Patrons Claim ICandy Nightclub’s Timberland Boots “Ban” Is Racially Motivated

Incidents over two weekends in late April — and the seemingly inconsistent enforcement of an unpublicized policy — have raised questions.

Photograph by Ernest Owens

Photograph by Ernest Owens

A series of incidents at the door of popular Gayborhood nightclub ICandy in recent weeks has some black LGBT community members wondering whether the club’s apparent ban on patrons wearing Timberland boots — a brand long associated with black hip-hop fashion — is racially motivated.

The controversy began when Stro Kyle, a black queer-events promoter, posted a series of Facebook messages on the night of April 18th after a friend said he had been refused entrance:

In an interview with G Philly on April 20th, the friend, who asked not to be named, described the experience as “embarrassing” and “downright racist.” “There’s no reason why half-naked men can walk around there with tight undies on, but I can’t wear trendy boots,” he said. “I bet if they came from Aldo or another popular white brand, there wouldn’t have been an issue.”

In the comments on one of Kyle’s posts, a white patron, Stephen Groves, said he too had been rejected at ICandy’s door the evening before. “As my friends and I walked up to ICandy, I noticed the doorman looking down at my boots a couple of times,” Groves told G Philly. “We got to the door, and he said ‘I can’t let you in.’ I asked why, and he said, ‘You have on Timbs.’ I said, ‘And that’s a problem?’ And he said ‘No Timbs — it’s a new dress code for summer.’”

However, when Groves sent a private message to ICandy’s official Facebook page soon after the incident, he received an unsigned reply claiming that the doorman had made an error: “[W]e are maintaining and re-emphasizing our existing dress code as we gear up for our anniversary party and the spring season. However, it sounds like our door person misunderstood or misrepresented the code. Of course Timberland boots are acceptable, as are sweats and tanks ….

“The code as it exists emphasizes neat and clean attire, so no worn or dirty work boots or Timbs, and no sports/loungewear during peak club hours (afterdark, essentially),” the reply continued. “We’re very sorry that it was miscommunication on our part with our door person, and we’ll work to make sure the policy is clear and absolutely non-discriminatory, as it has always been and remains our goal to be a welcoming place for everyone in the community.”

But on April 23rd, a few nights after Groves received that message, black Southwest Philly resident Marcus Berry was also turned away while wearing Timberlands. Berry, 25, said he was dressed in a causal buttoned-up shirt and jeans, and was “surprised” when he was barred from entering the nightclub’s fifth-anniversary party. “The bouncer was persistent about not letting me enter the moment he looked down and saw my Timberlands,” Berry told G Philly. “He told me that if I had worn any other pair of shoes I could have gotten in and that the rest of my attire was appropriate. … I felt as though he was implying that the boots made my outfit ghetto or not classy enough.”

There is no mention of a no-Timberlands policy on ICandy’s website or on recent promotional material seen by G Philly. ICandy general manager Jeff Sheehan did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

Gay clubs across the nation have been accused of keeping out black guests with targeted dress codes. Last fall, LGBTQ community leaders collaborated with Philadelphia Black Pride to host a series of town halls aimed at addressing the issue of institutional racism in the Gayborhood.

“We thought we were making strides after those conversations last fall,” said D. D’Ontace Keyes, chief creative officer of Philadelphia Black Pride, while speaking at a black pride diversity luncheon on April 29th. “We got many gay bars like ICandy on board to pledge to do better for all members of the community. However, when hearing about this ‘no-Timbs policy’ happening over there, [that] sets back a lot of the progress I thought we were making.”

Since his rejection from ICandy, Marcus said, he has worn Timberlands to Boxers PHL, where “they didn’t care what shoes I had on.” When contacted by G Philly, representatives from other Gayborhood bars, including UBar, Woody’s, and Voyeur, said they do not restrict the popular shoe brand in their venues.