ANNAPOLIS – Patrons entering Rudy’s Tavern on the outskirts of Maryland’s capital are warned by a sign prominently displayed beside the front door: “No colors, leathers. Proper attire and I.D. required.”
Such house rules — increasingly common across Maryland — discriminate against bikers and ought to be outlawed, motorcycle enthusiasts argued in legislative testimony Wednesday.
But a longtime bar owner told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that letting bikers wear “colors” – insignia designating gang membership – could lead to violence.
“They come in and take over the place,” said Steven Cotsoradis, president of the Baltimore Licensed Beverage Association. “It intimidates the regular customers.”
He said he posted “No colors” signs at the East Baltimore bar he ran for 30 years until he retired four years ago.
At issue was a bill by Sen. Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County, that would prohibit bars, taverns, hotels, motels or restaurants from refusing to serve customers because of the material of their dress or any insignia showing their affiliation with certain groups.
Discrimination based on hairstyle or mode of transportation would also be illegal. Establishments would be permitted, however, to ban profane, obscene or indecent dress or dress that poses a health risk.
Under the bill, customers who have been discriminated against could take violators to court. Civil penalties would range from $500 to $2,500, depending on whether the defendant was a repeat offender.
Similar legislation that barred discrimination based on “personal appearance” was introduced during the past two General Assembly sessions but failed to pass.
This year’s proposal, bikers argued, would not prohibit dress codes themselves, but would keep establishments from applying them unfairly.
Baltimore County biker Ray Dix, a member of the motorcyclist-rights group ABATE, said before the hearing that “No bikers allowed” signs have appeared in bars and restaurants from Baltimore to Ocean City in recent years.
“Once I see the signs I usually don’t even bother,” said Dix. He testified at the hearing in leather jacket and jeans.
ABATE member and Carroll County attorney Jay Block said some bars and restaurants make bikers park in the back.
“I’m upset if I can’t park my $18,000 Harley-Davidson next to a Hyundai or a Yugo,” Block said.
“Please understand I’m not requesting preferential treatment for motorcyclists,” he told lawmakers, “just equal access.”
Block said three Maryland counties have passed ordinances barring discrimination based on “personal appearance” and have encountered no problems.
But lobbyists for bar and restaurant associations told legislators it would be a mistake to take discretion away from owners. Said attorney Joseph Schwartz, a lobbyist for the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association: “When the wrong colors get together in the same bar there can be problems.” -30-