The Nightclub Doorman: A Lost Art
Everyone knows bottle service was a nightlife game changer. One of the most profound effects bottle service had was at the door of a club. VIPs now include any patrons simply willing to spend beaucoup bucks. Door people were artists "back in the day." They were tasked to not only recognize the important people and regulars but also to orchestrate a good party by picking and choosing from hundreds of strangers.
But the old ways couldn’t last forever. With an increasing number of venues, door admission became harder, if not impossible, for door managers to collect. Bottle service became a necessary evil to subsidize rents, insurance, DJ costs, security costs, increased taxes, litigation costs and a slew of other threats that were turning the bottom line from black to red. Bottle-buying clients became delivery systems at marked up prices.
Door managers were forced to compromise. Most previously fabulous club needed bottle-service clients just to pay the bills. So are dollars the only things that impact the doors of the nation’s hottest nightclubs? And how are modern door managers handling the changes clubs are experiencing from the economy, technology and even social media? Is the art of doing a door disappearing?
Richard Alverez, who manages the door at Le Bain at the Standard Hotel NYC says that "most places want to hire a person who has an extensive list of bottle clients. Is the door a dying art form? I think so. The bottom line always trumps policy at a door. I don’t work at places like that because I don’t have a client list ... I wouldnt want to be at a place like that."
Michael Goldberg, director of marketing for Butter Group, which includes Darby, Butter NY and Butter NC as well as 1OAK and 1OAK Las Vegas explains, "While bottle service has drastically changed the doorman’s role, this is still New York. There still is that pressure to come ‘correct’ when approaching a door in NYC, where in other markets, such as Las Vegas, if you have a table reservation, you generally are going to get in to the club."
Traditionally, Alex Julian can be found at the ropes of clubs noted for their tough entrances, including Dream Hotel Downtown. He is a master at his craft and is loved and hated famously for it. "The door is the proverbial kitchen, and it's hotter than ever because of the pressure to make money; so perhaps it is a dying art because people [in this business] would often take the easier road and promote or market or manage and be liked rather than have to be the ‘bad cop,’” he says. “But unless we’re heading into an era of mega-clubs where, whether via cover or table you can pay and go, there'll always be a need for a selector of style, taste and grace. The autonomy and integrity of the door has long been threatened — certainly over the last three to five years when bottle service has exploded. When you factor in that there's only two or three established and well-respected doormen, most people at the door have little or no true say because ownership/management will want people through the door regardless of group quality or makeup. When you speak of it as an ‘art form,’ … there was time when it was your sense of style, aura, date and personality that mattered most because we were creating a vibe and a party. Lifestyle and entry is now, unfortunately, something that you can buy."
Probably the most recognized and talented door person in NYC is Wass Stevens. An actor by day (his credits include the likes of “Law & Order” and “The Wrestler”), he currently holds court over Avenue, an uber-selective NYC lounge operated by TAO/Strategic Group. “I don't think there are any other doormen left who have worked, or even know the definition of a truly ‘selective door policy,’” he says. “It no longer exists. The change in the nature of the business, from bar service to bottle culture and the overwhelming increase in nightlife options, created a need for ‘customer service’ that wasn't necessary in ‘traditional’ nightclub culture. It has been and will always be the responsibility of the doorman — a nightclub's first line of defense — to select the most appropriate mix of patrons, to discover new regulars and table clients, and to create the most beautiful, interesting, diverse and fun mix of people possible on any given night, while always keeping in mind that a nightclub is a business. It is the methods one uses to achieve these goals that is constantly evolving.
Randy Scott, who currently hosts at Day & Night, South Pointe Southampton and Bantam NYC and previously hosted at Cain and Marquee NY, says, “The doorman’s position is just as important today, but in different ways. Even though there now are table bookings, it does not guarantee this guest carte blanche. There are a great amount of variables that can come into play. The size of the group can change, the aesthetic can change, and in a good or bad way. So important decisions must be accessed and made very quickly by the person at the door. These quick decisions then can affect your revenue greatly. It requires someone with a vast amount of ‘local’ knowledge and smooth negotiating skills, and so a fair amount of specific experience. Owners today put just as much thought into whom they hire at the door as they always have. For those venues that look like they may have ‘just anyone’ working their door, trust me — there is someone ‘behind the curtains’ with these qualifications monitoring every move and calling these shots throughout the entire night. Then, of course, the general admission still requires the same amount of savvy.”
In resort towns, tourist bucks drive the nightclub economy. In Las Vegas, the dollar is king. But how are West Coast clubs coping with modern frugality?
"The role of the VIP service/door manager has changed over the past five years in Las Vegas. Technology, competition and the state of the economy are the major reasons why,” says Robert Chiti, director of VIP services at LAVO nightclub. “More people have access to me by email, social media and online websites then ever before. Competition and the economy have dramatically affected the doorman's role in Las Vegas. Most nightclubs are being less selective and letting everyone in to fill their venues. [LAVO’s] dress code is strictly enforced, and we are able to be more selective. The VIP service manager/doorman is still the most vital person for a venue and sets the tone. Speaking intelligently, looking professional and polished goes a long way when setting minimums and greeting guests who could be spending thousands of dollars.”
Matt Oliver is the nicest of all the door personnel. He brings old-school charm and manners to what is sometimes a crude and rude environment. "There seems to be more nightlife choices now than ever,” says Oliver, who can be found at SL in NYC’s Meatpacking District. “Because of all these options, I think customers want to go where they feel comfortable and welcome, where they know they will have a fun experience. That experience begins at the door. The door staff still needs to enforce the rules and standards of the club, but I think it can be done in a friendly, engaging way, incorporating more host qualities into the role.”
Provocateur in NYC's Gansevoort Hotel has no door selector. Patrons text the club’s ownership and management and already are expected upon arrival. Although controversial at first, Provocateur has thrived with the policy. There’s always a crowd, and the crowd is always beautiful. Management knows who is coming and where guests will be seated; the ownership has taken that responsibility from the door staff. Will this be the future of nightlife? Will technology provide remote door monitoring? We’ll have to wait and see.