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Last Call bar owner defends dress code after would-be customer calls it 'racist'

Matt Briggs' brother-in-law was the only non-white member of his group, and the only one denied entry to Last Call bar Saturday night.

Matt Briggs' brother-in-law was the only non-white member of his group, and the only one denied entry to Last Call bar Saturday night. Facebook

The Minnesota Twins beat the Kansas City Royals 8-2 Saturday night off strong pitching from rising star Jose Berrios and a three-for-three night at the plate by Max Kepler. That sent 27,000-some fans into the streets in a celebratory mood.

Matt Briggs and a large group of family members had taken in the night's victory, and almost all of them left Target Field in search of a place to drink. They found it right next door, at Last Call, a North Loop bar that opened in December in the former Dream Ultra Lounge space.

Briggs was one of the first in line in his group, and says once a bouncer granted him admission he immediately headed into the bar in search of the bathroom. That task completed, he circled back looking for the rest of his group. 

That's when he learned the story of what happened to his brother-in-law, the last in line in their group, who'd been stopped at the Last Call door and denied entry by the bouncer. He was told his jeans were "too baggy," and not in line with the bar's dress code.

He also happened to be the only black person in Briggs' group, which he says numbered about a dozen. Another of them, Briggs' (white) brother, went back out to talk to the bouncer and let him know the man he'd just turned away was with him. 

The bouncer relented and let him in, though, according to Briggs, by that point their party had soured on Last Call, and decided to take their business elsewhere. He guesses he spent all of "four minutes" in the bar, his brother-in-law "a minute and a half" before they left.

The experience lingered for Briggs, who wrote about his few minutes at Last Call on Facebook the next day. 

"Friends," Briggs wrote, "I have to tell you something. I am LIVID and my head is still spinning because of how disgusted I am at what transpired last night during my brother’s bachelor party. NEVER spend money at Last Call MN in the Warehouse District in Minneapolis."

Briggs went on to detail his brother-in-law's experience of getting stopped at the door, thanks to what Briggs calls its "racist and un-American" dress code. 

He hoped the post would draw some attention to those policies broadly, and to Last Call specifically. He had no idea it'd blow up like it did. As of Monday morning, Briggs' post has been shared seven thousand times.

"It's been overwhelming," Briggs says of the reaction.

And if he thinks that, imagine how Last Call owner Mike Whitelaw feels. Whitelaw, whom Briggs called out by name in his post, repeatedly tried contacting Briggs on Sunday to discuss his experience -- and to address "inaccuracies" in Briggs' self-told Facebook story -- but Briggs says he wanted to keep their communications in writing.

Instead Whitelaw brought his response to City Pages.

"His story is not even close to accurate," Whitelaw says. "The gentleman... wasn't discriminated against. He was let in."

Whitelaw has operated numerous Minneapolis bars and nightclubs, including, Club New York, Fusion, Spin, two different locations of Drink, and currently both Last Call and Uptown Tavern and Rooftop. He says he's applied dress codes for years, outlawing "baggy clothes," certain kinds of jewelry, "work boots," and sports jerseys (with an exception on Twins game days), and stands by them.

"If your waist is a size 30 waist, we want you to wear size 30 pants," Whitelaw says, adding: "We just want people to dress up."

This code allows in a "diverse" clientele, and is enforced by a "diverse" staff, says Whitelaw, who challenged City Pages to watch the video of Briggs' friend being denied entry, saying it's "kind of astonishing" Briggs would allege racism, given the bouncer working that night.

Briggs says the doorman enforcing the bar's policy was black, but says that's beside the point. "The race of the bouncer is irrelevant," he says. "It's coming from the top."

Whitelaw cited numerous "inaccuracies" in Briggs' Facebook post: He left out the fact that his brother-in-law was eventually granted entry; he noted that he and his brother-in-law had similarly oversized jerseys, while Whitelaw says it was the baggy jeans that caused the problem.

Briggs contends the story is made worse, not better, by the fact that his brother-in-law got in after a white customer vouched for him. "They can have their defense be 'we eventually let him in,'" Briggs says, "but this speaks to a much larger issue."

Whitelaw doesn't see it that way.

"I'm frustrated, we work hard to build up our business," he says, adding: "The dress code is there for a reason, and has nothing to do with black, white, red, or green."