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Black Customer Says Facebook Apology for Alleged Discrimination at Martin’s Tavern Falls Short

The woman says she was pushed to leave her table early so two white women could take it

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: Martin’s Tavern is a local Georg
Green lights at Martin’s Tavern
Kate Patterson for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

The general manager of historic Georgetown restaurant Martin’s Tavern publicly apologized to a Black customer this week after she alleged in a Facebook post that staff at the bar discriminated against her. But the gesture from the restaurant feels “empty,” she tells Eater.

Kristi Riggs used the social media platform to share her account of how a waiter and manager at the 88-year-old neighborhood fixture pushed her to leave so a pair of white women could claim her covered patio table Friday, February 26. Her story asserts the Martin’s staff tried to cite a 90-minute time limit to force her exit, but she had time remaining, and none of the white customers in the restaurant had been asked to make a similar concession.

A subsequent Facebook post, attributed to Martin’s Tavern general manager Luis Valle and shared under the account for Martin’s Tavern, promises the restaurant will “do better,” starting by requiring workers to attend a diversity and inclusion course.

“I have talked to the manager on duty and the server separately and there was a miscommunication on both their parts,” the post from Valle reads. “However, this does not excuse how it was perceived. Even though their intent was not to offend anyone, it does not change the fact that it did. We are an equal opportunity establishment and have no tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind to our guests and our staff. This is not a clear representation of Martin’s Tavern or the experience that we provide our guest on a daily basis.”

When reached by Eater, Riggs said no one from the family-owned restaurant reached out to her directly before posting the mea culpa online, and she felt like the message lacked accountability.

“Basically it was so ... lacking in personalization, heart, and sincerity. It wasn’t specific,” says Riggs, who runs her own small business as a fashion designer, stylist, and self-described lifestyle influencer. “It’s like they went through the motions. There was no ‘miscommunication.’ The response intensified my anger with the situation and made me feel like they still don’t get it and the gravity of the situation.”

In her original Facebook post, Riggs wrote that she had plenty of time remaining on a 90-minute limit for her covered patio table on Friday, February 26, when she invited a friend to join her for dessert. During the wait, she writes, she saw her server greet two “older white women” who were waiting for a seat at the restaurant. Other tables at the restaurant were open, according to Riggs, but the women pointed and gestured at her, leading the waiter to ask about the arrival of her friend, then remind her of the time limit. Riggs says that was the start of what would turn into an embarrassing spectacle for everyone else in the restaurant to watch unfold.

“At this point I’ve only been there for an hour or so. So I didn’t understand why I was being pressured all of a sudden,” she writes. She says she asked people at two surrounding tables about if they had been reminded of the time limit, and they said they hadn’t. Riggs says she was the only Black person in the crowded bar.

When her friend arrived moments later, she writes, the server brought over a manager who told Riggs she needed to leave.

“So, now it’s clear to me and I’m furious about what’s going on ... I interrupted [the manager] and told him how I intentionally came there that evening to support the restaurant and that I was within my time limit and that I didn’t appreciate being treated the way I was being treated.”

Riggs writes that the conversation led a young white woman at the table next to hers to inform the manager her group was leaving because they “didn’t like how I was being treated and that they had all been there much longer than I was and didn’t understand why I was being asked to leave.” Riggs says she appreciated the woman’s show of solidarity.

Riggs says in the post that she then requested the manager to bring her check, which he offered to comp. She describes that as “an offer not made out of goodwill but more out of his desire just to dismiss me and have me gone.” Almost three hours later, when Riggs and her friend returned to the area near Martin’s to get her friend’s car, the women who took over her table were still sitting in the restaurant, Riggs says.

“It became even more crystal clear to me at that point that I had been racially profiled and unfairly targeted in order to accommodate the wishes of their white patrons,” Riggs writes.

Part of Riggs’s issue with the apology from the restaurant, she says, is the vague reference to racial sensitivity training Martin’s plans to seek for employees.

“That is a big umbrella term you have to be specific about. Who is doing the training?” she says.

Eater contacted Valle to inquire about the training her referenced on Facebook, but he declined to provide a comment. Riggs says Valle reached out to her directly after she commented on the Facebook post from Martin’s Tavern, but she feels like she should have heard from the owner. “Every day he doesn’t call me ticks me off more and makes me feel more disrespected and devalued and compounds the drama of the initial incident.”

In a statement sent to Eater, owner William A. Martin says he’s dealing with “an emergency health issue requiring hospitalization,” and “I will contact her as soon as I have been medically cleared.”

Martin’s Tavern holds iconic status in Georgetown, drawing locals for respectable bar food in a historic setting. John F. Kennedy supposedly proposed to Jackie there. The facade graced the cover of the February issue of Washingtonian magazine that celebrated “great neighborhood restaurants.” It added a streetside patio during the pandemic. In January, Martin’s was picked as recipient of Barstool’s funding program to help it stay afloat.

Update: March 3, 2021, 7:17 p.m.: This post has been updated to clarify a quote from Riggs about how the entire interaction at Martin’s Tavern made her feel