There is an expression typical of the nightlife world, it’s “doing the doors”, but what does it means?
- The Basics: Who’s Bugsy
- Becoming a Nightlife Gatekeeper
- Tactics for a better environment and atmosphere in clubs
- Career path through time and places
- Travel Bites and Insights
To learn more about it, I’ve asked an expert from New York City. He goes by the name of “Bugsy” – working in the field from the middle 90’s – and here’s The Art of “Doing the Doors” by Bugsy.
Although there is no formal description for the expression, the topic refers to nightclubs life.
Doing the doors (also “working the doors”) relates to the doorman of a club, the nightlife gatekeeper, the nightclub’s first line of defense… ‘cause adventure begins at the door.
You must know, especially if you’re a habitué, that not everyone actually gets trough the door at clubs: the act of getting in can be a tricky job. No matter on which guest list you are, the doorman has always the final say if someone gets in or not.
It’s a business where being selective is at its core. Doormen must be good at picking out from the line an appropriate mix of people, welcome table and bottle clients, whatever it takes to creating a diverse, interesting and fun crowd on any given night (or so).
Apparently the most successful nightclubs do not open every night of the week, making the door even tougher to get in, besides requiring a specific dress code and high entry prices… However, I’m pretty sure there are other tactics clubs use to achieve that «je ne sais quoi» for exclusivity.
The interview took place in remote, while Mr. Bugsy was sea fishing off New York shores. This is the transcript of an audio recording and has been edited for clarity.
(ock) Hi there! How are you?
(Bugsy) Doing great thank you? What about you?
Fine thank you… What do you think if, in order to introduce you, we’ll start with the basics: who you are, your background and how you came to became a clubs doorman?
Sure, no problem.
The Basics: Who’s Bugsy
Let’s start with your name?
Just Bugsy, ‘cause everybody knows me as Bugsy.
What’s the story behind the nickname?
When I came to this country [USA] I had “bug teeth”, and the kids used to make fun of me, that I looked like Bugs Bunny [the cartoon character].
Where are you from?
Originally from Kiev (Ukraine). I came to New York with my mother in 1977, and been here ever since.
Any favorite quote or motto?
There is this quote by John McEnroe that always resonated with me:
“My greatest strength is that I have no weaknesses”.
How would you define yourself?
- Talents/skills? I’m a people person.
- Sweet or Savory? Savory more.
- Are you a cat or dog person? Neither…
- Hunter, gatherer or gambler? None of those. I’m a peaceful lover.
- Which magic power would you like to have? Kind of flying fast so I can be everywhere and check out all over the world… Kind of being ubiquitous.
On Becoming a Nightlife Gatekeeper
How did you start “doing the doors”?
I got interested in doing the doors while working as nightlife promoter. It was around 1994-95, I was promoting nightclubs for very long time (about 8 to 10 years), bringing in many guests and keeping them entertained.
At certain point, what happened was that my friends stop picking up the phones – cause I would call them all the time to come to my parties, your know – they got older, they had families, they had kids, and they no longer were interested into going out partying.
So I kind of have to reinvent myself and I decided to start doing doors in New York, (later also in Miami), it was like a natural progression. It led me to a bigger passion, something that I discovered to be better at.
Your professional timeline starts in 1994 – 1995, what about clubbing before then?
I started going to clubs when I was about 14-15 years old. With my friend Will, we’d paint-on mustaches with my mother eyeliner, and be going out clubbing. We even managed to sneak into Studio 54.
What about your First Door?
My first door? I started at a club in Manhattan, on the corner of 8th Avenue and 16th Street, it was called “Sweet Sixteen”, a very popular nightclub… It was this big party on a Tuesday night.
It’s no longer there, there’s an apartment building now.
What are the Pros and Cons of working in this industry?
The Pros – You get to hang out with beautiful models, celebrities; you get to drink a lot of booze, a lot of champagne… it’s all about being young, cool, sexy, hip… and that has an expiration date.
The Cons are that at a certain points you get too old and it’s all over.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I get to work, set up, people start coming…
Everything starts around 10 ~ 11 pm, it depends. Usually in New York the nightclubs open around 11pm and by 3 am clubs stop letting people in. Normally they are closed by 4 am.
About tactics for a better environment and atmosphere in clubs
Is true that… it’s common practice not to letting-in large groups of men?
Definitely, it’s the rule number 1! For many reasons.
- When you’ve a large group of men there’s a lot of testosterone. A lot of times guys get drunk n they tend to fight, especially when they’re in groups.
- You don’t want the women in the room to feel intimidated by so many guys; women feel uncomfortable when there are too many guys… That’s a big thing also.
Is true that… Taller ladies are more likely to get in?
Yes. Taller, prettier… the girls that look good, you know. However, on most days, the looks are very different…
For example, right now the girls look again like the heroine chic models: dark circles underneath the eyes, emaciated features, not particularly tall… they are not like the models they used to be back in the days… in time the look changed a lot.
Is true that… It’s important to maintain a boys-to-girls ratio of 3:5?
It depends, each situation is different. In every room, every club, what they want is different.
With time the business model of the clubs evolved into becoming all “bottle service”: it was a nightlife game changer…
Once it became about the bottle service, it wasn’t cool anymore… any schmuck [*] with a couple of dollars in his pocket would get into clubs… and that’s when everything changed.
[*] Originally from the Yiddish (schmok), in American/English is used as pejorative term to indicate a foolish/silly person… the list is long 😉
Is true that… Clubs prefer to hire a doorman who has an extensive list of bottle clients?
Off course! The more clients you have, the merrier! The things that today impact the doors are related to the dollars in bottle service.
In the last 10 years the doorman job, changed. Back in the days, it was all about curating a beautiful mood, to make sure that the people that got in were “beautiful”. But again, once bottle service took over, that got a little bit lost, because … guys willing to pay money, were let into the clubs …
The look for the right mood is something that got lost.
How do you choose who to let in?
The look and the money. Yes, they have to look good, willing to spend money… and they get proper entry to clubs.
You look for someone that has something to bring to the table, to the club… cool factor, a good looking factor, something that will stand out from everybody else coming in… That’s what you’re looking for.
Back in the days we used to have club kids that didn’t have 2 bucks to spend but they were cool to look at, aesthetically they were very pleasing, they just had it.
Any tips on “how to maximize someone chances of getting trough the door”?
◦ Dress to impress.
◦ Body language is very important too. You look for people that come up to you, like they’re owning the club, those are people that I’m going to let in… The shy ones that walk up to the door like they’re scared, like they’ve never been to a club before, that’s not who you are looking for.
You want people with personality, that can bring something to the table… it’s how you curate the look…
The career path through time and places
What drew you to Miami?
It was about ‘97, we were doing all the parties in New York. My partner at the time decided to explore Miami, because some of our other partners we grew up with in NY, (that we used to do business with), they took off to Miami and started their career there… the city was starting to explode.
So we kind of all partner up together, and created a company that did parties in New York and in Miami simultaneously. The club owners would call and say “Hei, we need to organize a party in our club on Friday nigh, can you guys do it?” And we would say “yeah” … we’d book the DJs, book the promoters, we’d book anything to make sure that people wanted to come to our party…
What was the city like when you arrived?
It was kind of dead, nothing like it is now, there was like three clubs in all of Miami.
The culture was very different, there were a lot of modeling agencies…
It was the town of the “$100” millionaires, that’s the way we used to call them. If you had $100 in your pocket you were (you’d feel like) a millionaire.
Now is different, now Miami is bright lights, big city, expensive … big, big, big. But then it was completely different.
How long have you been there?
I’ve started going to Miami when I was 17 – 18 years old (back in 1987) … and fell in love with.
Professionally I was going back and forth for about 10 to 12 years. My friends would open clubs there and they used to use me as hired gun to come and sell bottles on the weekends. And then I’d fly back to New York on Sunday or Monday.
What drew you back to New York?
New York is always home, you know.
Now it may be different, the mood in the clubs tend to be generic, almost sterile, likely playing the same records… Maybe the colors of the walls differ…
But New York is always New York.
What was the city like when you came back?
It was a different New York. When we were going out, and we were making our way into this business, the city was very different. It was very diversified, very special… It had pockets of bad neighborhood in there where creative types could afford to live.
Now New York is so cleaned up and so like polished, with little undesirable neighborhood, the creative types cannot live here anymore, too expensive. It’s all doctors, lawyers, financials and they have kind of made the city very boring, monotone, very… Just not fun.
The creative types, the cool people, left long time ago… And Covid just made it worst.
What about the nightlife after Covid, and the desire to go back clubbing no matter?
Now a lot of the clubs are closed, so there is a lot less competition… The ones that are open are a lot busier right now.
Young people do not care what so ever, they wanna be out, they wanna be going crazy, they don’t really care.
Do you think the nightlife vibes are going to come back?
I really hope so.
Travel Bites and Insights
Any favorite location(s) and/or destination(s)?
I have two favorite destinations: Japan (Tokyo – Shibuya, and Yokohama), I’ve been there 6 or 7 times. And Odessa in Ukraine. I’ve been going there for the last 11 years (pre-Covid). Those are my two favorite destinations for many reasons, and nightlife is one of them.
I love nightlife in Ukraine, it’s alive, well hold and flourishing. In Shibuya the Club Harlem is a great place to visit.
When to go there?
Odessa… Only in summertime. August is the best time of the year, when most people are out and about.
In Japan, I’ve only been there in the summer, so I cannot talk about what’s the best season.
What to taste?
In Odessa, I would highly recommend to try fried bull fish (round goby), they are native to the Black Sea, very, very delicious… they’re only found in the area and they are absolutely delicious little fish.
In Japan… sushi overall it’s an experience over there, a lot different than here.
Which drink you’d suggest to try?
“When in Rome…” In Odessa go for vodka. In Japan, I’d suggest you try the unfiltered sake.
When in Rome, you know what I mean… [oh yeah… do as the Romans do]
Next trip? Hopefully Thailand.
That’s all for now… Thank you very much for your time!
No problem, any time.