Best bouncers don’t bounce

Durango’s barroom peacekeepers say the key is preemptive action

“We show them respect and they show respect back,” said James Holmes, a bouncer at Pongas, while checking IDs of people who were part of a bachelor party. Employees who work at local bars say actually tossing someone out of a bar is not the norm in their jobs. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“We show them respect and they show respect back,” said James Holmes, a bouncer at Pongas, while checking IDs of people who were part of a bachelor party. Employees who work at local bars say actually tossing someone out of a bar is not the norm in their jobs.

Popular culture frequently depicts bouncers as bulky, imposing men who break up fights and throw people out onto sidewalks.

Local bar owners say this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most bouncers are no longer known by that name. They’re called everything from floor staff to door hosts.

“Bouncers are hired muscle. Their job is to throw people out, and that’s not the job at all,” said Wild Horse co-owner Amber Morris, referring to why they eschew the title “bouncer.”

Floor staff, as Wild Horse calls them, are there as peacekeepers. The bar has a strict policy of not getting physical with patrons.

Kevin Gross, head of the Saloon’s floor staff, said his job at the bar on East Second Avenue is really customer service.

“Our job is not to be physically imposing,” he said. “We try to eliminate situations before it becomes a problem because the majority of the bar can see when it gets physical.”

Gross said 30 percent of patrons will leave within 10 minutes of a fight, which are actually somewhat rare. They typically occur only once or twice a month, said bouncers who were interviewed for this story.

Far more frequent are verbal altercations. Bouncers typically will separate the two parties and the disagreement will end there. One of the main responsibilities of bouncers is to anticipate such disagreements and separate the parties before it ends in a brawl.

“There’s no crazy wild bar fights,” said James Holmes, a door host at Colorado Pongas.

The door hosts are constantly observing body language, how someone’s shoulders are positioned and listening for raised voices to anticipate a fight before it breaks out, said Pongas owner J.R. Spies.

Knowing when an interaction is friendly joking or about to turn ugly is a natural skill, and either you have it or you don’t, Spies said, whose bar is located on west Eighth Street.

This skill and a person’s demeanor are the first attributes owners look for when hiring bouncers. Applicants’ disposition is ultimately more important than how big they are.

As Morris put it, it’s all about attitude and patience, which can’t be taught.

“If you get someone who flies off the handle fast, it can create a bigger problem than the one you had to start with,” she said.

In the event a fight does break out, former El Rancho bouncer Ryan Flaherty said it is fairly simple to restrain the intoxicated parties by using their balance and weight against them.

Locals also are great to have around and will help bouncers break up a fight when necessary, he said of his nights working at the bar on Main Avenue and 10th Street.

Morris said that locals can sometimes be too protective because they sometimes are the first to jump into a fight and help, but often their involvement only escalates the situation.

Flaherty also said it is a comfort knowing that the local police are usually on your side.

Durango Police Department spokesman Ray Shupe said his agency tries to establish good working relationships with all the bars.

“Officers frequently do bar checks where they do a walk-through and make sure people aren’t getting served who are overly intoxicated,” he said.

Bars will call police on a range of infractions – from fake IDs to theft to brawls on the sidewalk. Five bars made 539 calls to police in the last year for these infractions, along with intoxication, assaults and disturbances. Sgt. Geary Parson with Durango police characterized disturbances as most likely bar fights that ended before police arrived.

Pongas made the most calls, 149, from Oct. 9, 2011, to Oct. 12 of this year, for graffiti, theft and disorderly contact, among others. Wild Horse made the least amount of calls with 60 made for loitering, theft and fraud, among others.

Statistics for the number of phone calls made in previous years were not readily available.

Once a fight moves outside onto the public sidewalk, bouncers cannot get involved.

Even though they’re not breaking up fights every 20 minutes, bouncers said the job is exhausting.

Flaherty worked as a bouncer at El Rancho for two years before quitting to work at a liquor store, saying the job burned him out.

“You get to be social, but then again you’re also dealing with people who are just completely and totally hammered,” Flaherty said. “You’re always up late, so school suffers from that. You’re always looking around for someone who is going to start the fight, constantly trying to protect your bartenders.”

Wild Horse sees a high turnover of its floaters – floor staff who wander the bar rather than stand at the door.

“It’s a hard job. Put 200 drunk people in a room and it tries your patience real fast,” Morris said.

Floor staff workers wander the room looking for overly intoxicated patrons, make sure those who are underage aren’t sneaking drinks and check IDs.

Every bar interviewed for this story said fake IDs are a common occurrence.

Pongas has a book of IDs from every state, and Spies said he keeps in contact with Durango police to find out what fakes are currently popular.

Brooks Proch, a bouncer at Irish Embassy on Main Avenue and Ninth Street, said he’ll ask for another form of ID if he suspects one is a fake.

Pongas and Wild Horse allow people younger than 21 on some nights. The Saloon writes down the name and birthday of those patrons, and if they’re caught drinking at the bar they’re “86ed”, or banned, until they turn 21. Anyone caught supplying an underage person with a drink is 86ed for life, Gross said.

Snyder said real IDs either given to the individual or found somewhere tend to be more common than fakes.

There has been more than one occasional where a minor has tried to use the ID of someone he knows, Snyder said.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

“We believe in making a good first and last impression. We’re the first person they’ll see and the last person they’ll see,” said bouncer Justin Aukerman, right, who was working the door on Thursday night at The Summit. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“We believe in making a good first and last impression. We’re the first person they’ll see and the last person they’ll see,” said bouncer Justin Aukerman, right, who was working the door on Thursday night at The Summit.

“Our job is not to get aggressive ... but to get to a situation before it escalates,” said Kevin Gross, left, the head of the floor staff at the Wild Horse Saloon. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“Our job is not to get aggressive ... but to get to a situation before it escalates,” said Kevin Gross, left, the head of the floor staff at the Wild Horse Saloon.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story