Sunday, October 15, 2006
The 'In' Keepers
Want to get into the club? Better be nice to these guys.

Don't flash a fake ID at the 9:30 club. Josh Burdette has confiscated more than 500 of them.

By Chris Richards
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 15, 2006; M01

Purgatory is a Saturday night spent outside the velvet rope.

The club is full, the queue is curling around the corner, and you can hear the bass notes of your favorite song rumbling from behind the closed double doors. Never mind the line, there's a bigger obstacle standing between you and the night of your life: the bouncer.

What to do? Tell him you know the owner? Introduce him to your friend Andy Jackson (wink-wink)?

Nice try. You don't even know the barback, and this guy has seen more $20s than an ATM technician.

Time for Plan B: minding your manners.

" 'Please' and 'thank you' will get you a long way, believe it or not," says Jeff Mozingo, head of security at Clarendon Grill in Arlington. "Ask any of my team -- it's all about manners."

And while they go by many names -- bouncers, greeters, door staff -- Mozingo and others like him are all looking for two things: patience and respect. We asked staffers at area nightclubs how to get on their good side and how not to get on their nerves. Heed their advice, and hopefully you'll be spending your next Saturday night at the bar instead of next to the curb. See Page M4.

JOSH BURDETTE, 30, 9:30 club

Since opening its doors downtown in the early '80s (and then migrating to the U Street corridor in 1996), the 9:30 club has grown to become Washington's premier music venue.

You don't like being called a bouncer. How come?

A bouncer is looking to bounce people. It's a reactive way of doing things. We have a proactive attitude, so that we step into a situation before it becomes a problem. I don't have any problems with anybody else calling themselves a bouncer, but that's not the 9:30 club.

How would you describe your relationship with the crowds at 9:30?

It's really a customer service job. We're the face of the club, and we have to do our best to be as friendly, polite and accessible as we can. It's not an us-versus-them mentality here -- we want to avoid that antagonism. If you need our help, ask us. Some of us look big and scary, but we're just people, too. We're just working our jobs. Then on the rare occasion when we have to do something more on the security end of things, we've already established that we're there to help.

But you probably still have some impressive horror stories.

I could tell you about the biggest brawl I've ever been in, but that's the exception, not the rule. I like to focus on the positive. If we have a fight, it's once every six months. And one of the worst fights we've ever had was at a Super Diamond show -- and that's a Neil Diamond tribute band! It was a doctor and a dentist. You just never know.

How do you spot trouble in the club?

When you've been doing it for a long time, it almost becomes instinct. I have a degree in psychology, so I watch people -- it's what I do. You learn the behaviors of people doing something wrong. They're looking around a lot, making sure they're not being watched. I spend a lot of time at the front door watching the crowd come in, so I know who's in here. If a group of two guys and two girls comes in, and the guys are 21 and the girls aren't, we're gonna keep an eye on that. Later on, if one of those guys walks by with four beers in his hand, I'm going to follow him.

Do you have problems with fake IDs?

I have a radar for fake IDs. I can see 'em walking up. Personally, I've confiscated over 500 of them. I can't give you all the tricks of my trade, but there are questions you can ask to tell whether it's them or not. I look for information that's not necessarily on the ID. And it's not even their answer, but how they answer. If I ask you your sign -- boom -- you know it. There's no hesitation. But that quarter-second hesitation? Got it.

But we're not out to get anybody -- we're just protecting our liquor license. . . . If someone's 50 years old and I ask them for their ID, it's because the law says you have to have a valid ID in your possession to drink alcohol in the District of Columbia. "I've got gray hair. I've got kids your age." I've heard it all. It takes a lot less time to show it to me than it does to talk about it.

Do people ever drop names at the door?

If the show is sold out, it's sold out. Nothing is going to change that. You can drop every name that you want. If you know my boss well enough, give him a call.

What happens when people try to slip you money?

I'm not going to lose my job for 20 bucks. . . . The weekend of the Tibetan Freedom Concert [in 1998] we had the Red Hot Chili Peppers one night, then Radiohead the next. That weekend I turned down more in cash -- actually shown to me -- than what I made that year. And everything gets offered. I had one show where I had a limo of 11 strippers show up. I was told that I could do whatever I wanted with them if I let them into the show.

What did you do?

My job is to say no, and I'm really good at it.

What do you like about your job?

What keeps me doing this after getting kicked in the head, fought, spit on, is seeing people leave the club with a smile on their face. I know that's a trite thing to say, but my job is to make sure people have fun.

815 V St. NW. 202-265-0930. .

MATEEN KHAN, 22 , Be Bar

Be Bar just opened last month, and the gay-friendly Shaw nightspot aims to attract hipsters of all stripes. The decor is posh, the music is trendy and the air is smoke-free.

How did you get started as a bouncer?

We don't have bouncers; we have greeters. I'm not a bouncer, period. I'm very thin. If you breathe hard enough, you could probably blow me into the wind. So people often target me when they have a problem. But I can deal with it -- I have a mouth on me. You have to have some smart remarks to do crowd control.

Like what?

A couple days after we opened, a gentleman who was trying to impress his boyfriend flashed his black American Express card and offered me $250 to let him in. I told him, "First off, you're not the only one who has a black American Express card. And secondly, I can't swipe the card in my [anatomy] to get the money, so I'd appreciate it if you'd get back in line." He's become a regular customer, so I'm glad he took it well.

Be Bar opened only recently, but what's been your worst night on the job?

Opening night we had a line almost four blocks long. We can only have 150 people inside the club, so obviously there's going to be a wait. Anything after that night was a piece of cake. It was a nice eye-opener.

Do people ever drop names to skirt the line?

A lot of people say, "I know Michael, I know Tom" [the owners]. Even if you know their mom, it doesn't matter. Tom and Mike know the entire world.

What's the strangest behavior you've seen from people in line?

I think a lot of people are just fascinated by my hair. I've had customers who want to touch it. I have to remind them that just because I work at Be Bar doesn't mean I'm part of the bar.

1318 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-7450. .


Crossroads Entertainment Complex

Caribbean music fans flock in droves to Crossroads in Bladensburg for the food, dancing and live performances by reggae, dance-hall and soca music greats.

The hardest part of your job must be patting people down, right?

No guy wants a pat-down, but it's part of the procedure. We need to make sure the environment is safe. If there's a piece of metal on you, a belt buckle, it's gonna register on a metal detector. And it's just a machine. Don't take it personally.

What advice would you give patrons to smooth the process?

Don't carry so many things in your pockets. . . . Lots of people carry more than one cellphone -- sometimes three! I gotta wonder what kind of business these people are running. Some of these guys are truly pimpin'.

What kind of behavior gets on your nerves inside the club?

Play fighting. Don't do that. The other night, one woman was screaming at the top of her lungs, and I could hear her. And you know how strong the speakers are in the club! I could see that she was just joking around, but if you seem like you're in danger, that's a false alarm for us. I have to assume that you might be in trouble.

Any other advice for customers?

Music can dictate emotions, and when the music gets too rowdy, emotions can lead to action. Don't take it literally. Make love, not hate -- that's the agenda for the club.

4103 Baltimore Ave., Bladensburg, 301-927-1056. .

JEFF MOZINGO, 38, Clarendon Grill

It might seem pretty tame at lunchtime, but the Clarendon Grill can get rowdy by night. Local DJs, live bands, open-mike performers and stand-up comedians draw lively crowds to this Arlington nightspot.

You almost always have a line on weekends. Are people good sports about it?

We get some people cussing under their breath. And usually, if they're in earshot, those people are going to be standing in line for a while. But, overall, the people who come here are pretty good people.

Does anyone ever try to slip you money?

The money thing, people try to do that quite often. "Let me and my five friends in -- here's 20 bucks." The cover is five bucks, man!

How about name dropping?

I don't do the name game. That's too L.A. or New York. This is the suburbs of D.C. Just stand in line for five minutes.

What makes for a good day on the job?

People acting like adults. Some of our patrons are just out of college, but they need to understand that they're adults now. It's a good day when nobody gets thrown out, nobody gets in a fight, nobody's throwing up in the corner.

What does it take to get thrown out?

Trying to pour your own beer. That'll get you kicked out quick. If punches are thrown, that's an automatic ejection. Another problem: ladies in the men's room and men in the ladies' room.

What do you want your patrons to know?

Hug a door guy. I've got no problems taking a hug.

1101 N. Highland St., Arlington. 703-524-7455. .

GARRY WRIGHT, 23, Fly Lounge

Washington's clubbing elite weren't the first to take notice when Fly Lounge opened in the spring. The uber-trendy, aviation-themed Dupont Circle nightclub was featured in such magazines as Vibe and Details before the party even left the runway. Since then, Fly has become the hottest ticket in town.

How did you get started in this business?

My brother ran security at Club U back in the day, so the club has always been in the family. All of my cousins worked in clubs.

And that's how you learned the ropes?

No, you learn it by doing it. You can't teach it. There are so many aspects to doing security, especially nowadays. You used to have to be a burly, mean-looking [person]. Now people want a representative of the club -- a clean-cut, well-spoken, nice person who knows what the hell they're doing. It's like customer service.

Fly is probably the most exclusive nightspot in D.C. right now. What's the clientele like?

It's a high-end crowd. We pick and choose based upon the look we're trying to get in here. We'll have up to 70 people standing outside. . . . It gets real stressful.

What are you looking for at the door?

The first thing I look for is a good attitude. If I see a couple good-looking guys, clean-cut, well dressed, I'll say, "Hold on for a second." Based on your reaction to that, you'll get in or you won't. A good reaction is, "All right, cool" or "Take your time." But we hear people bitch and moan all night.

What was your worst night on the job?

Maybe my second or third weekend, we had two fights, back-to-back. I tried to help this guy out, and he turned around and started to choke me. I proceeded to carry [him] out, and he didn't want to leave. He's grabbing the [stairway] railing, his girlfriend tore my shirt and my pants. And as soon as we got done with that, another fight sparked up in the back. That's why we have a dress code: You're less likely to get in a tussle if you're dressed nicely than if you're dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and some tennis shoes.

Does the crowd outside ever get that ugly?

I've had people try to fight me. I've had people open the ropes and run in. I've had people tell me, "You're gonna let me in." And this is my biggest pet peeve: [when they ask] "Do you know who I am?" Honestly, you should never have to ask me that question. If I did, you wouldn't be on the other side of the rope!

Do people ever slip you money ?

That's the beauty of working the door. But you gotta be careful, because there's a thin line between shaking somebody down and accepting money. They might be the owner's friend, the owner's neighbor. Most guys ask, "What can I do?" And I ask them, "What can you do? We don't charge a cover, but how much you feel like giving?" If they name their price, it sounds good to me and we have space . . . ? "Let me see your ID." Club owners know what goes on. A lot of people when they leave, they'll hit you up, too -- with 20, 50, sometimes 100 dollars.

Wow. What's the most you've ever been offered?

The other night this guy offered me a thousand dollars to get into the club. We call that doorman love!

1802 Jefferson Pl. NW. 202-828-4433.