Tuesday, March 07, 2006


How does one become a bouncer?
I can only speak from my own experience here, because there are so many different types of bars and clubs in New York, all with wildly varying standards for the hiring of their security staffs. I was hired by someone who knew me personally for well over ten years. In other words, I was "vouched for." There are many places around here, however, where one can walk in off the street and secure a position.

This may come off as arrogant -- what else is new? -- but I'm decidedly a member of the "upper echelon" of New York City bouncers, for what little that could possibly be worth. If a bar or club didn't force me to jump through a number of hoops before hiring me, I wouldn't take the job, because doing so would entail working on a staff consisting of jerkoffs who couldn't get themselves hired at any of the better places in town.

As much as I complain about my job -- two years worth of disgruntled blogging, to be sure -- I'm relatively fortunate, right now, in this regard: The core of our staff -- of which I'm now a part -- consists of a group of well-trained individuals who've all known one another for several years. I bounce with several police officers (don't tell anyone) and ex-military types, in addition to a handful of former professional fighters. I've associated with many of these guys outside of work; I've met their families, and, in two cases, tutored their children in math. I trust the majority of them implicitly, know exactly what role all of them will play in any given situation and would compare our staff, man for man, favorably with any group of bouncers in the city.

The club where I work hires only a certain sort of bouncer, and since I've been working there, we've never offered employment to anyone who has come in looking for a job without a referral from someone in the 'inner circle.' I'm thankful for that and would not want to work as a bouncer in any other environment.

Are there ever background checks?
Again, this depends on the place. My employers do conduct background checks, and I highly doubt anyone with a criminal record like that of the primary suspect in the Imette St. Guillen case would be hired where I work. In fact, I know for certain that this wouldn't happen. The bouncers where I work are paid very well, relatively speaking, and it's a highly sought-after job in the 'industry.' It's not one of those places where the sole requirement for employment is a pulse. You're hired on the basis of your reputation, which is established through knowing someone -- usually in management, as it was in my case -- for a number of years. You needn't exactly run a gauntlet of interviews like you would at, say, Goldman Sachs, but the story of my hiring is hardly that of an ex-con walking off the street looking for a job as a glorified thug.

A point of interest here, at least for me, is that the bouncer they're fingering allegedly worked the door at one of these bars. This is rather odd, because the front door is a position of trust in the nightclub industry. Ownership and management types tend to avoid putting someone they don't trust at the front door, unless they're either exceedingly stupid or something untoward is going on. Even in the latter case, it's difficult, because there's money involved. An ex-convict with an extensive criminal past wouldn't be permitted within a hundred yards of the door where I'm employed.

I'm a perfect example of this. I've been working the front door at my club since last spring. I have no criminal record. None. The person who decided to post me there has known me since I was a teenager and stated, explicitly, that I was there because I was "reliable" and "trustworthy." In fact, his exact words to me were, "I'm putting you at the door because I know you won't steal from me." Despite his knowing all this, however, I still had to pay my dues inside, "standing on the box" for more than eighteen months before being given a lucrative door spot.

Having never been there, I know nothing of the way The Falls is operated. It's a bar, however, and not what you'd term a megaclub, like the one where I work. Their hiring standards are different -- likely a lot less stringent -- and I'd wager their bouncers are paid significantly less per night than we are.

How can a bouncer leave a bar with someone without anyone noticing?
Again, without knowing anything about The Falls -- I had never even heard of the place until the other day -- I can't say for certain. Where I work, doing this would be difficult, and someone would definitely take note of it. We all generally leave together, and anything out of the ordinary -- including someone's absence -- is noticed, and usually commented on, immediately.

Do I have to worry about something like this every time I go out from now on?
Hell, yes. Anyone reading this blog for any length of time is well aware of my stance on Manhattan nightlife. Despite appearances, this remains a dangerous city, and when you're alone and drunk at four in the morning, you're an obvious target for the many people in New York who'd hurt you if presented the opportunity. The list of people of whom you need to be wary -- whether this particular bouncer committed this crime or not -- can and should include employees of the establishments at which you've been drinking.

What do you suggest?
Be careful with whom you're associating. If you have a friend or group of friends with a history of leaving you stranded, avoid placing yourself in situations where you're at their mercy. If you're out with a group -- advisable under any circumstances -- stay with the group. I'd be a hypocrite to tell people not to drink to excess, but you need to stay in control of your faculties. Don't drink or use controlled substances to the point where you'll be needing anyone's assistance. And if you find yourself asking for the help of strangers, things have assuredly gone way too far.

Every night at work, we'll see people who can't hold their liquor or their drugs. They're in a complete stupor and can't walk without being propped up by a Guido on either side. They're puking on the sidewalk. Looking for a place to collapse. You know what you are when you put yourself in this position, don't you? You're a victim looking for a perp. Combine these two states -- an incoherent drunk whose friends have abandoned him or her -- and you have an utterly helpless human being who now needs to rely on the kindness of bar/club employees, cab drivers and the police to make it home safely.

Sure, this sort of thing needs to be monitored by the employees of the establishment, but it's impossible to keep track of everyone in a club at any given moment. Shit happens. Friends feed each other drinks. If I go to the bar to buy a drink for my drunken friend, and I appear to be sober, how's a busy bartender supposed to know who it's for? And it goes without saying that a certain segment of New York's nocturnal society are predisposed to the carrying of rohypnol, among other "rape drugs" -- yet another reason why personal responsibility is paramount in this environment.

The industry is what it is. As distasteful as I find the entire bar and nightclub scene, I'm still also a fairly frequent customer. Bars and clubs necessarily have to exist, because as long as people in New York are still breathing, there's always going to be a market for places where people can congregate in groups, listen to loud music and drink. Hell, I have intimate knowledge of what a cesspool this business is, yet I still enjoy going out in the city from time to time. Who doesn't?

The solution? There is none. As a bouncer, I'm always aware of what you, the customer, can do to me. One of you stabbed me once, and I have a nice big scar to serve as an eternal reminder of what you're capable. You just have to understand that you can't trust anyone you don't know, no matter what position they're in -- authority or otherwise. Stick with your friends, regard strangers with skepticism and suspicion, and above all, keep your wits about you.