When Dr. Kenneth Smothers, a Black psychiatrist, strolled up to the elan nightclub on K Street NW recently, a hostess, wearing spiked heels and a deeply split skirt, pulled a blue veivet rope across the doorway.
Elan was too crowded, she said, as she turned him away.
"So I stood on the street and counted 10 whites go inside," Smothers recalls. "It was so blatant."
Despite the good looks and important new positions of Washington's rising black professionals, the doors of some of the city's nightclubs still are being shut in their faces.*tRacial discrimination on Washington's selective social scene is still an everyday occurrence, assocrding to interviews with dozens of black professionals, social leaders and some nightclub managers themselves.
"I find it ironic that in a city 79 percent black, where most of the elected city officials are black, a black can't go to most nightclubs without a hassle," says John Wilson, a black member of the D.C. City Council.
Even the wife of Mayor Marion Barry is not immune from this kind of racial slight.
"It happens to me continuously," Effi Barry said. "It's not getting better.People are being lulled into a false sense of security. What they don't realize is that once you get off your block or out of your neighborhood, you're just another nigger."
In a city that is predominantly black, some nightclub managers apparently try to hold the percentage of black customers to one-third or less at any one time. Integration is chic, but too much - too many blacks - is not.
"They say this area has the highest concentration of blacks outside of Africa," says Scott Spaulding, night manager of the Plum, another downtown nightclub. "But here I'd say about one-third is our happy ratio."
William Lindsay, part-owner of Foxtrappe, a leading black private nightclub at 16th and R streets NW, says other clubs try to restrict their black clientele to about 10 to 25 percent.
"Blacks are still considered inferior," says Lindsay. "It's like we're a negative concept. White club owners feel that if they admit a noticeable percentage of blacks, they will run away the whites, which has proven to be the case."
Most blacks who have been discriminated against are reluctant to talk about it, or don't want to be quoted or identified by name. Being discriminated against is both painful and embarrassing.
"It hurts," says Lynn Bumbray, an assistant to Effi Barry. "I don't care how tough you try to be or how much you try to ignore it. It's like the poem, 'Ode to Rejection.'"
Rarely is denial of admission put in racial terms. Rather, the clubs start requiring membership cards or inaugurate dress codes or invoke the city fire marshal's crowd capacity code.
In April 1977, Dr. Michael Proctor, a black orthopedic surgeon, sued the Appletree Club, at 1220 19th St. NW, unsuccessfully alleging racial discrimination. Proctor and three other blacks had been denied admission on the grounds they were improperly dressed.
"What upset me was the white fellow they admitted in front of us," Proctor said. "He was wearing an outfit similar to mine."
Moments later, a black salesman for IBM Coproration also was denied admission to the Appletree, allegedly for improper dress. The man left and returned with a uniformed D.C. police officer.
After peering through the door and seeing how others were dressed, the officer told the doorkeeper, "I think you should let him in." The man was allowed inside.
But when Jack Sykes, a black who is circulation manager for The Washington Star. attempted to enter the Appletree Club later, he says he was told it would cost $75 - the cost of a membership card. The club normally charges a $10 cover charge after 5 p.m.
An all black jury ruled in favor of the Appletree in the discrimination case. Testimony revealed that some of the plaintiffs in the case had subsequently returned to the club and were admitted.
"My argument was that the club used quotas for blacks," said Albert Hopkins, Proctor's lawyer. "Once the club reached its 'tipping point," they stopped allowing blacks inside. the jury didn't buy it. They felt that you have to exclude all blacks all the time to be guilty of racial discrimination."
Seated at a bar in the Foxtrappe club one night recently, several blacks said they had stopped going to white clubs altogether, preferring to pass up the chance to make business contacts in an informal setting rather than risk personal insults, real or imagined.
"It's a paradox," said John Forston, a supervisor at the General Services Administration. "Here I am, a professional man, but you go to some of these white places and the doorman expects you to be subservient."
Vivian Leek, a black free-lance writer who is fair-skinned, said when she went to The Buck Stops Here, at 17th and G streets NW, she complimented the bartender on how nice the place was.
"He agreed, but added they were still having problems with blacks and were trying to discourage them. He must have thought I was Spanish, or something," Leek said.
Harvey Thorton, a black who works at the Federal Reserve Board, said, "I went to the Appletree one night and the guy at the door says, 'Hey, you must be looking for the Mark IV (a black club)."
Club woners and managers deny the discrimination charge.
"You'd be crazy to try to keep out blacks in a city like Washington," said Robert Allison, manager of elan. "One of the nice things about our place is that it is one of the few places in the city that is heavily integrated."
That was indisputable when elan opened in April 1977. Located near expensive French and Italian restaurants in an entertainment district known as "The Golden Triangle," elan became a popular choice for black doctors, lawyers, politicians and bureaucrats.
A huge favorite among the happy hour crowd was the spiced shrimp and escargot buffet, served on silver with a continental touch.
One day, the buffet disappeared.
Then, a small, neighborhood newspaper call the Georgetowner published a gossip item, suggesting that elan thought it had a "clientele problem."
"Walking into elan on any given happly hour, one could feel they were at the Foxtrappe . . . at least that's what some people think. Raised eyebrows have decided that, to eliminate this problem, they'll soon be admitting cardholders only after 4 p.m. . . . of course, that doesn't apply to regular customer Effi Barry."
To many blacks, the item in the Georgetowner was just a reminder that, in spite of everything else, they really had not come that far.
Allison bitterly scored the Georgetowner, contending the newspaper had taken "two unrelated actions and turned them into a racial slur.
"We just had too many people coming eating our buffet," Allison said. "Basically, we're trying to have a nice place where people can come in and dance and play backammon - an assorted group of people on the same intellectual level. Does that sound snobbish?"
Elan threatened to sue the Georgetowner over the item, but when the matter was raised with elan's corporate offices in Dallas, it was dropped.
The club also began in April requiring a membership card or a $10 cover charge for admission after 4 p.m.
Asked why the Appletee issued membership cards, manager Robert Platt replied, "Let's just say management awareness. I mean, why did elan do it? We're not the only ones. What about the Plum?"
Don Parker, another spokesman for the Appletree, added, "As far as our door policy goes, the only color we care about is green. And that's money . . . We will admit any orderly person with a jacket on.
"We are not a private club; we are a cardholder operation. The are no quotas, black or white, male of female. You will find this operation totally integrated. What elan does is their business."
Both Parker and Allison of elan said that hostesses and bouncers are trained to be courteous, but may not always live up to the training.
Numerous complaints about club discrimination have been lodged with the city's Office of Human Rights as membership card requirements have increased.
"It's a basic fact of life in this twon that a club is going to be either black or white," says Lindsay of the Foxtrappe."The races don't mix that well socially. You have a lot of strangers in a nightclub situation and people make judgments based on what they see. The crowd is looking for something in common, and if all they find are differences, then they become uncomfortable."
The Foxtrappe club pokes fun at Washington's segregated night life while making a comfortable profit from it. Twice a year, the club holds a "Black and White Night" when blacks are encouraged to bring a white person with them.
The makers of Black and White scotch, promoters of the event, supply an attractive team of one black and one white hostess, and give away black and white toy dogs as door prizes to the best "zebra" (mixed) couple.
Recently, Valerie Ducker and three other black women students from Mount Holyoke College came to Washington for a party with their classmates, most of whom are white. The party was held at elan.
The four women claimed they were mocked by management, "humiliated and embarrassed," and not allowed inside.
"it's alarming," Ducker wrote to Mayor Barry, "to think that incidents such as the one I encountered at elan are still occurring in the District of Columbia."
Robert allison of elan, who also received a letter from Ducker, said,"I'm very sorry that people have felt that way. That is not what we do here. This is a very sticky situation and it makes me very uncomfortable." CAPTION: Picture 1, EFFI BARRY . . . " It's not getting better"; Picture 2, The Foxtrappe, a black private nightclub, is located behind this discreet facade at 16th and R street NW.; Picture 3, The Elan nightclub on K Street NW is part of downtown social scene. Photos by James M. Thresher - The Washington Post