

“Excessively baggy clothing,” pants worn low, shorts that hang below the knees, “brimless headgear” and backwards or sideways hats are among some of the items the Choptank restaurant was set to prohibit. Although owners of the Fells Point restaurant have amended the dress code, they still defended their decision in a statement, referencing other restaurants in the area who have similar dress codes and touting their dedication to “minorities.”

“At a time when Baltimore needs as many reasons to cheer as possible, it is unfortunate a brand new, beautifully-restored landmark in the Fells Point neighborhood, which has created more that a 100 badly-needed job for the community, is under scrutiny,” the founder and CEO of Atlas Restaurant Group, the group Choptank is a part of, said.

Photographer J.M. Giordano shared the initial photo on Twitter, with the caption “Dress CODED sign at the new Choptank restaurant in Fells…” The restaurant owners responded, saying, “Being new to the Fells Point neighborhood, we simply implemented the dress code standard that is used by several other properties in the area, including Barcocina, Bond Street Social Moby’s and The Horse You Came In On. Have a great day”

One commenter pointed out that other companies also having questionable dress codes does not make having one right.

Additionally, a note on the dress code said management could “enforce these policies within its discretion,” leading many to argue it left the door wide open for racial discrimination.

The owners have since removed that line from the document, and no longer prohibits baggy clothing, shorts below the knee or sunglasses after dark. It still prohibits brimless headwear, except for religious garments.

Playwright and ELLE Magazine writer R. Eric Thomas tweeted, calling the dress code “blatantly discriminatory” and said when he messaged the restaurant’s Twitter page to ask about it, they blocked him.

Clothing appropriated from Black and urban culture have long been viewed as “trendy” and “unique” when white people wear them, yet looked down upon as “ghetto” or “ratchet” when Black people wear them.

Baltimore City Council and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young also came to Smith’s defense, the Baltimore Sun reports, saying he believed people read into the dress code too deeply.

Young also pointed out that Black people often dine at many Atlas properties with similar dress codes.

Baltimore has a majority Black population, at 62.8%.

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