Why this restaurant's age limits of 30 for women and 35 for men are sparking controversy

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Jun. 21 2024, Published 5:21 p.m. ET

Bliss Caribbean Restaurant in St. Louis County, Missouri, is turning heads with a bold and innovative policy designed to offer a serene, adult-only environment. According to The New York Times, the restaurant, launched by Tina and Marvin Pate, has instituted an age restriction: female customers must be at least 30 years old, and male customers must be 35. While this rule has stirred some legal debate, it has also garnered significant support from patrons who appreciate a mature and sophisticated space to unwind.

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The Pates, both 42 and with Caribbean roots, drew inspiration from their vacations in Cancún and the Dominican Republic, where they enjoyed peaceful ambiance, good music, delicious food, and the absence of children. They aimed to recreate this experience for their customers, offering a place where adults could unwind without everyday distractions. “We decided to come up with a whole restaurant where adults could pretty much go on vacation for a fraction of the cost,” Mr. Pate explained.

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The policy quickly gained attention on social media, leading to packed dance parties and a vibrant, adult-oriented atmosphere. Despite its popularity, the age restriction has prompted legal scrutiny for setting different age thresholds for men and women. “My knee-jerk reaction is that it is technically illegal,” stated Sarah Jane Hunt, the owner and managing partner of the St. Louis-based law firm Kennedy Hunt, P.C., who specializes in discrimination lawsuits, according to NPR.

Since its opening, Bliss Caribbean Restaurant has received widespread praise from locals. Sean McLemore, a 50-year-old St. Louis resident, commended the policy, saying, “It stops all of the riffraff that goes on in St. Louis. The atmosphere is real chill. It’s a great environment.”

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Bliss Caribbean Restaurant remains lively and energetic, staying open until 1:30 a.m. on weekends. As the night progresses, patrons often shift from enjoying their meals to dancing on the white marble floor. “They’re enjoying the food and enjoying the music, and they love the age restriction,” Mrs. Pate told the New York Times. “They are loving the sophisticated experience.”

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The Pates emphasize that their intention is not to discriminate but to create a comfortable environment for older patrons. “We’re not trying to keep away young people as if they bring the riffraff,” Mrs. Pate explained. “It’s just about creating an environment where older customers feel comfortable.”

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However, legal experts caution that the policy might still be problematic. Travis Crum, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, noted that while federal law does not generally prohibit age restrictions in public spaces, the Missouri Human Rights Act could pose an issue. The act “prohibits discrimination by public accommodations on the basis of sex” along with other categories such as race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, or disability, Crum explained.

Bliss Caribbean Restaurant clarified on Facebook that it "requires all guests to be 30 or older for women and 35 or older for men." The owners confirmed that they check driver's licenses at the door to ensure compliance for those who appear close to the age threshold.

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Some have expressed frustration with this policy. Chance Bontrager, from Topeka, Kansas, shared his thoughts on the restaurant’s Facebook page, saying, “I did not choose what day/month/year I was born any more than I chose what color my skin would be when I arrived. They’re equal metrics,” per NPR.

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Crum argues that while the restaurant could legally require all customers to be over 30, having different age requirements for men and women complicates matters. “If the attorney general’s office sought to step in and try and stop this practice,” Mr. Crum said, “I would have little doubt that they would be able to issue an injunction and say, ‘You have to eliminate this policy.’” The Missouri attorney general’s office has not yet responded to inquiries about the legality of the restaurant’s policy.

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Despite these concerns, the Pates reiterate that their goal is not to exclude anyone but to foster a particular ambiance. Bliss Caribbean Restaurant is not the first to implement age-based entry rules; typically, these are for patrons under 21. For example, Nettie’s House of Spaghetti in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, announced on Facebook in February 2023 that children under 10 were no longer allowed.

Ultimately, the Pates believe their age restrictions enhance the customer experience. “People absolutely love it,” Mr. Pate said. “They love the culture of it. They love the food.”

Creating a special place for adults to unwind, reconnect, and enjoy themselves without the usual distractions is at the heart of Bliss Caribbean Restaurant's vision. The success of their unique policy highlights a broader discussion on age-based regulations in public spaces, balancing customer preferences with legal frameworks. The restaurant stands as a testament to the joy of adult-only spaces, providing a much-needed haven for those seeking a sophisticated night out.

This article was written with assistance from artificial intelligence. Megaphone creates content primarily driven by people but aims for full transparency in how our storytelling is produced. To learn more about our policy on artificial intelligence, click here.

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