Ban on retro sneakers by Scottsdale nightclubs raises questions of bias

No entry allowed

Despite their popularity, Air Force 1s and Jordans, or “Js,” aren’t allowed at many Scottsdale nightclubs. The rules are meant to give the club a certain appearance, but Valley residents are unsure why they should opt for cheaper clothes when the rest of the dress code implies an upscale image.

Noah Jones, 23, said he was wearing a pair of beige Air Force 1s the first time he was refused entry by Casa Amigos bouncers. Jones had worn Yeezy sneakers, which is Kanye West’s fashion and sneaker collaboration, to the club on a previous occasion, so he was confused why his more subtle AF1s were causing so much trouble.

Bouncers told him those rules were in place to prevent fights, as patrons in the past have aggressively guarded their high-end sneakers, leading to clashes.

“I could see how it could happen, but I didn’t personally witness it,” Jones said. “Besides, that wouldn’t really explain them denying me my Air Force 1s because it’s just not a shoe people get upset about.”

Brandon Jones, 22 – unrelated to Noah – was also wearing Air Force 1s when HiFi Kitchen and Cocktails refused him entry. He received a similar explanation.

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“It would only concern me if someone looked like they were wearing new shoes, or more specifically, Jordans,” Jones said. “Ninety dollar Air Force 1s shouldn’t start any type of combat. In fact, there are more expensive shoes that they allow people to wear in the club than the Air Force 1s.”

The rules themselves raise questions, but the inconsistencies in the application of these rules are confusing to some clubbers. Although the dress codes come from management, it seems to be left to the bouncers to enforce, and it’s quite arbitrary.

Sarah Kurtze, 21, frequents Scottsdale nightclubs, including Casa Amigos, on weekends. She never had a problem with her white Air Force 1s.

“It’s, like, my shoes (that) I don’t care what happens to them,” Kurtze said. “And my feet often get stepped on in clubs, so I prefer not to wear nice shoes because I don’t want them to be ruined.”

Justin Tinsley, senior culture editor for Andscape, formerly The Undefeated, tweeted in April that a Scottsdale bar wouldn’t let his friend in because he was wearing Jordan 1s: “A sports bar. This shows the UNC game. This is the definition of irony.

Dress rules

Upon request, a Casa Amigos security guard provided Cronkite News with the club’s nighttime dress code: pants with belt, no open-toed shoes, no face tattoos, no gang-affiliated merchandise, no gym gear and no Jordans. The Air Force 1s were not mentioned.

Asked about the Noah Jones account, Casa Amigos management and security declined to comment.

HiFi Kitchen and Cocktails also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

As a bouncer at Hifi and Casa Amigos, Baines, 26, regularly steered customers away from lines because of their sneakers. He has since chosen to work for the security of establishments further west and closer to Phoenix.

Baines, who is black, doesn’t believe the sneaker bans are meant to prevent fights.

“It’s something they say,” he said. “But in the end, that’s not the reason.

“From my experience and, you know, what I’ve seen and on both sides, just, you know, partying and working, it’s really more to keep a certain crowd out. Because you know, if you had 10 people online with (Jordans), eight of the 10 people would probably be black.

While some say these rules could be motivated by race, others point to class distinctions in Old Town club demographics. Baines also said it’s common for bouncers to accept cash at the door to allow patrons to skip the lines, reserve a table or order bottle service.

In Scottsdale, a $20 bill can also double as a free get out of jail card for revelers who forgot to leave their Js at home, he said.

“You can wear whatever you want…as long as you want to pay,” Baines said.

For some, coughing up the cash is worth keeping the plans intact, but not everyone can afford it. Hope Denslow, 26, decided she would not return to Old Town nightclubs after her boyfriend, who is black, was repeatedly refused entry because of his Jordans.

Like Baines, Denslow suspects race plays a role.

“We just decided to start going to their clubs in downtown Phoenix or we’re just going to dive bars farther south in Scottsdale,” she said. “Why waste, you know, $14 on drinks for some people who don’t want those kind of people?” We work hard for our money. Why would I spend $15 on a club that doesn’t want my boyfriend to go?

Torres, the sneaker journalist, believes there is a disconnect between club managers and the culture and lifestyle they promote. Fashion trends come and go, he said, and sneakers are no different. Five years ago, designer brands like Balenciaga and Versace caused a stir with sneakers, promoting them through social media and song lyrics.

Now, retro-style basketball shoes are back in the spotlight, but the design phase could make a comeback, he said.

“Dior, Givenchy, Prada, you see all these high-profile brands collaborating with sneakers,” Torres said. “So I think, maybe in five years we’ll have a reset to some degree, where a nightclub might be more tolerant (retro shoes).”

Sneakerheads plead for transparency.

“I don’t know what their end goal is and why they continue to be inconsistent with the rules,” Noah Jones said. “But I know it backfires because a lot of my friends who used to hang out in Old Town don’t go there anymore.”

As Baines said, these rules aren’t new to most nightlife-loving Valley residents. They just know that when the beat hits their feet, it’s time to check their shoes.

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