WECT Investigates: Battle of the Bars

Reported by Max Winitz - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Last summer the national media discovered that military servicemen were being denied entry into several downtown Wilmington bars and nightclubs.

Some private Wilmington bars have a three-day membership waiting period that some use as a way to keep people out of their businesses.

Bar owners say the servicemen had a rowdy reputation, but the military called it simple discrimination.

It's been a year since those reports, and to see if Marines are still having a hard time getting into some downtown establishments, WECT sent an undercover camera downtown to investigate.

Camp Lejeune Sergeant James Ferrara and his buddies spent one night on the town after a grueling day of training.

Sgt. Ferrara said he's heard about the problems some of his fellow Marines have faced in the past with getting into Wilmington clubs, but said he's never been turned away.

"We've gotten in pretty easy to most of the clubs we've been to," said Sgt. Ferrara.

He said bouncers have only asked for a regular ID and a $5 cover - not a membership card.

The group of Marines went to Reel Cafe and Level 5 Nightclub with no questions asked.  But when they went to Charley Brownz it was only a matter of seconds before they were cutoff before they even got through the door.

"We walked up, showed the guy our IDs - we all had them out," said Sgt. Ferrara.  "He kind of looked at us.  Obviously we are all Marines.  He told us we needed to get a membership card."

To see if the bar would turn away anyone without a membership, WECT followed a former employee as he went to Charley Brownz.

"I walked up to the door - I said, 'Is there a cover?' He said, 'No.' I said, 'Cool.' I walked straight inside, went to the back, used the bathroom, and came out," said Steve Powell.

Unlike Sgt. Ferrara and his friends, Powell, who is not a Marine, gained entry without any problems.

"It hurts me," said Sgt. Ferrara.

"I think it's unacceptable," said Sgt. Jeff Lewis.  "It's pure discrimination - kind of makes you feel bad."

A few days later, WECT returned to Charley Brownz with the video.  A spokesperson from the bar agreed to speak, provided he wasn't identified.

Even though the spokesperson refused to look at the video, he admitted that large groups of Marines are routinely denied access out of the safety for others.

"If they come in right now [early in the night], they can all come in - I'll put them in the door," said the spokesperson.  "The problem is when this becomes the third or fourth stop on their bar night."

When asked what a solution would be to stop discrimination the spokesperson said, "They need to work on how to integrate them [Marines] back into everyday life with people.  You cannot just throw them back into the nightlife down here and expect everything will function properly.  It will never happen."

The issue has now found a frontline in Raleigh.  State lawmakers are considering a bill that would remove the need for a membership card.

The bill would make it easier for Sgt. Ferrara and his friends to get in to any bar they choose if it's approved.

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