Retired Army major fights property discrimination case
By Fritz Esker
Retired Army Major Tracy Riley feels she has been unfairly discriminated against by the state of Louisiana and the French Quarter Management District in her efforts to open a supper club and music venue on Decatur Street.
Riley’s company, The Rouge House LLC, is appealing the decision from the State of Louisiana Department of Revenue’s office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control (ATC) to deny her business an alcoholic beverage permit. At a hearing in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on April 25, the ATC requested a continuance without a date due to a scheduling conflict.
The ATC initially denied Riley’s permit because it claimed that The Rouge House, located at 300 Decatur, handled alcohol without a permit and that Riley suppressed info as an applicant. The suppression charge stems from Riley listing her spouse as a business member.
An inside view of The Rouge House on Decatur Street
“Why they would deny us for that reason is a mystery to me,” Riley said.
On six different occasions, the ATC conducted surprise inspections of The Rouge House and found no violations for alcohol or any other issues. As a result, Riley is frustrated with the entire process.
“The army operates with a clear set of orders and appropriate regulations on how things are done,” Riley said. “I expected something similar from the City of New Orleans and have been sadly disappointed.”
Riley suspects there may be racial motivations behind the permit denial. On one occasion, Riley says her security guard was told to “get out of here, n—er” by a French Quarter resident.
“I am an African-American female and I have chosen to operate my business in an area where there are no African-American females who own a business,” Riley said.
From a recording of an ATC meeting on September 4 provided by Riley, Dan Altenloh, French Quarter Management District member and resident, said the crowds outside the Rouge House at night frightened him and other residents. The fear reached the point that they would not leave their homes after 11 p.m. and that businesses in the area would close earlier for that reason. He also complained about crowds blocking traffic and described it as a “Bourbon-like atmosphere.”
Riley argues that The Rouge House is in a thriving area with businesses like the House of Blues, Huck Finn’s, The Attiki Bar and Grill, Bootlegger’s and more in the immediate vicinity, making crowds inevitable in that area. On top of this, Decatur is a primary thoroughfare for people getting to the French Quarter, so even people who aren’t patronizing those businesses will be passing through. She states that no crowds at any of her events violated any laws.
After retiring from the military due to a disability, The Rouge House was Riley’s dream. She wanted it to be a “one-stop shop” for musicians who are trying to break into the industry. The venue would provide mentorship, management training, and career guidance. There would also be a recording studio, Internet radio station, a stage for live music, and a supper club.
Aside from providing a training ground for local musicians, Riley was in the process of a selecting a Louisiana-trained chef to establish her menu. Once open, she planned to provide service industry jobs for young adults in the community.
Jacqueline Wilson, a partner with Shows, Cali, & Walsh, the firm representing the ATC, said they could not comment on the issue because it is an ongoing case pending litigation.
Robert Watters, chairman of the French Quarter Management District and owner of Rick’s Cabaret, did not reply to an email seeking comment as of press time.
This article originally published in the May 5, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.