Durham County

Defend Durham calls bar racist for refusing service. Bar owner says bull.

Central Park Tavern, located on Rigsbee Avenue.
Central Park Tavern, located on Rigsbee Avenue. ctoth@heraldsun.com

The owner of the Central Park Tavern is disputing a Facebook post by members of the group Defend Durham, who allege that the bar refused to serve them because of their skin color and connection with the tearing down of a Confederate statue last month.

“They came in and didn’t have ID, and my bartender wouldn’t serve them,” said Mike Cole, owner of Central Park Tavern on Rigsbee Avenue, which opened this month. Cole is the former owner of Charlie’s Pub and Grille, which closed in 2015 after 14 years in business on Ninth Street.

Cole said the group that showed up Tuesday began yelling phrases like “KKK” and “white supremacists.”

In its Facebook post, Defend Durham called Central Park Tavern “a racist establishment,” and encouraged followers to “Share widely, don't patronize this bar.”

Defend Durham is a group set up by activists involved in toppling the Durham County Confederate statue Aug. 14 in front of the old courthouse.

Cole disputed that accusation.

“If I’m racist, why do I have a North Carolina Central [University] party this weekend,” and a lesbian wedding reception, too, he said. “I had no idea they [Defend Durham] were the ones who tore down the monuments.”

Defend Durham has a different version of events.

The post states a group of about a dozen people went to the bar to celebrate the birthday of Takiyah Thompson, who is accused of climbing a ladder and toppling the Confederate statue. All but one member of the group was either black or brown, the post states. Nine defendants accused of toppling the statue had appeared in court earlier that day, and the group went to the bar to observe “a tremendous day marked by a spirit of victory and struggle,” the post states.

Bartenders recognized Thompson and said, “there's the girl who climbed the statue,” the post states. It also says the bar refused to serve Imani Henry, a black anti-gentrification organizer from New York because he showd New York state identification.

A driver’s license is the only out-of-state identification that bars can accept under North Carolina law. It was not clear if Henry presented a driver’s license or another form of identification.

“I don’t know any of these people,” said Central Park Tavern bartender Gator James. “I don’t care what color you are – that had absolutely nothing to do with what happened,” James said.

James said that a customer did not have the proper identification under state law “and then it went to, I wouldn’t wait on him because I was a racist,” James said. She said she served other customers that evening, both black and white, who showed proper ID.

James asked the customer without proper ID and other members of the group to leave, and when they refused, she called Durham police. Four cruisers showed up, but by the time they arrived, members of Defend Durham had left the bar, James said.

However, Thompson says the group didn’t make a big deal out of Henry, who is 48, not being served. They just planned to leave.

“The [Defend Durham] group left the bar after they were refused service, and were followed by a white patron who engaged in a back and forth with them,” Defend Durham stated in the post.

As they were leaving, a guy who was behind the bar followed Henry, “breathing down his neck,” Thompson said.

Henry said this place was is racist, Thompson said. And the man who followed them outside said, “ ‘Yeah, I’m racist,’ ” Thompson said.

“It ruined my night,” said Thompson who was celebrating turning 23 the next day.

The post prompted reaction on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, including calls for a boycott of the bar. One Yelp post proclaimed: “Incredibly racist bar!”

(Staff writter Virginia Bridges contributed to this article.)

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1