The History of Bouncers

 Also known as doormen, the history of bouncers goes back centuries. Exclusive meetings, clubs, or venues often employ someone to keep the “riff-raff” out. But how has the role of a bouncer evolved over the years?

The History of Bouncers

The Work of Doormen

From high-rise apartment buildings to saloons, doormen have helped keep the peace. They can prevent people from entering without authorization, and they can remove people whose behavior gets out of hand. From the 1800s on, doormen have been employed at the following establishments:

  • Apartment buildings
  • Brothels
  • Casinos
  • Concerts
  • Dance halls
  • Hotels
  • Night clubs
  • Restaurants
  • Saloons/bars
  • Sporting events

Historically, a bouncer was needed in any place where alcohol was served, where money changed hands and payment needed to be enforced, or where only select guests were permitted.

The history of the professional doorman can be traced thanks to historical records.

Janus

In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of doors and gates. He guarded literal doors, and metaphorical doors, such as the one between life and death. 

Nio

These two guardians can be found outside Buddhist temples. They symbolize the death and birth of all things and served as personal bodyguards for Buddha. They also protect  

Old Testament Gatekeepers

According to the scripture found in 1 Chronicles, gatekeepers guarded the entrance to the Levitical temple.

Bacchides

This play, written by Plautus sometime in 100 BC, includes a character who works as a bouncer for a brothel.

Training as a Bouncer or Doorman

It’s more than likely that bouncers of the past were recruited because they were large, or had a reputation around town. Their intimidating features or past would earn them respect from patrons. These days, an effective bouncer should understand proper crowd control techniques so they can help prevent dangerous situations from ever occurring. A good bouncer isn't known for evicting people from venues but instead is known for keeping a venue under control.

Depending on the state, a bouncer may need to be licensed with security services or as a private investigator in order to be eligible for employment. Typically, a bouncer cannot have a felony conviction.

Role of a Bouncer Today

A bouncer comes in contact with patrons before they enter a venue. S/he checks for entry tickets, or identification that proves legal age for entering the venue. A bouncer can enforce policies to refuse entry to already intoxicated individuals, or someone acting inappropriately toward other patrons. 

Doormen often need to pass background checks to work a venue and should understand the use of force is a last result. Additionally, most bouncers are unarmed and are trained to use communication techniques to prevent or resolve behavioral issues.

Digital Doorman

Threats to our online security are also a problem today, so a form of digital doorman is necessary to protect our identity and assets. Whether you’re looking for business security services or ways to protect your personal information online, turn to a trusted security company to safeguard yourself. It’s also important to protect your unoccupied spaces, like properties under renovation, or new construction sites. 

Famous Bouncers

The work of a bouncer is so nuanced there’s a German documentary entitled Berlin Bouncer that highlights the work of three doormen who made names for themselves in the industry: Sven Marquardt, Frank Kunster, and Smiley Baldwin.

These three bouncers have honed their people-reading skills over the years working venues, carefully selecting who will stay and who will go. For these men, working as a bouncer is a craft, and the career they used to catapult them on to other endeavors. Kunster went on to own a bar, and Baldwin currently runs a security company.

Across the pond, some celebrities worked as bouncers before moving on, including the following:

Javier Bardem 

Spanish-born Bardem starred in No Country for Old Men, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and other blockbuster films, but he first supported himself as a bouncer, among other jobs.

David Bautista

It probably comes as no surprise that someone who worked as a Guardian of the Galaxy could also work as a guardian for a nightclub. Bautista started as a bouncer and a pro-wrestler and eventually made his way to films.

Jean-Claude Van Damme

The Muscles from Brussels not only starred in the movie the Bouncer, but he worked as one in the 1980s as a result of his friendship with Church Norris, who owned Woody’s Wharf bar at the time.

Vin Diesel

While attending school to study creative writing, Diesel earned his living as a bouncer at The Tunnel nightclub in NYC.

Michael Clarke Duncan

Before starring in Armageddon, The Green Mile, popular TV shows such as Bones, Duncan worked as personal security for dancers, and as a bouncer.

Justin Trudeau

Trudeau took a somewhat meandering path before following in his father’s footsteps and serving as Prime Minister of Canada. He worked as a bouncer, a snowboard instructor, and a teacher prior to his election to Parliament.

Mr. T

He probably pitied those he had to turn away, but it was part of Mr. T’s job as a bouncer in Chicago. 

The Stories They Could Tell

Although most doormen and bouncers aren’t trained police officers or detectives, being the eyes and ears of a venue can lead to helping curb crime or solve cases. In fiction, Hulu’s new show Only Murders in the Building relies on a doorman’s testimony that no one entered or left the building at the time of a resident’s murder.

You can learn more about the work of doormen through a variety of other media. The book Bouncers: Their Lives in Their Own Words by Julian Davies and Terry Currie, is a collection of stories from bouncers in the United Kingdom. Head down under and read the stories of former bouncer Joe Saunders in Bouncer Stories: One Man’s Life Behind the Velvet Rope. For tales closer to home, check out Paul Lazenby’s When We Were Bouncers. This book tells of the day’s actors, wrestlers, and martial artist legends who worked as bouncers. 

If you want to know what the doormen at one of America’s largest homes have experienced, read The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House. This book shares the stories of the professionals who keep the White House running smoothly, including the people at the doors.

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