Bouncers: Then & Now

the blue star of bethlehem

the blue star of bethlehem

I was in a busy bar recently (not the bar in the photo above), and there was this guy who’d clearly had too much to drink. A barmaid pointed this out to one of the door staff, and he took matters into his own hands. He went outside to seek a colleague, and the pair of them marched the drunkard from the bar. He wasn’t being rowdy or offensive, he was just drunk.

But this is the lot of the modern doorman; a certificated, well trained professional whose job comes with considerably more responsibility than it used to. It is possible that this doorman’s training had taught him that it is an offence to serve someone with alcohol when they are in a highly intoxicated state, and this could be why the drunk was ejected. Doormen have come a long way since the rough and ready bouncers of my youth; these days they will politely open the door for you. Back then, about the only thing they would open for you was your eyebrow.

In those days, before diplomas, NVQs and certificates, the only credential a prospective bouncer had was his menace. He had to be seen to be up to the job, and this meant getting stuck in. As a result of this zeal, I witnessed several incidents at a local night club, long since demolished, where bouncers, if not actually instigating trouble, did little to quell it. This in turn made the bouncers fair game to those customers that fancied a bit of sozzled sparring. At that particular night club, rumour had it that bouncers received a bonus for every piece of tooth they had embedded in their knuckles at the end of the night.

Gigs were a particularly combative arena, with fans trying to get onto the stage, and bouncers repelling each attack. Like a giant game of British bulldog, the two sides would go at it; the slight, but agile fans against the burly bouncers. On one occasion, at a Vibrators gig I believe, I saw a punter bite the finger of one of the bouncers. He really gnawed into it and the bouncer yelled in pain. It was a terrible thing to do, biting is a horrible, cowardly act, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for the injured bouncer, who’d been dishing out blows only moments earlier. And speaking of biting, an ex-bouncer friend of mine carries a permanent reminder of his days on the door; a huge chunk of one ear is missing. It’s a risky job.

I had several unpleasant run-ins with bouncers, most particular with a couple of old school bruisers in Newcastle. About a dozen of us had gone to see a friend’s band play at a city centre night spot, and we all met in a bar that was directly opposite the venue. One of our group had overindulged at home before coming out, and the bouncers turned him away for being drunk. It was all for one in those days, and so we hatched a plot to sneak our excluded comrade past the doormen.

We swapped jackets, and spiked up his hair with water. He borrowed a friend’s glasses and slipped on a headband (hey, this was the eighties). With the disguise complete, he made a second attempt at gaining entry, accompanied by a borrowed ‘girlfriend’, who would pay the admission and hold him up. We watched from the bar and we loved it when our plan came together. He was in.

Mission accomplished, we finished our drinks and crossed the road to the gig. It was at this point that I discovered a flaw in the plan. The bouncers recognized the jacket I was wearing and they refused to let me in, thinking I was the drunken punter they had turned away earlier. I remonstrated with them, but to no effect. I wandered around the exterior of the building in search of a weak fire exit, but found nothing. A second attempt at negotiation ended with the two burly, but not very fleet of foot, bouncers chasing me up an alley, while issuing all manner of threats. I admitted defeat and headed for the bus station. I learned the next day that there had been trouble outside the venue at closing time, and one of the bouncers had taken a pasting.

I’m not saying that modern day doormen are pussycats – far from it. They still need to get in amongst it when trouble starts. But with improved training, better monitoring and liaison with the police, and a much less threatening presence, the whole ambience of a night on the town has improved immensely since my youth.

About Joe Young

Supposed writer from the north-east coast of England.
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