Gold Coast mum lashes out after being denied entry to bar over 'family, love, happiness' tattoo

A mother who was barred from entering a popular Gold Coast bar due to her visible tattoo has lambasted the venue's strict dress code as "disappointing and insulting".

On Saturday, mum-of-two Katie Hally was planning on celebrating a friend's 45th birthday at the Burleigh Pavilion, a beachfront restaurant in Burleigh Heads. After taking a few steps inside the venue, however, the doorman stopped Hally and informed her he couldn't let her enter due to her "neck tattoo" being exposed.

The ink in question, a series of three Chinese characters, is situated along the nape of Hally's neck and down her upper spine. 

Speaking to the Gold Coast Bulletin about the experience, Hally claimed the doorman told her she wasn't permitted to enter the venue "because of [her] neck tattoos".

According to the Burleigh Pavilion's dress policy, patrons with tattoos that are deemed "intimidating, aggressive or offensive" will be denied entry. 

Despite attempting to explain to the manager that her tattoo's meaning - "family, love, happiness" - wasn't offensive in nature, Hally claimed the staffer wasn't interested and insisted that she leave, adding that if she hoped to return to the venue, she should opt for a collared shirt that covered the ink. 

"I got the first one, 'happiness', almost 13 years ago after I got divorced," she explained to the outlet. "The second one, 'family', I got done with my sister and the third one I did last, 'love', in the hopes I could find love again.

"I understand why the policy exists, but the manager could have used her discretion, she could have been more caring and assessed people on a case-by-case basis but they didn't."

Not wanting to miss her friend's birthday, Hally said she begrudgingly went home and changed, but is hoping her experience will prompt changes to Burleigh Pavilion's controversial policy. 

"It was just so disappointing and insulting," she said. "I didn't come here for a bar fight and they would have known that if they just asked a couple of questions."

Photo of Katie Hally's back tattoo
Katie Hally's Chinese character tattoo was deemed against the popular venue's dress code. Photo credit: Katie Hally / Facebook

It's not the first time the Burleigh Pavilion has come under fire for turning away patrons with innocuous ink. Earlier this year, management claimed local mother Rachel Ubaldino's neck tattoo that read "Love Always" was "a representation of gang affiliation", according to the Gold Coast Bulletin, and refused her entry. Last month, the venue also faced backlash after it barred Mortal Kombat 2 actor and British bodybuilder Martyn 'The Nightmare' Ford because of his extensive, visible tattoos.

In 2022, Gold Coast resident Jadene Kini - who is of Māori heritage - was shown the door due to her traditional moko kauae facial tattoo, despite attempting to explain its significance to staff. 

At the time of writing, the Burleigh Pavilion has a rating of 3.8 out of 5 on Google, with many of the 1-star reviews claiming either the reviewer or their companion was denied entry due to their ink - with several past patrons branding the policy as "discriminatory".

"Came here for a lunch to catch up with friends and to have a few drinks. Our friend had tattoos on his arm and mid-meal they were literally about to kick him out. I can't believe in this modern era that a venue would still discriminate like that," said a review from earlier this year. 

A more recent review, posted a week ago, also lambasted the policy as "total discrimination", adding: "Our son [was] refused entry after he's been going there for years… refused entry due to having a tattoo on the side of his neck, literally five letters, but I pointed out to security that I had a tattoo down the middle of my back up to my neck, and apparently that was fine.

"My husband had tattoos on his arms but wasn't refused entry… so why is it different rules for a 22 year old? Staff at the door have attitude and total arrogance [sic]."

Another review from a month ago read: "Once we asked to be seated the staff then refused us due to me having visible neck and facial tattoos. I cannot believe in 2023 you choose to discriminate against someone for what they choose to put on their own body. How embarrassing for the restaurant. Turning away paying customers. Should be ashamed."

The Burleigh Pavilion
The Burleigh Pavilion is a popular Gold Coast bar-and-restaurant. Photo credit: Burleigh Pavilion / Facebook

After Hally's experience made headlines, the venue has since issued a statement admitting it made a mistake, adding that management had contacted the mum to apologise for her treatment by staff. 

"Management became aware of the incident after media reports," the statement read, according to

"[We] acknowledge that in accordance with policy, Katie should have been welcomed into the venue."

Hally, however, has continued to vent on social media, deadpanning on Sunday: "Apparently my 'neck' tattoos from 2010 that mean 'Family, Love & Happiness' are too offensive or intimidating in 2023 - what a joke. #FirstTimeForEverything."