From The Bar ~ Who’s At The Door?

Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon In The Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…

The Doorman

door•man    (dôrmn, -mn, dr-)
A man employed to attend the entrance of a hotel, apartment house, or other building.

bounc•er    (bounsr)
Slang. A person employed to expel disorderly persons from a public place, especially a bar.


The law in California requires that individuals purchasing alcoholic beverages must be twenty one.  The law states that it is up to the vendor to make sure that the persons served are indeed twenty one years or older.  If a minor is found in possession of alcohol in a licensed establishment the law will presume that the vendor was aware of this and deliberately served a minor.  This can result in heavy fines and temporary or permanent suspension of the saloon’s liquor license.
Of course, if it can be proved that the minor made the transaction using a bogus identification then the saloonkeeper is off the hook but litigation is expensive and bad for morale and the resultant press bad for business.
It is up to the doorman to collect cover charge and most importantly, check the I.D. of all patrons to make sure some adventurous youth does not slip under the tent and partake of the debauchery and dissolution that the young are absolutely convinced exist in saloons.  The state licensing board, the venerable ABC, takes a dim view of saloons corrupting the morals of youth.  Such corruption, they say, should be done in the home…

And so it was.

Now during the day or on nights where no bands were working it was fairly easy and reasonable for a bartender or waitress to tend to the task of checking I.D.’s if the age of the person was in question.
It was an altogether different matter on band nights.  The flow of incoming patrons was such that even a full crew of bartenders and waitresses could not keep up which meant you needed an individual to check the documentation of potential patrons…a doorman.  And on busy nights it was good to have the stabilizing effect of a ‘bouncer’, an individual of whom it was presumed could and would defuse potentially violent situations and eject any belligerents with dispatch, discretion and ease.  The Bar was no different and did the time honored thing of hiring a person known as a doorman.

All for the princely sum of twenty five dollars.
A shift.
Eight p.m. to two a.m.

Alcohol and machismo are a bad combination.  Actually, alcohol and any emotion are a bad idea but in spite of everyone realizing this, saloons and liquor stores existed still exist.
We are all aware of the Great Experiment known as Prohibition, where the Temperance people actually changed our Constitution to ban sale of alcohol except in certain applications.
This had the effect of creating a tremendous morphing from ethnic petty gangsterism to organized crime and much bloodshed and stuff from which TV and Movies could draw from endlessly.  They then reversed themselves and changed the Constitution again this time  to allow alcohol sales but it was strictly regulated and only sold by package stores or Saloons.

When people drink they bring on mood swings.  Some get silly.  Some get maudlin.  Some get belligerent.

And for the belligerent ones we needed the services of a capable doorman/bouncer.

Truth be told, most of our door guys were lightweights and non combative.  Take the money, check the I.D.  The rare idiot who decided to throw a punch was usually swarmed by his mates or other patrons and evicted before the punch was thrown thanks to the stiff legged macho posturing that usually preceded any actual combat.   You really did not want to have a pugnacious doorman if you could help it due to the liability factor in our litigious society.  You didn’t want The Bar getting sued because your doorman felt like getting into a dick-swinging match with someone who, when full of beer, felt they invincible.

The Crew, both bartenders and waitresses, had a fine ear tuned to anticipate most potential problems and cutting the customer off was usually effective although if this was not done soon enough the customer would resent such treatment and get vocal or sometimes violent about it.

I didn’t drive and had affected carrying a walking stick due to an unfortunate occurrence with a local unleashed dog.  As time went on this stick became legend.  It was 36” long made of ebony and had a custom made absolutely solid round brass head on it.  The whole thing weighed exactly one kilo (2.5 pounds) and had a sobering effect on some miscreants although I never ever used it in anger.  Many Urban Legends sprang up about myself and that walking stick which I referred to as ‘The Bat’ and because of these tales  it had a small measure of crowd control just by being seen.

Once in a while there would be no doorman present and I would be called upon to deal with an inebriate.
The absolute first thing I would do was to hand off my walking stick to a trusted squire.  I had no desire to have it taken from me and used in a negative fashion upon my person.
I would approach the drunk empty handed, palms open.
Then I would give him three options:

1.      “You can stay but you cannot drink anymore because right now you are officially cut off.”
2.      “You can go home.”
3.      “You can go to jail.”  (whichwas conveniently located about three blocks away)
This usually brought protests of maligned innocence and protests about being singled out.  (Who/why me?”)
So you listen to their defense (so they can feel like they’ve been heard) and you make your offer again.

1. “You can stay but you cannot drink anymore because right now you are officially cut off.”
2. “You can go home.”
3. “You can go to jail.”

We always hoped they would just go home by cab or by friend.  It usually didn’t work for them to try to stop drinking.  Too often they would try to sneak ‘just one more’ either by direct request or by having a friend buy another drink and slipping it to our Problem Child.

I was not a fighting man.   If a negotiated end could not be reached and there was any sign of further belligerence phase two would come into play.  I would signal the doorman.  And if, as I mentioned, I did not have an assigned doorman on hand, a quick signal would have the bartender on the phone and the Police at the doorway in short order.  They would take the individual aside and, in most cases end up taking the miscreant away.

Sometimes you would see a guy take the measure of a cop.   I once saw a cop draw his baton and just hold it, hands down, across his lower body.  The drunk, a guy who had the look of a Vietnam vet, was watching the cop who is a little shorter than he.
The cop remained standing relaxed, with his baton held in both hands horizontally looking at the drunk calmly.  It was evident the cop was holding his baton in the prescribed manner outlined in a training manual.
Doing it by the book.

No words were exchanged
You can see the vet’s brain ticking… “I can take this guy.  Easy.”
The cop finally said “You ain’t gonna win this one, pal.”
The vet looks at the cop…his eyes flick to the baton and back to the cop’s eyes a few times and he leaves with the officer and gets taken away.
Now, the local police had no desire to be Security for saloons.  Cops don’t like bars (except their own) because it is they who have to deal with the stupidity and temporary insanity that alcohol can inflict on an average person.  “On the other hand, “as one criminal defense lawyer said, “in a cop bar all the drunks have guns.”
Saloons can produce drunk drivers, wife beaters and sometimes homegrown murderers which add to the workload of law enforcement.
Sometimes you just had to make the call.  A guy might be too scary.  Too big or had a look that you knew was dangerous.  Or as the country song went, the beer and whiskey would make them feel ten feet tall and bulletproof.  But usually it would be because the guy just would refuse to leave.
Still, no one liked to call the police.

Should your saloon attract too much Police Business you could face all kinds of social problems.  Like more frequent “walk throughs” where officers would make themselves obvious to all by walking through the establishment, checking I.D.’s etc   This sets off many customers who get nervously distracted by the presence of police in a saloon.  If the police feel your saloon has attracted too much attention they can order that the saloon hire a Rent-A-Cop to bolster the doorman duties.  This happened to The Bar once and the extra expense made us be a little more selective in our doorman hiring process.  The rent-a-cop we had to hire (for a month) was not particularly intimidating but the message was clear.  Find an effective doorman at our price or be forced to hire a rent-a-cop at a much more expensive rate.

The Bar had quite an array of door crew over the years as one might imagine.  Once I even hired a really pretty girl as a ‘doorman’.  She actually was effective at collecting cover because she was so cute that guys didn’t want to appear cheap in her eyes and would pay up without the usual hustle looking for a discount.  Sadly, she didn’t last because she got bored with the job and wanted to party more than make the small amount of money we paid for the job
In the early days most of them were ‘regular guys’ and unremarkable as personalities     There were some that were more memorable but space is limited so I’ll just touch on a few.

The  Owner had attracted some football players patronage and one of the men on the team thought being a doorman would give him easy access to the local women. He was a nice guy, and an OK doorman, big enough that your regular machismo guys looked elsewhere for their posturing.  Having a local football ‘star’ was a perk too.  This guy had a short tenure because one night he refused to let a young lady in because she had no I.D.  She didn’t take kindly to refusal and something in his manner set her off and she connected with a kick to the groin that laid the football guy low and ended his brief career as a bouncer.

We had one guy I hired but always felt uneasy about.  There was something about him that just didn’t seem right.  He was a good looking guy, about 5’7” and a good, wiry build.  He had your classic New York arrogance and accent which I told myself was maybe why I felt uneasy about him.  New York people can sometimes be abrasive when they mix with California types.
He claimed to be a Vietnam vet, a LURP no less, another thing which tended to make me stifle my suspicions.  The LURP were ‘long range reconnaissance patrols’ inserted behind enemy lines for weeks at a time whose mission was to avoid contact and gather information.  These guys were a special class of fighting unit and were respected by their peers and feared by the enemy.
He also claimed to be a Medal Of Honor recipient.
I took all this in and figured maybe that was why I had the uneasy feeling about because some Vietnam vets were edgy due to the effects of the war and sometimes set off cautionary vibes.
Initially he was a pretty good doorman as far as the job went, stayed on top of checking I.D.’s which was the most important part and never really got put to the test as far as having to deal with a violent customer because, as noted, we seldom had fights at The Bar..
He, like all the doormen, also got to meet and greet all the ladies who came in and no doubt sampled the wares offered by some of these ladies.  Some of ladies liked his dark good looks.
He had ambitions.  He wanted a title.  He felt being ‘just a doorman’ was a low esteem kind of a thing in the eyes of the ladies.  He wanted to be called something that had ‘manager’ attached to it.  Something a bit more glamorous.

And he wanted more money.

Well, we made no effort to invent a cosmetic ‘title’ for him just to satisfy his ego.  It was a door gig.  It paid 25.00 and you got to pay employee prices for drinks.  That was it.
He borrowed money from me from time to time, a practice I did not encourage because my income was nothing to shout about.

Two things started to happen.

The door take was starting to be ‘off’.  The door money was a cash thing and as the evening went on it was understood that the doorman had the discretion to knock a buck off the cover when it was getting late.  Still, the amount we netted didn’t seem right but there was no way we could prove it.

The second thing was he started telling me “war stories” about having to fight or otherwise deal with pugnacious customers in some quick but violent manner.
Now, when grown men fight there is certain cruel coarseness and brutality to it.  Knuckles get skinned, shirts get torn, lips get split.  He would tell me of his latest fight and never show any evidence of having done more strenuous than moving a barstool.  And there were never any witnesses.
I finally told him I didn’t believe him.  I told him that he couldn’t possibly be having that kind of activity and not show any kind of stress to body, clothes or demeanor.  He didn’t like that too much but, outside of giving me a hard look he didn’t say anything.  I just told him, “We sell rope here.  You can take all the rope you need.  You either pull or hang.”  The very next night he again claimed to have dealt with some thug and showed me a bruise on his cheekbone as proof.  At the time I thought he had somehow dealt it to himself and I still feel that way looking back on it.

Things got a very dicey very fast.  I got a tip that he was selling bindles of cocaine which T.O. (and anyone with half a brain) did not want happening in his business so we decided he had to go.
He saved us the trouble by quitting.  He borrowed money from one of his girlfriends and came by and paid me most of what he owed me.  He had no sooner paid me when he took his girlfriend and off they went, riding into the sunset.
None too soon for him because not three hours later the local cops came by looking for him.  They would not say why they wanted him but they were definitely Looking for him.
After he had been gone for a month or so I did something I wish I had done earlier.  I went to the library and looked in a certain reference book.  It was up to date and a recent printing.  It listed the citation texts of the Medal Of Honor recipients from all the American wars including the Vietnam War.
He wasn’t on the list.  It is very possible that the closest he ever got to Vietnam was sitting home watching the news.

Another notable I shall dub “Moose” (although that was not his name.)  He was a big guy, a bodybuilder, about 5’10 with a nose like an axe blade and a bona fide New Jersey accent.  This accent cannot be faked, folks.  You either have it or you don’t.  He definitely had it.
He came in one night and was instantly smitten by one of my waitresses.  Classic love/lust at first sight!  I was sitting at her station when he came into view.  I had seen that look before on many a male. She was one of those women that men lust after, a blonde beauty, generously endowed.  You could see the love hit him as clearly as if he had been whalloped between the eyes with a board. It was like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.   I mentally wished him luck because I knew the girl pretty well and knew she wasn’t really looking for a permanent hookup at the time.
He applied for the job of doorman/bouncer to T.O.  T.O. liked what he saw and since we did need the position adequately filled put him on the job.  Moose was happy because this put him close to his Chosen One and made him a little money too.  We were happy because it is easier, at the rate we paid, if someone asked for and wanted the job.
He was actually a great guy with a good, if East Coast cynical, sense of humor.  He didn’t drink much (a plus) and didn’t indulge in drugs outside of a little pot now and then.  He was proud of his body and was prone to wearing muscle shirts to show off his excellent musculature which tended to discourage any ideas the hostile minds might have about engaging him.  The girls liked to look at him but he didn’t fool around because, after all, his sweetie was working most nights he was.

But he was from New Jersey.
Everything they say about New Yorkers applies double to guys from New Jersey.  A bit more arrogant.  A slightly larger chip on the shoulder.  That was our Moose.

We put him on the door and he was excellent at it.  He’d done doorman/bouncer duty Back East and had all the moves down pat.  He was perfect at the job.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was the “or else” tone he took with some of the males. I thought he was just a bit too challenging attitude wise but soon accepted it as part of what made him the Moose.
In any case he had the job and pursued his waitress/inamorata with diligence and a whirlwind courtship doing his best to sweep her off her feet.

There were three incidents involving belligerent customers that stick out in my mind.
Once there were two guys near the side door on a no band night that was getting a little heated.  You could see them circling like dogs, taking each other’s measure.  Moose saw it and got between them.
“Ain’t no fightin’ in here!” he said with that patented New Jersey “or else” tone.
“I wasn’t gonna fight him” one of the guys said.
“What… were you just tryin’ to shake his hand?” being an excellent example of dealing with a Problem with humor.  Everybody cracked up, including the belligerents, effectively defusing the situation.

The second incident was an example of what a being bouncer was about.
As you went out the front door we had a pretty good sized pyracantha bush.  I trimmed it often when I got bored and had it cut in a nice more or less square shape.  It was about three and a half feet high and was a hedge-like rectangle about four by ten feet in surface area on top.  Pyracanthas, for those who don’t know, are also called “firethorn” bushes because they are a prickly, thorny bush.  They also have a red berry that ferments and seasonally you can see birds partaking of the berries and getting loaded.  Pretty apropos for a saloon I’d say but let’s get back to the story…
Three guys came in.
Moose was at the door.  It was early and, while he was charging cover, he let them in without taking the fee as was allowed at the doorman’s discretion, for people that just wanted to have a drink or two.  The idea was that they would leave before the band started.  I didn’t quite hear what exchange they had but I distinctly remember hearing Moose’s “or else’ tone gets added to the mix.
The three guys had a drink, maybe two, certainly no more than that and were talking among themselves, looking toward Moose.  I knew one of the guys and didn’t think much would come of it so I didn’t give it much thought.

Moose was talking to his new girlfriend and I was standing by the foyer entrance when the trio started walking out.  Next thing you know words were exchanged.  The girlfriend tried to calm Moose down but he shoved her out of the way and the three guys jumped him, one in particular throwing a haymaker punch that might as well have hit a wall for all the effect it had.
Three on one!  Suddenly one lost his grip and in short order the fight just two on one and the donnybrook was over.  The three men were not knocked out but definitely out of commission.  Moose looked over the three and said “I want the bum that sucker punched me.”  He identified the miscreant and dealt him a terrible blow to the face.  The three gathered themselves up painfully and left, never to return that I knew of.
I asked Moose if he was OK and he said, “Oh yeah.  Ya just shove them into the pyracantha bushes dere.  Takes alla the fight out of ‘em” And he laughed.

The third incident was a really strange one.
It was nearly closing time on, I think, a Wednesday.  There was myself, T.O. and Moose and a bartender in attendance.
Some guy none of us had seen before came in and asked for a drink.  Moose and I saw that he’d already had a few but T.O. either didn’t see it or didn’t think the guy was all that drunk.  T.O. said “New customer!  Get him a drink.”
And so he was served.
It became quickly evident that, not only was he very drunk, but he had some anger management issues.  He got into some kind of back and forth with Moose and the drunk stood up to fight.  Moose did not want to fight the guy because he knew there would be No Contest and the guy would get needlessly injured.  Moose quickly spun the man around and grabbed him in a bear hug from behind.  The guy was immobilized.  Moose held him for about thirty seconds and said “I don’t wanna fight with you.  I just want you to calm down and I’ll let you go and we can all be friends, alright?”
The guy agreed.  What else could he do?  So Moose let go of him.  Of course, the idiot took a swing at Moose.
Moose grabbed the guy by one arm and, to my amazement, threw him like a Frisbee good ten or fifteen feet.  The guy saw the error of his ways and the “new customer” left while he could and was never seen again.
Moose?  Well, Moose and his girlfriend had some incompatibilities and split up.  Without her to keep his attention he tired of the bar scene and moved out of town and out of The Bar’s sphere of influence.

We went through a few more guys in the ensuing months but none of them made legendary status until finally we found the perfect one for our purposes.  He was a very articulate, benevolent acting, long haired guy whose mellow demeanor covered a very capable troubleshooting ability.  He loved the job for the social aspect and was honest to a fault.  Not much of a drinker but he did like his pot which tended to keep him mellow and philosophical.
He loved The Bar and stayed on the job for years, lo even unto its demise….

…for more on this man please seek

The Walrus and the Carpenter

on this site

One thought on “From The Bar ~ Who’s At The Door?”

  1. I am especially impressed by your artwork and non-fiction story telling. Really takes me back, and you know what I mean. I enjoyed reading the 'Rise and fall of a saloon'. Lucky for me that I can relate to the stories as I was fortunate enough to visit this establishment occasionally and experience some of the fun. I even worked there for a very short time until you could hire someone permanent as I was working a day job too .I will always remember YOU and your multi-purpose CANE…..You and that magical cane helped me out….. more than once. Thanks for sharing…I really enjoyed reading it and taking a walk down memory lane!…

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