Vomit, booze, bathroom sex and booty shaking on the dance floor! Don’t worry, Sacramento’s bar and club bouncers have your back.
Their stories include a drunken woman flailing down the stairs in a wild mass of hair, legs and shoes as she angrily protests the forced exit of her gentleman caller from a popular downtown nightclub. There’s the one about the couple who was unceremoniously banned for life at another local hot spot for getting a little too intimate in the bathroom. Then there’s the story straight out of a scene from the cult-classic film Road House, in which the unfortunate recipient of a beer bottle straight to the dome was left reeling in pain.
While frequently stereotyped as thuggish brutes with snarling countenances and muscled bodies, the guys and gals on the frontlines—the bouncers who provide security and keep the peace so that the party goes on until last call—are in reality a myriad group who employ not just sheer force but also wit and psychological tactics to ensure that everyone has a good time.
Each night, they witness Sacramento nightlife scene firsthand—the good, the bad and the jaw-droppingly scary—and now they’re talking.
“People want to come out and listen to music, and they want to blow off that steam at the end of a long work day,” says Guy Kemp, head of security at Pour House on Q Street and one of the regular ’keeps on the lookout for good times gone awry at Ace of Spades on the R Street Corridor.
Kemp, who has done security at bars, nightclubs and other venues for approximately 12 years, has worked up and down California’s coast and even in Mexico. His skin is adorned with a vibrant spread of tattoos seared across the majority of his body and he towers over most in his presence—the picture-perfect image of a bouncer, perhaps—but it’s his cool, calm, Zen-like demeanor that commands attention.
A student of self-defense-styled martial arts, Kemp says his method for managing the crowd is a balance of friendly demeanor and intimidation.
“The majority of the time, what I want to do is gain control of a situation,” Kemp says. “I don’t want to go fistfighting. I don’t want to escalate it into something that’s going to get crazier.”
And, even as one of the city’s most popular nightspots, TownHouse Lounge, prepares to shutter its doors for good, Kemp says the local nightlife doesn’t appear to be slowing down or going away. If anything, it appears to be morphing into a hybrid of scenes, comprising a rich diversity of fun seekers.
“Growing up, there were thick lines between certain cultures in the music scene,” Kemp says. “You had your punk rockers, your metal heads, your hip-hoppers and your clubbers. At this point … everyone is kind of integrating into this weird [melting] pot. It’s great.”
It’s this melting pot that inspired another security officer to jump into the fray.
With only about four months on the job, Ace of Spades’ newest security officer defies the bouncer typecast with her expertly manicured eyebrows and glamorous eye makeup.
And she knows her stuff when it comes to managing the nocturnal set.
“I’ve been going to shows and bars forever, and was asked to do security by the head of security at Ace of Spades,” says Jalynn Cleaver, the club’s newest security-team member.
In a culture populated by men, she adds, her twin set of X chromosomes proved essential.
“[They] … needed a [female] security officer because the men have an issue with going into the girls’ bathroom,” Cleaver explains. “It gets kind of touchy when girls pass out in the bathroom.”
Now, in just the few short months she’s held the line at Ace of Spades, Cleaver has already formed a distinct impression of the scene after dark.
“You can almost tell what kind of night you’re going to have by what’s playing that night,” Cleaver says. “At metal shows the crowd is more rowdy, [with] older males usually and very heavy drinkers … but nonviolent, surprisingly. … At hip-hop shows, I get a lot of disrespect from the girls, but my biggest issue is with the weed smokers.”
Many working security at bars and other venues, however, say such situations where they have to employ strong-arm tactics are isolated incidents. For the most part, those who are allowed to pass through the velvet ropes are really just looking to have a good time.
One such bastion of merriment, Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub on J Street, has long played host to a number of drool-worthy shows including headliners Chelsea Wolfe and Talib Kweli.
The venue is also home to monthly burlesque show hosted by the Sizzling Sirens Burlesque Experience dance troupe, and it’s the hulking yet soft-spoken Antjuan Lambert’s job to keep the dancers’ tasseled derrieres safe from harm. A three-year veteran of the Harlow’s security crew, Lambert says it’s all about ensuring that the venues’ patrons and performers are happy and coming back for more.
“Attitudes are checked at the door based on how people in line carry themselves,” Lambert says. “We cut off all of the riffraff—it’s important to have a good doorman. If you let the wrong person in, it can ruin the whole night for everybody.”
Across Midtown on L Street, The Mercantile Saloon is the place to belly up to the bar for a drama-free night, says one of its security officers, a Southern California native who has been securing the front doors of bars and nightclubs in California since 1995.
“Here, the crowd is very outgoing and happy compared to other bars I’ve worked at,” says Octavio Gallegos, the 38-year-old veteran of the Mercantile’s nighttime security force.
Of course, he adds, that doesn’t mean the bar’s been without drama.
“I’ve only had two altercations, but I have heard stories of people being eighty-sixed for life for having sex in the bathroom.”
The wax and wane of the Midtown scene after dark is unmistakable—the landscape is ever changing and constantly in flux as venues arrive hot and heavy on the scene only to dissipate into the oblivion that is the graveyard of broken amplifiers and beer taps.
But, based on the amount of sweat and booze left on the dance floor after a recent Chk Chk Chk show at Harlow’s at least, ultimately, it’s about having an entertaining, (mostly) clean and safe night.
“We try to control everything to make sure people have fun,” says Lambert, the Harlow’s bouncer. “We aim to please.”