A Hastings pub has been accused of endorsing domestic violence.

On the footpath outside The Elbow Room Sports Bar in the suburb of Mahora, a blackboard was placed with the following message: "I saw six men kicking and punching my mother-in-law. My neighbour said, 'Are you going to help?' I said, 'No, six should be enough.'"

Police Eastern District's family violence and victims' manager Greg Brown said the bar's management had exercised "bad taste" and "really poor judgement".

"I can assure you there's nothing remotely humorous about family harm," he said.

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"It robs women and our children of their potential and their future. To have people making light of the situation demonstrates ignorance."

He said the context of the sign's placement was irrelevant as family violence occurred "across all sectors of society".

"You couldn't put this in any context that's acceptable. It's almost making excuses for it. It's trivialising it.

"Obviously it's a ploy by this particular premises to have a laugh and therefore have people go into their environment." He said because alcohol and family violence were so closely related, the sign was "really poor judgement".

A local resident, who did not wish to be named, said the bar's signs were often "misogynistic", yet yesterday's was the "worst" she had seen. "Other local women I know are intimidated by the signs and find it scary walking past The Elbow Room," she said. "I think it's degrading and senseless and should be taken to the Human Rights Commission."

Hastings Women's Refuge manager Julie Hart said while attitudes like this remained, "so too would violence towards women. "How must their female staff feel when they see this sign, or patrons or women walking past?" Ms Hart said.

"If I lit up a cigarette in this bar I would be told to leave as it is illegal and offensive to non-smokers but apparently it's OK to be violent towards women because it's just a joke and I should lighten up.

"Perhaps the bar manager and staff would like to come and spend a week working with us in the refuge. This would give them the opportunity to see the harm that is done to women and children and how social discourse plays a large part in its continuation."

Duty manager Roger Wright said he had received no complaints in his two years of writing a different joke each week for the bar's mainly male patrons.

"People come here to relax - I hope to make them smile before they come in," he said.

Regular patron Nancy Rosser said it was "just a joke".

"I can understand where she is coming from but it is not meant to be taken seriously," she said.

"Tell her to come in and have a lemonade and talk to us."

She said women who were victims of violence "would take it in the humorous context in which it was written". Regular Karen Stuart said the joke was "awesome" and was surprised there was a complaint.

"I'm sorry she feels intimidated but it is just a bit of humour."

Mr Wright said males that might be influenced by such a joke "haven't got the intelligence to read the blackboard". He said a lot of his customers had been victims of violence "and they just come in to relax and have a good time and have a laugh".

He said he felt sorry for the intimidated resident and would think twice before writing his next joke. "I don't want to offend too many people."