On Mitchell White’s neck is a tattoo in memory of his grandmother that reads, ‘In Loving Memory of Violet White.’ Behind those words, there is a heart. To the left are hands held together in prayer, and to the right is a colourful sparrow.
These are the tattoos that prevented his entry into downtown St. John’s nightclub The Martini Bar Saturday night.
“I was stopped by the bouncer on the front door and told I was not allowed in because they do not let people with tattoos above the collar line into their bar,” said the 32-year-old from Carbonear, who had a hotel room booked in St. John’s because he was in town for a work-related function on George Street.
“I was actually pretty shocked by the whole scenario,” said White. “I’ve been discriminated my entire life. I’ve been heavily tattooed since I was about 17 or 18 years old, and I’ve been discriminated … by store owners, you name it, I’ve been discriminated against, but it’s never really affected me.
“But when I was not allowed in somewhere, I wasn’t allowed to join my friends, that’s when it really hit the heart.”
White said it happened around 1 a.m., so he left George Street and went back to his hotel room, not wanting to tell his friends and ruin their night, too.
On Sunday morning, he took to Facebook to express his disappointment.
“In 2018 are we REALLY still discriminating against people for things like this?” he wrote. “Dress codes I can understand. Hat policy sure why not, but not letting a paying customer into a bar because of something they cannot change about their physical appearance seems a little outdated to me.”
At deadline Sunday night, White’s post was shared nearly 500 times. Social media users also went on The Martini Bar’s Facebook page to give negative reviews, and within a few hours the ratings feature of the nightclub’s page was removed.
The Telegram tried reaching The Martini Bar on the phone Sunday, but was told via a Facebook message from their page to “please use our statement on Facebook at this time.”
The statement posted on The Martini Bar’s Facebook page states there was a miscommunication from management to staff which lead to a policy never endorsed by The Martini Bar or its owner regarding tattoos.
“The Martini Bar has always strived to provide a relaxing, upscale night club atmosphere, which has included a semi-formal dress code,” the post reads. “However, this dress code was never meant to include any body modifications (i.e. tattoos, piercings, etc) but rather focus on semi-formal wear.”
The post concluded with an apology.
“We apologize for anyone who has been inconvenienced or offended by the misunderstanding, and would like to say thank you to our customers for their years of patronage.”
White is not convinced, and neither is Saige Peddle.
23-year-old Peddle, from Bristol’s Hope, said he had a similar experience in December at The Martini Bar.
“We went down for one of my friend’s birthdays, and when we got to The Martini Bar, (the bouncer) told me I was not allowed in because of dress code — no tattoos from the neck up,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to say.”
“We asked to speak to a manager, but the guy on the basement door was fighting with his girlfriend who was outside, and just wouldn’t give us the time of day to do anything. We waited for probably 40 minutes. He kept saying he was going to get him, going to get him, but he just never did.”
Peddle said the situation made him feel “pretty low”, and he and his friends ended up going across the street to Dusk Ultralounge.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Peddle. “I could understand if it was gang symbols or just inappropriate things, but it’s not. It’s just body art.”
Meanwhile, White said he hopes The Martini Bar has a staff meeting to clearly lay out its policies so that people are not discriminated against because of their tattoos in the future.
“It just seems a little outdated to me this day in age,” he said. “And most of my tattoos represent stuff that means a lot to me. It’s just an expression of art for me.”
White says he has plenty of tattoos all over his body, but on Saturday night he was wearing pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
“All the bouncer could see was, I guess, both of my hands are fully tattooed, and he seen my neck and my head. That was what he was basing it off.”
After sharing his experience on social media, White said he feels better about the situation due to the outpouring of support he’s received from people he’s never met. He said he’s had countless messages and about 50 new friend requests.
“It’s really made me feel good about the whole situation again actually, just to know that there’s people out there that want to stop this sort of discrimination and show people that it’s not going to be tolerated this day in age.”