WICKER PARK — Got a neck tattoo or a teardrop tattoo that's linked to a gang? Don't bother coming to the Crocodile bar in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood.
The bar's owner said his security guards no longer let people with those tattoos in the Crocodile, in an effort to keep other customers safe.
"No neck tattoos, no eye tattoos. We don't care anymore. Take your business somewhere else," owner Radek Hawryszcuk told neighbors during a community and police meeting this week.
He later clarified that the ban targets gang tattoos, including teardrops and gang signs. Swastikas are out, too.
Reporter Alisa Hauser talks about the tattoo ban at some establishments.
"A lot of us just aren't taking chances anymore," Hawryszcuk said. "One man had a swastika by his eye and on his hands. We said 'get out.'"
Hawryszcuk said the key to not making the situation worse when customers with eye and neck tattoos are asked to leave is "hiring security that are articulate, that can de-escalate situations."
"Everyone wants to have their manhood and their integrity. They don't want to feel like they were disrespected. My security guys say to them, 'I'm sorry, we have a security camera right here, my boss does not allow it,'" Hawryszcuk said.
Ed Yohnka, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spokesman, said it's not clear what laws apply when it comes to banning neck and eye tattoos.
“That said, we always are concerned about any policy that results in people being denied service on the basis of how they look or present themselves in public, rather than something they have actually done," Yohnka said.
Neck and face tattoos are facing pushback in other quarters: the U.S. Army prohibits new recruits from having them, and clubs in Britain and Australia are reportedly prohibiting people with them from entering. A South Bend, Ind., bar bans people with neck tattoos, citing dress code regulations. Disney World requires its employees to cover any tattoo because, it says, they conflict with what it calls the "Disney Look," defined as "clean, polished, natural and professional."
Bucktown resident, landlord and car wash owner Marvin Cruz was not aware of the eye/neck tattoo ban at Crocodile but said that his tattoos — three on his neck and one around his eye — prevented him for getting into El Hefe, a Mexican restaurant and bar at 15 W. Hubbard St.
Around 10 p.m. Friday, Cruz said he was trying to meet up with his wife and two dozen other friends and family who were already inside El Hefe celebrating his wife's birthday.
"I was freshly shaved. I was alone, and they wouldn't let me in. Half the people in the world have tattoos. If it's a garbage tattoo from a basement, that's different, maybe. [Mine] are professionally done. I calmed down and left. I'm not a gangbanger, I'm a businessman," said Cruz, 53.
An El Hefe general manager did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on the restaurant's policies.
In addition to three tattoos on his neck of fire, clouds and a skeleton, and a serpentlike shape around his right eye, Cruz has "sleeves" of tattoos the lengths of both arms and across his back.
Marvin Cruz and his party. (Supplied)
Cruz said his wife's 24th birthday party ended up relocating to nearby Henry's, where he was "let in, no problem" and by the end of the night, had given just over $3,000 in business to the lounge.
Raul Lara, drinking a beer on a patio at Pint, 1543 N. Milwaukee Ave. across from Crocodile Thursday, said "there were times people with tattoos couldn't even get a job."
About two years ago, Lara said he started to see younger people with tattoos on their faces. Lara said that if he owned a bar, he'd be "on the fence" over whether to allow people with face and neck tattoos inside.
"It's extreme to put tattoos on your face, but to turn them away, it's a tough question," Lara said.
According to a sign in the window of Crocodile, 1540 N. Milwaukee Ave. the bar enforces a dress code which prohibits "sports wear, hats or offensive clothing."
When asked if he would be adding the eye and neck tattoo ban to the sign in the window, Hawryszcuk said no.
"It's not a ban just because you have a tattoo. C'mon, we are in Wicker Park. I know a lot of tattoo artists in the neighborhood. One comes to Crocodile a lot. If we do not know them, and they have the [neck/eye] tattoos, that's when they are turned away," he said.
He added, "I would rather not be the one stuck trying to get them out and dealing with any situation that might start. My first line of defense is the front door."
This man with swastika tattoos on his hands and cheek was barred from Crocodile, the owner says.
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