Ageism at a karaoke joint?

I recently ran into what I believe was a case of discrimination at a karaoke joint. It involved me, actually, and I debated whether to take advantage of my position as a journalist to complain. But suspecting my experience is probably part of a larger trend, I figured: why not?

What happened was a doorman at the hotspot club insisted I pay a $5 cover to get into the place on a busy Friday night. The thing is, two 20-something women of the jaw-dropping variety had just sailed into the place without paying cover, and I asked about that.

Women don't pay cover, intoned the doorman, a tall, soft-spoken man who turned out to be a self-styled arbiter of social worth.

Granted, it's not unusual for women to get into clubs free while guys pay, but there was another curious aspect about the doorman's demand. He didn't have a cash box, something you'd think would be necessary if all the guys in the place were paying cover.

But nooooo.

I was apparently one of a select few who had to pay to get in, which means what the guy apparently wanted was a bribe. It wasn't the first time. The same doorman pulled the same stunt with me a couple of weeks earlier, except that time he said I had to pay a $5 cover because there was a private party in the place. That sort of made sense, so I let the matter drop and wandered off into the night.

I didn't pay the bribe this latest time, either, although there are rumors others have, according to my sources. The bar's owner did not return my call, but frankly, I doubt that any of the $5 cover charges make it to him, or to the K-Jays who deal with the karaoke singers.

Reportedly, the Fire Department is on the bar's case because of overcrowding, so the doorman may have been trying to keep the numbers down by using a strategy that was meant to fail. I mean, really, who pays cover at a karaoke joint?

And it's not like this place is some uptown Studio 54 scene, where the New York City doormen allowed in only those who fit the beautiful- and famous-people profile. So I wondered what was so special about me, so to speak.

Some people I know have suggested that the doorman didn't want me in the place because he doesn't like me. That's certainly plausible; a lot of people don't like me. But most of them don't like me because of what I write.

I somehow doubt the doorman knows who I am, and I've never caused any trouble in the place, unlike a whole bunch of other people, according to numerous and regular police reports I've seen over the years.

That still leaves the question of exactly which standards of social acceptance the doorman used to screw with me. I think one factor is that I'm a single guy who goes out by himself, something that has caused me grief before at other establishments.

For example, as a single customer, I was once forced to sit in the bar instead of at a table as I requested when I had dinner at a Thai restaurant.

I also once ran into the same kind of prejudice against single diners at another place. In that case, a teenage hostess was very insistent that I sit at the counter next to the kitchen, instead of a table as I had requested. I ultimately insisted on a table, though, and the girl was so angry with me she actually slammed the menu down on the table and stalked off in a major huff.

But I think the key to the karaoke bar's rejection of me is age. I'm 53, and older guys like me are as rare in the karaoke bar on a weekend night as people who can actually sing very well. Rarer, actually, and that's saying a lot.

As a Baby Boomer, I grew up expecting more egalitarian treatment than I received at the hands of a rogue doorman, and since Boomers are so self-involved, I also figured there could be a law against such rude behavior.

However-assuming it's true, and I do-being rejected at a bar because of my age is perfectly legal, according Elliott Bronstein, a spokesman for the Seattle Office of Civil Rights. Seattle has a law that prohibits discrimination based on the usual conditions: sex, race, creed, etc.

Age is one of the protected categories, too, but it turns out the only legal protection involves employment discrimination, which makes up around 40 percent of the cases the civil-rights agency investigates, Bronstein said.

Age discrimination at "public accommodations" such as bars isn't included, though, he said. Still, the Seattle discrimination law is drawn more broadly than the federal statute, including gender identity as a protected category, for instance.

So, there could be a chance that age discrimination in bars might be banned someday. I doubt it, though; the idea is just too silly when you figure how rare it is. Nonetheless, I suspect there are others out there who have experienced the same kind of treatment I did at the karaoke bar and the other neighborhood places.

To tell you the truth, this has all been quite enlightening. As a Boomer, I somehow hoped I'd never get old, but I always figured I'd be at least cool whatever happened.

I was wrong.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at

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