No Tables for Anyone Under 30 at This St. Louis-Area Restaurant

When Tina and Marvin Pate travel to Cancún or the Dominican Republic, they enjoy the bliss created by the good music, delicious food and the absence of children.

So in May, when they opened Bliss Caribbean Restaurant in St. Louis County, Mo., the couple decided to give their customers the same joy — by requiring that all female customers be at least 30 years old, and all men 35.

“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 said.

This rule has drawn widespread attention to Bliss through social media, resulting in packed dance parties and what the restaurant calls a “grown and sexy” vibe.

But the requirement has also raised some legal questions, as experts point out that the restaurant is treating men and women differently.

“My knee-jerk reaction is that it is technically illegal,” Sarah Jane Hunt, the owner and managing partner of the St. Louis-based law firm Kennedy Hunt, P.C., said in an interview. Ms. Hunt specializes in discrimination lawsuits.

Since Bliss Caribbean Restaurant opened in May, news media have covered the restaurant and its rule, and residents have turned to social media, mostly to praise the policy.

“It stops all of the riffraff that goes on in St. Louis,” said Sean McLemore, a 50-year-old St. Louis resident who has dined at Bliss Caribbean Restaurant. “The atmosphere is real chill. It’s a great environment.”

An absence of youth does not mean Bliss lacks energy. The restaurant stays open until 1:30 a.m. on weekends. As the night turns into morning, diners step away from plates of fried red snapper and turn the restaurant’s white marble floor into a dance party.

“They’re enjoying the food and enjoying the music, and they love the age restriction,” Mrs. Pate said. “They are loving the sophisticated experience.”

The Pates are both 42 years old and have Caribbean roots. They say it is not their intention to discriminate against anyone. With a child on the way, the couple are 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.

They get to put on fun outfits and listen to music by artists of their generation, like Sade and Jagged Edge, Mr. Pate said.

But legal experts say that despite the owner’s best intentions, the restaurant’s age rules may not be legal. Travis Crum, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said that even though federal law does not generally prohibit age restrictions in public spaces, the restaurant may be violating the Missouri Human Rights Act.

The act “prohibits discrimination by public accommodations on the basis of sex” in addition to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or disability, Mr. Crum explained.

Bliss Caribbean Restaurant wrote in a Facebook post that it “requires all guests to be 30 or older for women and 35 or older for men.” Drivers licenses are checked at the door to ensure compliance among anyone who looks to be near the age threshold, the owners confirmed in a phone interview.

Chance Bontrager, of Topeka, Kan., expressed his frustration with the policy on the restaurant’s Facebook page. He is 33 years old and cannot go to the restaurant.

“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,” Mr. Bontrager wrote in a message to The New York Times. “They’re equal metrics.”

Mr. Crum disagrees. The restaurant “would be within their rights” to require all customers to be over 30 years old, Mr. Crum said. Problems arise when the age requirement is different depending on sex.

“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 did not immediately respond to an email on Tuesday inquiring about the legality of the restaurant’s rule.

When asked about legal concerns, Tina and Marvin Pate reiterated that they didn’t want to restrict anyone from their restaurant.

Bliss Caribbean Restaurant is not the first restaurant to prevent patrons from entering based on age, although the threshold is usually lower. Many bars and some restaurants restrict entry to those under 21. Nettie’s House of Spaghetti in Tinton Falls, N.J., for instance, posted on its Facebook page in February 2023 that children under the age of 10 were no longer allowed in the restaurant.

The Pates say that the age restrictions at Bliss Caribbean Restaurant allow customers to be themselves.

“People absolutely love it,” Mr. Pate said. “They love the culture of it. They love the food.”

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