Virgin Hotels Dallas helped ring in 2020 with its Avant Eden New Year’s Eve party. In The Pool Club, the hotel’s fourth-floor rooftop bar and pool deck, people sipped cocktails and listened to a set by DJ Sam Blacky. It was a wildly successful night, said Tim Denker, vice president of Dunhill Partners, one of the owners of Virgin Dallas.
As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the hotel is looking to host many more events like their New Year’s Eve party, but they might have trouble booking some DJs for their parties.
Several local DJs took to social media last week to condemn Virgin Hotels Dallas for what they call racially insensitive practices. They claim the hotel’s entertainment director was asked to stop booking them because they drew a predominantly black crowd. They say the entertainment director was fired after she continued to book them.
“I feel honored to have been able to garner the trust and support that my fans have given me,” DJ Sober, whose real name is Will Rhoten, said in a post on Instagram, which included a cartoon with the caption "Don't be racist."
“This is why it pains me immensely to hear that because of this diversity, the owners and investors at the Virgin Hotels Dallas have terminated their business relationship with their entertainment director due to not firing myself and another respected Dallas DJ in regards to the type of crowd we draw.”
Denker said he could not speak to the validity of the DJ’s claims. He said the entertainment director, Kris Norvet, was one of about 200 people who were laid off at Virgin Hotels Dallas following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I heard that she was saying these things, which is obviously disturbing,” Denker said. “Virgin is a very inclusive brand. We welcome everyone. I need people in there spending money, so we can get back to business.”
Norvet could not be reached for comment. Denker said she was largely responsible for the Avant Eden party. She was great at her job, he said, and helped curate the experience at Virgin's Design District location.
Jay Clipp, another local DJ, said in a Facebook post that his gig at Virgin Hotels Dallas was a breath of fresh air. He said he was able to work with and perform for people of all races. But, since living in Dallas, he said he has experienced racism from different bars and clubs as a customer and a DJ, something he said he is experiencing now with Virgin.
Despite, he claimed, doubling sales when he was booked at Virgin Hotels Dallas, Clipp said he was informed by a person he didn't name that the owner of the hotel had a problem with the crowd he brought to shows.
“I’m not posting this just to blast Virgin and certainly not to fight for my gig,” Clipp wrote. “I’m doing this for my crowd.”
JT Donaldson, another local DJ, said in a Facebook post that he will not be working or stepping foot inside Virgin Hotels Dallas because of the alleged practices. He said he was recently asked by two separate people if he would want to perform at the hotel when they started booking again.
“I heard that she was saying these things, which is obviously disturbing... Virgin is a very inclusive brand. We welcome everyone." – Tim Denker, vice president of Dunhill Partners, one of the owners of Virgin Dallas.
“I absolutely decline,” he said.
Donaldson's post was shared by key members of the DFW music scene.
DJ Sober, who regularly hosts parties with artists like Leon Bridges and Erykah Badu, also said he will not be lending his name, art or his supporters to Virgin which, he said, does not appreciate their patronage. Clipp said the beautiful thing about their craft is that they can do it anywhere.
Denker maintains that Virgin is not looking to discriminate against anyone.
“That’s not who we are; that’s not who Virgin is,” he said. “It’s not right. That kind of stuff belongs in the ‘50s, or ‘60s or in the past. It certainly doesn’t belong in today.”
"Diversity is one of the fundamental principles of the Virgin brand and a core value that has been brought to life across all Virgin Hotels properties," Raul Leal, CEO of Virgin Hotels, said in an emailed statement to the Observer. "Any claim not aligned to this is of significant concern to us, and we are looking into it as a top priority. Any act of discrimination, racism and insensitive language no matter the context will not be tolerated at any level of our company."
Leal said all of the hotel chain's directors of entertainment were furloughed in mid-March because of COVID-19 crisis.
"As we have worked to reopen our properties and assessed altered demand, we made the decision not to bring this position back, brand-wide, along with a number of other roles," Lean said. "This is purely a position elimination, and none of these decisions were based on the actual individual in the role.”
Denker said on Saturday that the hotel was having its first pool party complete with a DJ since the pandemic broke out.
“All we’re doing right now is trying like hell to get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said.