A U.S. Marine Corps veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq said he was humiliated Wednesday night when he was denied admittance into Gilbert’s new Dierks Bentley Whiskey Row restaurant because of his neck tattoo.
Brandon Andrus, the Iraq veteran, said he was not allowed to have a drink with family members because he has the number “22” tattooed on his neck as a suicide awareness statement. Military organizations say an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day across the nation.
“I have been to a lot of different places and never once had an issue with anyone,” Andrus said. “They wouldn’t speak man to man. It was, ‘Sorry, sir, it’s a policy.’ They just thought I was going to cause trouble.”
Robyn Moore, a spokeswoman for Riot Hospitality of Scottsdale, which operates three Whiskey Row restaurants in Scottsdale, Tempe and Gilbert, apologized to Andrus, but said the company was upholding a policy recommended by police.
“We do apologize for making him upset. We don’t want anyone to feel discriminated against,” she said.
The company apologized to Andrus later Friday.
The restaurant said in a statement that it will be hosting a "veterans and active military appreciation event" soon. Also, the restaurant is asking local police "to educate our staff on the difference between gang and non-gang-related tattoos."
Moore said the new Gilbert restaurant had a problem the night before with someone who had a neck tattoo, so the need to enforce their rule was fresh in the minds of employees. She said the company would review the policy after consulting with police.
“I think they will be making steps toward changing the policy,” Moore said.
Andrus walked away, even though he said he was “beyond pissed,” feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Moore said Andrus walked up and down the street, yelling profanities about Whiskey Row.
Andrus served two tours of duty, a total of 14 months, in Iraq during 2004 and 2005. He said he has a 30 percent disability from the Veteran’s Administration for post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Ben Andrus, Brandon’s brother, returned to the new restaurant on Gilbert Road, which celebrated its grand opening on Thursday night, where he demanded an explanation.
“It represents the 22 soldiers who commit suicide. This is not gang-related,” Ben said. “It was a very embarrassing moment. It was very uncomfortable.”
Ben said he understands why Whiskey Row wants to keep a clean atmosphere, but he believes an exception should have been made for his brother, because his brother’s tattoo has nothing to do with gangs and is related to his military service.
But Ben said the general manager told him that if Whiskey Row made an exception for his brother, “we would need to make an exception for everyone.”
“Your issue is with gang-related visible neck tattoos. You are basically profiling my brother,” Ben said.
Brandon, a hairdresser, also has a tattoo of some scissors next to his ear.
Ben and Brandon Andrus, and their wives, had just had dinner at Nico’s, a nearby restaurant, and wanted to have a drink together at Whisky Row.
Moore said Whiskey Row employees initially had no idea Brandon was a veteran when he approached the door, but Ben said he made that clear to them when he demanded an explanation.
She later conceded that anyone with neck tattoo is not allowed inside a Whiskey Row, whether they are veterans or not veterans.
– Reach Jim Walsh at 480-898-5639 or at email@example.com.