A Begrudging Defense of the Bouncer


When it comes to the all-holy, booze-soaked universe of the American bar, there is one distinction that matters above all others. Are you inside the bar, knocking backshots, rocking the jukebox, and maybe playing a spirited game of fun-tongue with an attractive stranger? Or are you outside, in line, under-liquored, and plainly unloved? It all comes down to which side of the door you're on. A bar's door is the threshold between the harsh world outside and the lush paradise within; between you and alcohol; between the person you are, and the person you want to be.

Like all gates, this one has a keeper. He is the bouncer, and all too often, he is hated.

We’re practically trained to loathe all bouncers who aren’t named Dalton. After all, they’ve got neither the rippling abs nor luscious locks of Swayze in his prime. Despicable! But what bouncers do have is even worse: nearly infallible power. In their weathered, battle-worn hands, they hold the fates of innumerable hopeful souls. All it takes is a casual shake of the head to ruin the night of an innocent drinker. What else could come from such a unilateral force but bitter resentment when it doesn’t favor you?

The unfortunate reality is that some bouncers let this power corrupt their judgement. Power-tripping bouncers do exist, and they’re sorta... well, dicks. They mock your disappointment, then dare you to do something about it. They make hot girls feel special and everyone else feel like shit, a dichotomy that plays out more than enough everywhere else. And sure, there are plenty of vigilante tales that make bouncers seem like ticking time bombs just waiting for a chance to pile-drive your friend Steve into the pavement.

Poor Steve.

But the enmity between bargoer and bouncer runs deeper. It’s instinct, bred from years of disappointment. From day one of college, right up until your 21st birthday, getting into the bar was a cat-and-mouse game. It was a poignant scene: the desperate freshmen faces, hopefully handing over driver’s licenses of dubious provenance; the hawkish headhunters at the door, dealing rejection one crappy fake ID at a time. Bouncers were The Man, man, and they were trying to hold you back.

A bouncer is like the designated driver of a bus that goes nowhere for nine hours.

Once you’re legally allowed to waltz into a bar, all that changes. No more anxiety. No more “bro, you can definitely pass for this rando.” Your drinking life improves immeasurably, but your opinion of bouncers doesn't necessarily follow suit. And that's a shame, because the bouncer, as hated as he may be, is the unsung hero of the bar.

After all, consider the job. It’s a thankless job in a near-literal sense of the term. Who the fuck thanks a bouncer? Not like, for handing back an ID or holding the door, but real gratitude. Not all of them deserve it, but almost none of them actually receive it. They're like the IRS -- a faceless group you hate reflexively and categorically, despite how essential it is to your daily existence. John Oliver was able to make us feel just the slightest bit of pity for the taxman; can't we come together and do the same for the noble, not-dickish doormen out there?

They’re stoic. They're patient. They stand at the door through rain, snow, sleet, and NFL Sunday Ticket two-for-one buckets. It's dirty work for little pay, and they don't even get to bang Kelly Michaels in a sweet barn/loft. (Pain don't hurt!) Bouncers are there so people don’t do drugs in the bathrooms, not because they hate drugs, but because if the cops catch on, the bar might get shut down. Then the fun is over for everyone. Do you understand, ingrate? Bouncers keep your beloved watering holes (mostly) on the right side of the law, so you can keep drinking at them.

Fights! Good bouncers are there to swiftly stifle fisticuffs whenever they inevitably begin. (This is especially useful if you find yourself in a fight you can’t win.) Hell, if it’s a really good bouncer, there won’t even be a tussle. The mere threat of rapid ejection and a follow-up beatdown is plenty of deterrence against would-be tough guys.

Being a bouncer means being at the office dead sober. This fact alone is not worthy of your pity, as most of us are required to behave in kind. However, the bouncer has to do this... around people who are not sober. At all.

Envision trying to do your job sober while the rest of your office parties. Imagine doing it in the middle of the night. Imagine all your coworkers hate you for things you have no control over. This is the bouncer's profession, and it is a horrifying existence that cannot be overstated.

True, the bouncer's actual coworkers are the bartenders, but he spends more time dealing with the booze-addled horde. Of course he’s occasionally grouchy and gruff. If Mother Teresa were a bouncer, she’d vape flavored tobacco and have a tattoo on her neck that said “NO MERCY.” Being a bouncer is like being a designated driver in a vehicle that goes nowhere for nine hours, and everyone is annoyed with you because you won’t let them smoke cigarettes out the window while loudly arguing over the lyrics of "Don't Stop Believin'." Grow up, you monsters.

The bouncer herds the masses when they’re at their most socially lubricated. He saves us from ourselves. Bouncers are gigantic men, sure, but they’re still men, not monoliths. Some are bad. Most are not.

If you come across a good bouncer, one who keeps the line moving, doesn't play too many favorites, and keeps an eye on the chaos... man, appreciate that bouncer. Remind yourself they're not all the power-tripping asshole you once perceived as your biggest adversary. You don't have to hug the fucker -- he probably won't like that -- but you don't need to hate him, either.

*No disrespect to any of the lady bouncers out there, but as an overwhelming majority of bouncers are large men, we’re going to run with male appellations to save on pronoun clutter. Cool? Hope so!

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Dave Infante is a senior writer for Thrillist. He has yet to be thrown out of a bar, but when it happens, he knows he will probably have done something to deserve it. Follow @dinfontay on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.