As a concept, the first thing to note about Ladies Night is that there's no apostrophe at the end of "ladies." No ownership implied. So Kool and his Gang are wrong when they sing, "Girls, y'all got one/A night that's special everywhere/From New York to Hollywood."
Actually, they're wrong twice: The night doesn't belong to women, and it isn't everywhere. This month, following the lead of Pennsylvania and Iowa, New Jersey ruled that Ladies Night is discriminatory and must be banned. The ruling acknowledges what everyone knows: Ladies Nights aren't done out of love of womankind or the desire to keep misogynists away from a bar. It's a way to get horny hetero fellas to stop by. New Jersey knows this, and it doesn't care. All it took was one man angry at paying a cover charge at a bar, a man furious enough to file a lawsuit.
If Ladies Night is prejudiced, then The Dam in south county is Birmingham, Alabama, in the '60s. It's the type of bar that skirts the line between tavern and nightclub; a DJ is spinning Top 40 hits and there is a dance floor, but the club also has ballgames on the tube and nachos. The Dam offers Ladies Night every day of the week except Sunday (can't have Ladies Night on the Lord's Day). And we're not talking about some namby-pamby "dollar-off" discount, either. At the Dam, ladies who are willing to drink Bud Light or rail drinks imbibe for free every night the spot is open. So if Ladies Night keeps men down, we're talking about some big-league discrimination going on here.
"No guy wants to come to a sausage fest," opines a friendly waitress as she distributes some paid-for drinks. (Of course, some guys do prefer a sausage fest, but that doesn't stop gay bars from holding their own Ladies Nights to draw in lesbian clientele.)
"We're doing the guys a favor by telling them where the girls are going to be," the waitress continues as she sets a cup of free beer in front of a girl in a white halter-top. "I don't think it's discriminatory at all."
She agrees that with the Ladies-Night-every-night gimmick, The Dam would lose serious business if the Show-Me State decided to put a kibosh on female-friendly prices.
If these Ladies Nights bans were happening in California, we'd all just write them off as more quirks of that Terminator-electing weirdos-ville. But we're talking about New Jersey here: Tony Soprano and Bruce Springsteen. Like the indoor-smoking bans that are spreading from the Golden State to more reasonable places, this is an alarming trend for Missouri ladies who like to drink for free and for the men who love them. If women have to pay full price in the Garden State, surely it's just a matter of time before female-friendly prices end around here. Right?
"No lawyer worth their salt will answer that question," says Denise Lieberman of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. "In court cases, the devil is in the details." Ever the lawyer, Lieberman won't play fortune teller on a case that hasn't been filed. She will, however, concede that the ground is ripe for a lawsuit here.
"There are Missouri and federal laws that prohibit sexual discrimination" in public businesses, Lieberman says. It does, from a logical standpoint, seem pretty black-and-white: Discrimination is against the law. You couldn't have a "Whites Night" at a bar and get away with it.
But Lieberman brings up another wrinkle with the concept of "protected classes": Discrimination laws exist to protect historically oppressed folks. This is the reason, says Lieberman, that reverse-affirmative-action lawsuits don't hold up in court.
Affirmative action exists to give a boost to people who've spent years getting stepped on. Senior citizens get discounts at the movies because they had to grow up in an age without cell phones. And women get free drinks because once upon a time they couldn't vote. Still, the fact remains that the mostly white, male patrons of bars like The Dam don't have much business singing "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."
"Men lining up to use the bathrooms like chicks. That's messed up," says Sean, a Dam patron who's taking his Bud with him to the urinal.
"They ought to have more bathrooms for us. But them getting free drinks? Why do you think I'm here?" He punches knuckles with a friend also in line for the bathroom, who adds a "Hell, yes" as the duo scans the line of women taking shots at the bar. If anyone is being oppressed at the Dam tonight, it is the patrons' livers. Maybe someone ought to file a lawsuit for them.