I write to you all tonight about an issue of privilege: going out to eat with friends and family. These are some first world problems so please don’t scoff that I am taking up a tiny space of the internet to talk about a local establishment and a local veteran. As my usual followers know, I try to talk about some larger social issues but a local veteran I know shared an article about a fellow Iraq veteran being refused access into the newly opened Dierks Bentley Whiskey Row in Gilbert. This local issue is something I don’t believe I should gloss over just because there are some bigger ticket issues happening on a daily basis. Thanks for your patience for my views on this matter and my experience at the restaurant.
I am a Dierks Bentley fan and have, for quite some time, been excited about his new restaurant opening in my town. I did not want to be like fellow veterans and decide to not to check out this establishment without actually taking the time to check out the business to form my own opinion. There are always parts of any interaction that are not necessarily brought to light in subsequent tellings and the reasons behind these exclusions may be a matter of time, space, privacy, cultural sensitivity, personal bias, and so on.
The East Valley Tribune wrote yesterday about Marine veteran Brandon Andrus being denied admittance into Whiskey Row because he has neck tattoos , including a highly noticeable “22” discussed in the article. I don’t expect everyone to know about how problematic suicide is within the veteran community but the “22” is a mark to promote awareness about the high veteran suicide rate in our nation. This veteran though was moved enough by the issue he made a choice to wear this cause on his body for the remainder of his life. (I would recommend anyone interested in learning more about bringing awareness to veteran suicide, check out Mission 22.)
A veteran is at the center of the story but this conversation is larger than one veteran being inconvenienced and embarrassed. Our society is constantly changing and cultural attitudes regarding tattoos are anything but consistent. I was quite curious to see if there was a publicized policy at Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row regarding neck tattoos. After all, it’s easy enough to find communication at many establishments reading “No shirt, no shoes, no service”, “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone”and “Firearms Not Allowed” but no such communication is shown on the doors. (Additionally, the “No Firearms” sign is not posted on the door but sat atop the hostess station. I am making an assumption here it’s posted there so as to not ruin the look of these beautiful doors.)
Now I also wanted to look at the second layer of the situation discussed in yesterday’s article: tattoos themselves. My concern was whether the restaurant is opposed to tattoos generally, visible tattoos, or neck tattoos as expressed in the article. It was possible the Tribune staff writer Jim Walsh was not privy to all information about the company’s policy. His article does not discuss if the policy is consistent among all locations or what police department recommended the policy. I am not criticizing him because I do not know what constraints were placed on his article but if we are looking critically at society, we should ask, Where do the rules come from? How consistently are the rules applied? What evidence do we have that supports these rules “work”?
I did not photograph the staff because it would be inappropriate to do so without their permission but it’s apparent the company is not opposed to hiring personnel with tattoos. During the course of my experience (waiting for a table, eating my meal, and waiting for the check) I checked out nearly every staff member I could recognize. While the security staff and bussers wore Whiskey Row shirts, the servers and hosts did not so it was imperative to look for other behavioral cues clusters of females were staff and not customers loitering around waiting for tables. I saw tattoos large and small. Staff members had back pieces, leg pieces, and arm pieces, but not a single neck or face tattoo. I was not seated at the bar to evaluate whether the bartenders had limitations on the placement of tattoos or tattoos at all.
By comparison, Whiskey Row highly sanitized their Instagram. The page for Gilbert does not have a lot of photographs yet but selling tattoo free bodies, like the photograph below, is already becoming the message being presented by the company. If the Gilbert Instagram takes lessons from the Scottsdale Whiskey Row, it will be more about selling traditional female sex appeal (heavy imagery of cleavage, midriffs, and short shorts) for its particular bar scene. We do have a college crowd because of the local community colleges and Arizona State University but I have high doubts businessmen thought about the fact we do not have Mill Avenue like Tempe.
In comparison, look at how the East Valley Tribune portrayed Brandon Andrus and his son:
Which comes across as more offensive?!
After today’s visit, I don’t think Brandon is missing out on much. My outing was unsuccessful in my eyes for reasons that 100% had nothing to do with a highly visible tattoo. For my newbies, you can learn more about my third tattoo here. I don’t think the right management is in place nor is there the right mindset for customer service.
There are a lot of wonderful bar establishments in the Gilbert/Queen Creek area the management can learn from if they want Whiskey Row to be successful. Thirsty Lion is one of the newest additions and while it lacks the faux outdoor space created in Whiskey Row (Sorry, I couldn’t get a photo of it) the drink prices are better and the quality of food is fantastic. Additionally, since it is located in the San Tan Village mall, you can get any necessary gift or personal shopping done before or after your meal/drinks. Postino’s, also located in Downtown Gilbert, has $5 wine and beer prices seven days a week from 11am to 5pm. One of their staff members was so kind to bring out some grilled chicken for my husband’s service dog one day, and while I’ve never expected that kind of service the attitude there sets a bar that is not easily surpassed. Bar Vinedo in Queen Creek offers a quieter bar scene but they also have live music nights, a wine club, and a cigar menu if that’s your thing. I don’t smoke but I know some friends who love having a cigar now and then. This place has my favorite fries, too!!!
I am also more critical when people fail at meeting customer service expectations. I’ve worked in customer service since I was sixteen so it’s easy to spot those who do it well and those who are just collecting a paycheck. If you want a great customer service experience (and I’m not talking bar food here) in Gilbert, you can learn from the staff at other places like Snooze and Liberty Market. FYI, check out the tattoos on their staff, too. Romeo’s Euro Cafe is additionally one of the top contenders for food quality and excellent customer service. We grabbed our dessert tonight from Romeo’s because we would not wait for what we presumed would be a mediocre dessert at Whiskey Row. (I’ve loved every cake at Romeo’s so far and I love whiskey so this cake hit the spot after our poor dinner experience.)
My family and I waited for an hour and 15 minutes for a table at Whiskey Row. What was really pathetic is we noticed these particular booths behind us (plus the one we were later somewhat reluctantly given when our time came up) sat empty for the duration of our wait time until 5:30 pm. A restaurant knowingly preferred not to seat smaller parties in this area and was willing to lose a profit for approximately 2 hours!!! Mind you, these also were not the only empty areas in the restaurant. My husband and I noticed 7 different seating arrangements sat empty for similar durations of time meanwhile a small squad of hostesses informed restaurant patrons wait times would be between one hour and 15 minutes and an hour and 30 minutes. You should have seen the looks on some people’s faces, particularly individuals older than us.
The food wasn’t even worth the unnecessary wait. My husband received a small portion of chicken and one waffle that set us back $14. Furthermore, our server did not pay good attention to our orders and added on two beers for him although the first beer he choose was not available nor did she ever ask if we wanted additional beers during the almost hour long dinner we had there. (Please know I don’t jump on sites like Yelp because I don’t want to be known as someone who complains about food service and I implore you to check out my Instagram so you know I like encouraging others to find great tasting food options.)
I will end my rant for the day but I just needed to say something. I don’t want anyone to go to our local Whiskey Row and think it is representative of our larger restaurant community. A lot of places get things right both in terms of food quality and quality of service. A lot of places are veteran friendly. A lot of places don’t have ridiculous unwritten policies for tattoos. Whiskey Row has a lot of expections to live up to and it will fail if it does not consider the community in which it is placed.