Baltimore Markets Corp. won’t compel Atlas to drop dress code at restaurant operated on city property

Last Thursday, the Four Seasons in Baltimore announced Atlas Restaurant Group would drop the dress code at the two establishments it runs within the Harbor East hotel, Maximon and The Bygone. The move came after a viral video depicted a manager at Atlas’ Ouzo Bay restaurant denying a Black family service because of a 9-year-old boy’s attire.

That same day, Atlas revised the dress code at other restaurants it runs in Baltimore, including Ouzo Bay, Tagliata and Choptank. New guidelines recommend business casual dress and prohibit bare feet. The company has not publicized the shift on social media.


To City Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee for mayor, easing the dress code is not enough. On Saturday, he called on the restaurant group to drop the dress code at all its Baltimore properties. On Wednesday, a spokesperson said Scott “stands by his call for Atlas to drop dress code requirements from all Atlas properties.“

As of yet, there are no plans to compel Atlas to ditch the dress code at the restaurant it operates on city property.


This week, Robert Thomas, the executive director of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., told The Baltimore Sun the nonprofit that runs city-owned markets won’t make Atlas drop its dress code at the Choptank restaurant in Broadway Market.

“We’re expecting the last incident was informative enough” to prevent another similar occurrence, said Thomas, referring to the viral video at Ouzo Bay. He said he has heard of no discrimination complaints at Choptank since it opened.

The political backdrop for the Markets Corp.‘s board stands to change. Members are appointed by the mayor of Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young last fall defended the restaurant group’s owner, Alex Smith, after the Choptank’s dress code was criticized as discriminatory. Later, Young raised over $200,000 at a fundraiser at The Bygone co-hosted by the restaurateur.

Back then, Atlas made tweaks to the Choptank dress code.

A spokesman for Young did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the current controversy.

In contrast, Scott has spoken directly to the matter.

“Changing the dress code policy at two of their restaurants and implementing diversity and inclusion training are steps in the right direction, but not enough,” Scott said in a statement over the weekend. He urged the company to create a scholarship program for city graduates interested in pursuing careers in the hospitality industry.

Asked if Scott would appoint new members to the board of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., his spokesman wrote in an email that he “will be re-evaluating all appointees and agency heads” if and when he becomes mayor.

For now, Atlas is forming an advisory board that will discuss the matter of dress codes, among other issues, according to spokesman Joe Sweeney.

Atlas has historically defended the dress codes at its various properties amid controversy. Last fall, Smith pointed to dress codes at schools as justification for having one at his restaurants.

Asked by a Baltimore Sun reporter last Thursday about Atlas’ rationale for dress codes, Smith said: “It’s part of the atmosphere and experience of what we’re trying to cultivate... our customers have overwhelming told us this is what they want.”


In the wake of the Ouzo Bay incident, Smith appears to be ceding ground on the dress code issue, albeit slowly. Atlas on Thursday loosened dress codes at various properties in Harbor East and Fells Point, removing bans on designer sneakers and other apparel. But the group made no announcement of the change on its web page or social media platforms.

In the encounter that has drawn national attention and condemnation as well as protests in Baltimore, Marcia Grant of Howard County and her son, Dallas, were denied service at Ouzo Bay. A manager at the Greek-themed restaurant in Harbor East claimed the boy’s outfit did not meet the restaurant’s dress code, though a video Grant filmed at the scene shows a white child in similar clothing leaving the establishment.

Grant has since hired Mills & Edwards, LLP, a civil litigation firm specializing in personal injury, civil rights and criminal law. The firm submitted a lawsuit against Atlas on Tuesday, according to a publicist for the family. Court filings were not immediately available.

Atlas also features dress codes at its properties in Florida and Texas. At Loch Bar in Boca Raton, for example, athletic wear and hunting apparel are forbidden after 4 p.m.

As the Choptank was opening last fall, a plaque outside barred jerseys, backward hats, excessively baggy clothing and bandannas. To critics, such a code seemed to target African Americans and felt especially out of place on city property.

“Given that the restaurant is in a property owned by the people of Baltimore, the standards for inclusivity and diversity must be high,” the Rev. Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, wrote in an email to The Sun at the time.

Amid the current protests against Atlas and calls for boycotts, Thomas, executive director of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., says, “They’re on our radar now.”

But, “We don’t want to be premature,” Thomas said. “We don’t want to be provocative.”

Details of the agreement between Atlas and the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. are scant. Thomas and Atlas founder Smith have declined to make public the lease agreement for Choptank, although in the interview last week with The Sun, Smith said Choptank pays “the highest rent per square foot of any restaurant in the city.”

The Baltimore Public Markets Corp. was established in 1995 by then-mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to run the Broadway, Hollins, Northeast, Cross Street and now-defunct Belair Market. Its first chairman was the late John Paterakis, Smith’s grandfather and developer of Harbor East.

The move toward privatization was seen as a way to make the markets more relevant and attractive, according to a 1996 article in The Baltimore Sun. Lexington Market Inc. has run the historic West Baltimore market since 1979.

Today, Colin Tarbert, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corp., is chair. He and 10 other board members are unpaid, according to Bennice Thayer, director of finance and administration for the group.


Atlas is also set to open Watershed, a seafood restaurant, in Federal Hill’s Cross Street Market sometime next year. That market is operated by developers Caves Valley Partners on city-owned property. Arsh Mirmiran of Caves Valley said they have not discussed dress codes.


Thomas did not immediately respond Thursday to Sun inquiries about the Baltimore Public Markets Corp.‘s position on a dress code at Watershed.

In an email, Sweeney said Atlas’ soon-to-form corporate social responsibility advisory board would take up the issue of dress codes across the company.

In determining whether to have a dress code at Watershed, Sweeney added, “We will also take a look at the surrounding bars and restaurants in the area that already have posted dress codes, like we did in Fells Point to form The Choptank dress code before we opened.”

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