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Boystown Bar Called Racist For Banning Rap

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Progress Bar management told DJs that if they play rap they won’t be asked back

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Progress Bar first opened in 2013
Progress Bar [Official Photo]

A Boystown gay bar’s new policy to ban rap has prompted sharp criticism over racial discrimination on social media. Leadership at Progress Bar, a gay dance club at 3359 N. Halsted Street that first opened in 2013, sent an email to workers announcing a change in format: “we have implemented a no rap rule effective immediately” to promote a “super open format POP/DANCE focused atmosphere.”

This news comes on the heels of a violent string of incidents in Boystown, including one at Progress Bar on Sunday night when a man punched through a window, shattering the glass, and then screamed at patrons and people standing outside the bar.

Progress Bar’s email, which was leaked and shared widely on social media on Wednesday, goes on to ban “anything vulgar, aggressive, or considered mumble rap (including certain Cardi B tracks and newer Nicki Minaj).” It also mentions the bar will bring in “added security to help with this transition and one specifically next to the DJ booth.” Progress Bar confirmed on its Facebook page that the email was genuine. See a snippet from the leaked email below.

As tweets, posts, and negative reviews began pouring in, the bar’s leadership posted a statement to Facebook: “We hope you will stand by us while we tweak things here and there...please don’t read too much into this.” It did not include an apology or indicate that the policy will be reconsidered. The post read that DJs will continue to play hip hop.

A screenshot from Progress Bar’s Facebook page
Progress Bar/Facebook

Many commenters, however, said they feel the statement is insufficient. “NO racial intention but y’all specifically mentioned WGCI which is an urban station. Get TF on with that shit. Just put out a sign that says NO BLACKS,” one commenter wrote.

“Seems like more of a damage control post rather than a genuine post from people who are willing to learn. Good luck with keeping your clientele,” wrote another.

“Hip-Hop is the most popular & most versatile genre in the world with hundreds of different sounds to enjoy over the decades,” a Twitter user wrote. “A rule like this is not implemented to make the space more enjoyable for everyone, but to control who comes (blacks/ latinos).”

“No room for hatred or discrimination under the guise of creating a ‘fun vibe,’ especially in Chicago,” another Tweeter wrote. “You won’t catch me at any business like this.”

Progress Bar’s Yelp page is now inundated with one-star reviews that specifically cite the no rap rule. Many note the irony of the bar’s name, Progress, considering what many see as the regressive nature of the policy.

“The dog whistle is so apparent it might as well not be a dog whistle,” wrote one Yelp reviewer, who added, “and they have the nerve to pun on the word ‘progress’ every chance they get. Funny.”

“There are plenty of other and better bars to go to...I will never step foot in here or give them my money,” another Yelper wrote. “Go to Roscoes, Scarlet, Sidetrack, etc.”

Some have connected the no rap policy to the violent incident on Sunday. Additionally, on social media, some people who were present claimed customers misrepresented what happened by accusing an African American man of being the aggressor who pushed the offender, who appears to be white, through the window. Police determined that this was not the case and said the attack was unprovoked, according to CWB Chicago.

The man is visible punching the window in this video:

Comments in support of Progress Bar are scarce, but one Facebook commenter wrote, “Please don’t hate on Progress ya’ll! I worked at a bar that didn’t allow country music because the owner didn’t like it. Is that racist? The owner of Progress doesn’t like rap... his bar, his choice.” She went on to explain that her father founded Progress and he didn’t care for rap either. “Please don’t ruin the legacy that was ‘his baby’ by boycotting what he worked so hard for. So much hate in this world already. Let’s just be nice.”

The fervor is reminiscent of the social media reaction to the Bottled Blonde’s supposed efforts to maintain a “classy atmosphere” with extreme entrance restrictions that forbade a laundry list of clothing items, jewelry, shoes, and tattoos in 2017. At the time, many felt the bizarre dress code was designed to keep out African Americans.

LGBTQ people of color have long experienced discrimination in spaces purportedly designed for the community, including bars. Eater reported in 2017 that staff from a slew of Philadelphia gay bars were required to attend anti-racism training, and Vice documented additional incidents in New York and West Hollywood, California. The Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs encountered resistance that same year when working to expand the Pride flag to explicitly include black and brown people.

Alderman (35th Ward) Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who is gay, tweeted his support for a boycott of Progress Bar. “LGBTQ bars like Progress exist because Black queer and trans folks rose up at Stonewall in 1969,” he wrote. “That is why I’m supporting the boycott of Progress Bar called for by Chicago’s Black and Brown LGBTQ community. Remember Stonewall and spend your money at another establishment this Pride.” Ramirez-Rosa’s ward does not include Boystown.

In a statement emailed to Eater, Progress Bar owner Justin Romme wrote:

To our patrons, neighbors and the LGBTQ+ community:

The email issued yesterday did not reflect the values of Progress Bar. The content was unwelcoming and hurtful, and in retrospect, it should have never been written or sent. We seek to be a trusted member of the LGBTQ+ community and in the city of Chicago as a welcoming place for every person no matter their race, creed or sexual orientation. We sincerely apologize to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community and across Chicago for the hurt this message caused.

Tonight, we will be closed so we can begin working to heal the pain. When we reopen, we will do so with a renewed commitment to create a space whose patronage, atmosphere, and—yes—music reflects the diversity of our community.

Block Club Chicago first reported the story.

Update: Thursday, May 30, 4:31 p.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Justin Romme.

Progress Bar

3359 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60657 (773) 697-9268 Visit Website