Rick Badie's Gwinnett: Race has led some to change their tune

O’Malley’s used to be party central when I was in college in the mid-’80s. The dance club occupied a historic mill on the North Oconee River and had a deck that overlooked the rushing water. It sat within walking distance of several dorms at the University of Georgia, which made it even more attractive.

The music, though, is what drew me and the gang: The DJs spun Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, danceable tunes.

On some nights, though, a funny thing would happen at this happenin’ spot that closed in the mid-1990s. The music typically played and preferred by a majority of the crowd would sway, become atypical. Instead, the sounds of less-danceable, hard-metal acts would pierce the sound system.

And there we’d sit, my friends and I, wondering what was up with the switch-up.

The only thing we could surmise was that the owners/management at the establishment preferred that the majority of its clientele look a certain way. Not like me.

O’Malley’s was a college-age club that, on most nights, drew a majority white, friendly crowd. The music change-up only occurred when black students turned out in larger numbers than usual. And if there were any other discernible reason, it was lost on us.

Locally, a former NBA All-Star and an Atlanta lawyer have filed a lawsuit against the Tavern at Phipps, claiming they were kicked out of the restaurant because they were black.

On Aug. 11, 2006, former basketball player Joe Barry Carroll and Atlanta attorney Joseph Shaw met at the Tavern’s bar, where they ordered drinks and appetizers. When two white women walked up to the bar, members of the restaurant’s management asked Carroll and Shaw to give up their seats to the women.

The men were offered a free round of drinks to move, but they declined, saying they were not ready to leave. Somewhere during the exchange, Tavern management summoned an off-duty officer who provided security to escort Carroll and Shaw off the premises.

This week, U.S. Magistrate Janet King ruled the lawsuit filed by Carroll and Shaw should go to trial. King’s recommendation now goes to U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash.

The general counsel for the Tavern’s management company has said business practices at an establishment known for great martinis and live music are colorblind.

“When the seats at the bar are full, it is the unwritten practice to ask male customers sitting at the bar who are not eating to give up their seats to female customers standing and waiting for a seat,” according to court filings reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

However, former Tavern employees have told the plaintiffs’ lawyers that the restaurant limited the number of black hostesses on peak nights; delayed service to black patrons, notably in the bar area; and took Hennessy Cognac and Heineken from the menu because they were popular with young black customers.

One must wonder: Did they fiddle regularly with the entertainers’ play lists, too?

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.