It’ll be the weekend soon. What will you be wearing out? At SoYo Bar on 38 Main Street, Yonkers, if your outfit involves baggy pants, hoodies, work boots, sleeveless shirts, du rags, or sweatpants, you might be out of luck– unless you can find a more “upscale” outfit, pronto.
A sheet of white paper stuck in the front door of SoYo stipulates this dress code. While small and subtle, some questions regarding its rules come up. One can’t help but deny that the list of clothing banned from SoYo summons a certain figure to mind: a young Black or brown man.
Racial profiling in the police force is one of the nation’s biggest issues. Men who “fit the description” are the ones that get routinely harassed, hauled off to jail, and in worst-case scenarios, murdered by police. But Soyo’s dress code implies that profiling exists beyond police force– could this phenomenon apply to discrimination in bars and restaurants?
Formerly known as Undisputed, SoYo’s history has been dramatic, to say the least. Undisputed was a sports bar themed around boxing, until the change to SoYo in 2011. But there, boxing apparently was not just an aesthetic.
According to Yonkers locals, Yvonne, 50, and Anita Marie, 63, fights and brawls were very common at Undisputed. “The crowd there is really rowdy and young,” said Yvonne and Anita Marie. (Both denied revealing their last names.)
In 2014, the Spike TV show Bar Rescue showcased Undisputed in one of its episodes. The premise of Bar Rescue is aptly implied in its title: Jon Taffer, a “celebrity night-life consultant,” and his team of celebrity chefs and bartenders travel around the country fixing up struggling bars. Undisputed was one of these bars that, with the magic of Taffer and Co., got transformed into the SoYo Yonkers knows today.
The episode, titled “Thugs with Mugs”, revolves around one major storyline: upon arriving to the bar, Taffer and his crew are attacked by the patrons of the bar (mostly Black men), prompting Taffer’s team to try to “…displace the thugs, and replace them with the ‘locals’ that are living in these apartments.”
These locals that Taffer refer to in the episode are, funnily enough, the young, urban, and mostly white professionals moving into Yonkers due to the recent wave of government approved gentrification; and by “these apartments” he refers to are actually the new luxury rentals in Downtown Yonkers that are meant to accommodate this new population.
Throughout the episode, the message is clear. The footage of “before” feature black and brown men and women, the men clad in baggy t-shirts and jeans and baseball caps, and the women in revealing, figure-hugging outfits. As the episode progresses and the updated bar emerges, the clientele also dramatically changes. The end of the episode, which features the opening of the newly refurbished SoYo, the line waiting to get inside is made of young, professional-looking white people.
At the episode’s great reveal of SoYo, you can just spot the white paper stuck in the window stipulating the “formal dresscode” of the new bar– a new rule that Bar Rescue, assumably, can take responsibility for. (A representative from Spike TV declined to comment.)
This sentiment is also echoed by those who patronize SoYo. “Image goes a long way,” Junior Rodriguez, 31, a regular customer at SoYo, says. “We want an upscale lounge; we’ll cater to that.” But Junior also emphasizes that this issue is not just about image. “Security’s… gonna make sure that nobody’s bringing in something they’re not supposed to,” and according to Junior, the way one dresses and their ability to cause trouble are correlated.
But a year later, it seems that SoYo has not managed to maintain this new clientele as well Junior describes. Marvin L., 40, is convinced that nothing has changed. “I’m sure they’re not following the dress code.”
Marvin might be right. On a recent Thursday night, the only customers in the establishment were some construction workers, clad in their work boots and jeans. The atmosphere was laid-back, even if the music blared a little loudly.
Junior says that the dress code is not enforced in SoYo on the weekends. “On the weekends, it’s a very crowded environment… security [gets] a little more protective of the establishment.”
However, according to Anita Marie and Yvonne, the brawls and fights still continue today. “They [still] attract the wrong crowd…. people have been stabbed outside [SoYo].”
But beyond the disagreements between those who stand by SoYo and those who are skeptical, one thing that both sides seem to have trouble acknowledging head-on is the issue of racism, or even classism, deeply rooted in the dress code. Is a dress code that bans baggy pants, durags and hoodies racist, or really just a way to make a place “classier?” Does “classier” actually mean “whiter” and “richer”? And once implemented, would it even work to keep trouble out?
When asked if there were ever any complaints from other Yonkers residents about SoYo’s dress code, Junior only said “people complain all the time.”
Marvin took a more practical route in dissecting the claims. Shrugging, he said, “Yeah, it might be racist, or classist. But the customers there are still causing trouble.”