The NYC location of clubby seafood chain Catch is under fire for alleged homophobia — with a local couple saying that security guards grabbed them by their necks after the two men kissed on the dance floor.
Leo Porto and Felipe Rocha have filed a complaint with the Law Enforcement Bureau of the NYC Commission on Human Rights against the Meatpacking District club after experiencing what they claim is homophobic discrimination at the restaurant’s rooftop club space.
The couple alleges that they were forcibly removed from the NYC location of the the big-brand seafood chain — located at 21 Ninth Ave., near West 13th Street — after kissing on the dance floor on the evening of September 8, including being pushed around by the bouncers so much that they sustained bruises.
Catch NYC and Catch Restaurants did not respond to repeated calls and emails for comment.
Porto and Rocha were dancing with friends on the rooftop when a male security guard approached them, Porto alleges. They were confused as to what the bouncer was trying to tell them since they didn’t think were doing anything wrong — but then after they kissed, Porto alleges that the bouncer told them they would have to leave if they kept kissing.
“I was super shocked, because I had never experienced anything like that,” Porto says. “At first, I just told him ‘you can’t say that.’” Porto and Rocha ignored the request and kissed again, Porto says.
Shortly after, a second security guard showed up and pulled Porto away from Rocha, separating them, Porto alleges. They were told again that they had to leave, he says. Porto argued with the guard, but he alleges that he kept his hands behind his back, hoping to signal that he did not want things to escalate to a physical altercation.
But that’s where the situation allegedly became violent. Porto claims a third security guard approached him from behind, grabbed his neck, and started dragging him off of the dance floor.
“Before you know it, we’re being dragged out by the neck, both of us, in front of a huge crowd of maybe 100 people, and we’re screaming for help,” Porto says. He claims that no one intervened, and the couple was then thrown in the elevator with five security guards, who he alleges continued to be aggressive toward the couple, holding them by the necks and making it difficult for them to breathe.
On the ground floor of the restaurant, Porto says he again asked one of the security guards why they were being removed and then was allegedly shoved by the guard so hard that he fell to the ground. After that, Porto and and Rocha walked out of the restaurant but continued to ask for answers. The security guards allegedly told them that they were too drunk and needed to go home, but Porto claims he and Rocha were sober.
When their attempts to get answers went nowhere, Porto says he and Rocha decided to involve the cops. The NYPD confirmed that a report for harassment was filed against Catch NYC on September 9 at 3:01 a.m. for a verbal dispute with a bouncer at the location that resulted in the victim being pushed out, “causing annoyance and alarm.” According to the NYPD, there were no injuries.
In the time since the incident, Porto says he and Rocha have tried reaching out to the owners via social media but have yet to get a response.
It’s not unprecedented for a nightclub to be accused of discriminatory practices. Dress codes, for instance, have historically been used to justify discriminatory practices. Catch, which also has locations in Vegas, LA, and Playa del Carmen, has a dress code where potential customers can be turned away for violating the brand’s dress code, which bans beachwear, athletic tops and t-shirts, “casual shorts,” and flip-flops.
And user review sites like Yelp and Facebook for Catch NY are riddled with allegations of discrimination, with accusations like being kicked out for makeup.
Catch NYC, which opened in 2011, is popular a tri-level venue with restaurant and bar spaces on two floors and a club space on the rooftop. The Meatpacking location often flies a rainbow flag out front, which is usually a signal for queer customers of restaurants and other businesses that this place is a safe space. LGBTQ consumers are more likely to be loyal to businesses catering to them, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Porto says he and Rocha have met with a lawyer at the New York City Commission on Human Rights, have filed a formal complaint against the business, and are now waiting for a response. A spokesperson with the commission says that it is against the commission’s policy to confirm or deny any potential law enforcement action.
As part of the commission’s usual complaint process, there is an investigation period before either mediation or a conciliation agreement. In some cases when an agreement is not met, the case goes to trial, and the commission’s Law Enforcement Bureau represents the interests of the city in the matter against the business accused of discrimination rather than the person or people who filed the complaint.
Porto and Rocha believe that something needs to be done to call attention to this incident because he feels it’s a blatant example of homophobia, Porto says. They couldn’t quite believe it was happening at the time, and after seeing so many people complaining about alleged abusive bouncer behavior on the venue’s social media pages, the couple doesn’t want more people to have similar experiences, they say.
This isn’t the first time that Catch NYC has found itself in legal hot water. In October, a former employee of Catch NYC named Yanely Pena Cabrera filed a lawsuit against the restaurant and Catch Hospitality Group partners Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, claiming that while working as a food preparer at Catch NYC she was not compensated properly for overtime, among other accusations. The case is ongoing.