Bar Security – Being Your Own Bouncer

thrown out As appreciative as I am gaining my livelihood on the back of alcohol sales, and as frequently as I enjoy a moderate amount myself, I’m convinced that booze has the most detrimental impact on society with respect to controlled substances as well as illicit drugs. And yes, alcohol is a drug. It’s simply a legal (mostly), somewhat regulated substance. If you’ve convinced yourself otherwise, you’re simply delusional. That may seem a rather grand statement for the “average” person who drinks casually with nary a negative, alcohol-related repercussion. Those folks – myself included – have simply grown accustomed to acceptance of drinking culture, and can reasonably and responsibly enjoy themselves in the midst of a city obsessed with public consumption. On the other hand, there are countless “victims” who not only lose inhibition when intoxicated, but chronically cross a distinct “line in the sand” into (a) severe, alcohol-attributable health degradation (b) a no-recollection black-out zone where one can be robbed or sexually violated (c) depleting funds otherwise earmarked for rent, diapers, food, utility bills, etc. and finally, (d) violence. Today I’m dropping knowledge on that small percentage of folks who fall into that last category: the violent drunks. Remember… this is a bartending blog. As such, what I’m about to share is experience from a bartender’s perspective – not Security’s, Management’s, patrons’ or any other point of view.

As a professional enabler of imbibery, there is a certain (mostly unwritten but generally well-known) Bartender’s code of conduct you must abide by. Arguably (to a select idiotic few), we’re in the customer service business not the retail drink business. As such, you leave your “normal” level of tolerance for debauchery on the other side of the bar the second you step behind the wood. What that means is that clearly abhorrent behavior (drink/food complaints, ignorance, hostility, finger-pointing, yelling, or even fighting) is dealt with much differently than if you were personally engaged next to said patron at a bar stool, on the street, at home or at any other venue. Whether one works at a mom-and-pop, sole-proprietorship bar or a multi-million-dollar national hospitality management corporation, your behavior, is always bound by a corporate Code of Ethics, Employee Handbook, or some other text which stipulates Standard Operating Procedure.

In effect, that means that on the job, you’re held to an exponentially higher standard of tolerance than your average bear and are required to (1) exhibit super-human patience in controlling your temper and holding your tongue in the face of great provocation (2) much like law enforcement: respond with only appropriate, equally or even a slightly lower level of force in the event force is required, “where force is required” being somewhat ambiguous.

Practically every bar I’ve worked in the past 20 years has had a minimum of one bouncer or Security personnel, at least at night. Many bars choose to forgo Security as a daytime requirement. In most bars, the frequency with which situations require Security, v. volume/revenue simply doesn’t justify their presence. Significant bar volume, I.D. checking requirements, and violence tends to happen mostly after dusk. The exceptions being busy daytime venues such as: beach-front bars (think: Miami’s Clevlander), Time Square pubs on a summer afternoon, or special events such as St. Patrick’s day in Mid-town.

So at all other times, who do you think that leaves to run point in situations where physical interventions are unavoidable? You guessed it – yours truly: the bartender.

Despite displaying and practicing unbelievably high levels of restraint in the face of anger, spit-talking, stomping, finger-pointing, refusal to pay, and all other manner of bad guest behavior, confrontations occasionally devolve into straight-up bar fights (or far worse, bar brawls). I’ve been in fights a few times in my years and just about all of them have resulted in minor and recoverable injuries. That includes even the rare instances where someone gets knocked out. A fat lip, a swollen eye socket, a chipped tooth, etc. are obviously not traumatic but in reality, are not the end of the world. You recover. What terrifies me in those circumstances isn’t necessarily someone getting in my face or even being hit. Yes, your fight-or-flight adrenaline rush makes your heart pound and gives you momentary comic-book-hero strength. That’s simply an animalistic self-defense mechanism. It reminds us that we are indeed flesh – highly-advanced, but animals nonetheless. Your [hopefully] professional tact and decent corporate attorneys will allow you to survive any potential legal onslaught. My greatest fears are (a) the prospect of weapons (b) many-on-one mob-style attacks where otherwise rational people don’t know when to stop leading to serious injury or death and (c) retribution.

Weapons

Like it or not, they’re a significant threat in New York City. The bigger, the more popular the establishment, the more real the risk. It irks me to say this, but the larger the club and more the “urban” clientele, the greater the potential threat. For this very reason, you’ll often see big clubs with multiple 6’6″ 350-pound behemoths of men-in-black at all points of ingress/egress, VIP areas and other key observation points. In those same clubs, patrons are routinely “wanded,” herded through metal detectors, patted down and have their bags searched. It’s nothing personal. It’s just the city we live in. If you’re old enough, think back to the New York City’s big club days where we had 5,000+ capacity arenas like Limelight, Palladium, The Tunnel, Mars, Red Zone, and Sound Factory and how very difficult it must have been to keep these environments safe.

Sadly, I have many a terrible tale in my career to tell regarding weapons. I’ve known countless bouncers who have had guns pulled on them after getting into it with patrons. Typically, there is a disturbance, words are exchanged, hormones kick in, and the guest goes back to his car to retrieve and threaten Security with a firearm. Yes – for real. Luckily, none of those instances resulted in actual shots being fired.

Another time, there was a 10 person or so melee in the back room of one of my bars. Many punches were thrown as well as chairs, dishes, utensils, etc. But the kicker was that one guest pulled a knife and sliced open another guest’s gut. The perpetrator made a beeline out the door and – to my knowledge – was never caught. The amount of blood that lay on the granite floor was unimaginable. Unless you frequent brutal crime scenes or deadly car accidents, I don’t think you could visualize how much fluid the human body is capable of leaking out.

Very early in my career, I instinctively hopped over the bar at light-speed and chased down a perp who had in broad daylight swiped an item from guest at the bar. I chased him down half a block, tackled him, and retrieved the item. That brief little win nearly cost me my life since his accomplice lay in wait at the wheel of the get-away car with the door open. He wasted no time in trying to run me over. Yep.

Mob Mentality

Believe it or not, this is my greatest fear. Whether manifested in good or evil, sheeple often disregard the power of numbers – masses of people. That’s true in political activism, rebellion and certainly with regard to pub brawls. I’m in no way advocating any disrespect for law enforcement nor violence of any kind. I abhor criminal behavior. But just to illustrate a point, imagine what a million unarmed, motivated, and incensed people might do to a significantly well-armed and trained military or police force of a few thousand if they wanted to? Terrifying – I know. Sure, many folks would be taken down and many would be terrified into fleeing. But if determined, nothing would stop them.

Well, a microcosm of that hypothetical scenario just so happens to go down at bars from time to time. That is, when a group of friends (or sometimes even somehow compelled strangers) join in to beat one person senseless. Something inexplicable (to me) happens to an otherwise rational person’s psyche when somehow convinced by their peers to join in the whooping of a defenseless perp already on the ground. That perp may or may not have been the instigator and may have deserved a forcible ejection, arrest or singular left-hook, but the reaction is often overwhelming and completely out of proportion. In my days, I’ve unfortunately been witness several times to grown-ass men (sometimes numbering 10 or 20) stomping an and individual for what seemed like minutes. In some of those cases, there was absolutely nothing a handful of burly bouncers could do without lest they be pounced upon by the mob as well.

I recall a couple of brawls in the wee hours of the morning where Animal Style, chairs flying, 20 or 30 person brawls broke out and Security was powerless to do anything more but call the cops and shield employees. Shockingly, those brawls all broke out over extremely minor “disagreements” like bumping into neighboring seat-backs a couple of hard times or “why’d you look at my girl?” and escalated into bedlam unnecessarily.

Retribution

People in altercations love to talk smack for some reason. Blame it a combination of the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol, adrenaline, and that self-defense mechanism. But blame it mostly on alcohol. Reason being, even if these same folks are total jerks with short fuses by day, the booze simply pushes them over the edge and removes that last remaining inhibition that normally keeps these fools from acting upon their nurtured, idiotic and violent tendencies.

Frighteningly, a good number of these bozos make significantly frightening threats to come back and “do something” once they go…  [out to the car?] I dunno. I guess it’s a reference to weapons or to “go get their boys.” Luckily, most of the time, the threats are baseless. Incensed jerks eventually calm down and come to their senses. Even if they didn’t, their threats are empty and laughable – except when they’re not [see the weapon reference above].

There was one incident where a whacked out customer was ejected and came back later with an aluminum baseball bat. He was so angry, he proceeded to knock out windows in an attempt at battering the bouncer who had ejected him.

Several times, I’ve had altercations where guests threaten me and actually wait outside the doors for hours in an attempt (I guess) to “teach me a lesson.” I don’t consider myself a coward. I’m intelligent however and feel no need to “fluff my feathers” and mark-up my Man Card. Therefore, I don’t fight unless backed into a corner and attacked. Firstly, I’m a lover not a fighter. I much prefer to deflect and squash situations approaching violence. That’s just me I guess. I don’t need anyone’s confirmation that I rightfully kicked someone’s ass nor anyone’s criticism that I didn’t. I simply don’t care. Regardless, I’ve managed to walk away from attackers (or sexual stalkers – yes there are those too) lying in wait by using alternate exits at the end of my shifts.

These days, customers are lucky – if you ask me. Most Security personnel in New York are significantly more tolerant and a whole lot less violent then they were back 20 years ago or so. Back then, it wouldn’t be an anomaly for a bouncer to pummel a douchebag into a week long vacation in the Intensive Care Unit with shattered ribs, missing teeth, and a fractured skull in retribution for a single punch to the gut, a slap or even simply extensive shit-talking. Security Guards in New York are all required to be licensed by the state, completing 8 and 16 hour intensive training courses. Furthermore, most of them have a much kinder demeanor and tend to use only appropriate reactionary force in a situation requiring physical intervention.

But like I said, Security isn’t always available. Sometimes, you’re left to your own devices and must play the role. I advise my kids to do on the street what I advise all my bartenders to do as well: when forced to react to physical threats, only use enough physical force defending yourself (or people you care about) when you’ve positively exhausted every other option. Only use sufficient and appropriate force to squash the situation. You shouldn’t (and cant – if you value staying out of jail) continue to beat an attacker after he/she has already been appropriately restrained or otherwise disabled. If you do so, you’re pretty much instantly in the wrong regardless of what happened previously. Harmlessly pinning down an enraged, violent threat until law enforcement arrives, is generally not going to get you in trouble. Conducting yourself in a level-headed, even-keeled, non-threatening motion type of conversational style once LEOs do arrive, is almost always going to win over the cops’ opinions in comparison to the other party who flails, gestures wildly, speaks in an elevated tone and who may appear to be intoxicated.

I had a situation just a couple of weeks ago where 5 or 6 guests (for reasons unknown to to me) cornered our sole bouncer into a corner on an unexpectedly busy night. No manger or other Security was around. The situation escalated very quickly. Within a minute or so, they were simultaneously swinging at him. I was faced with a grim choice: (a) allow our bouncer to continue to get his ass kicked or (b) do something myself. I risked it and stepped between the main instigators and the bouncer. I deflected some of the attention and attempted to reason with them. It worked momentarily, but one woman and one man with their party began to unleash another beating. My bouncer was fending off one guy and I hesitantly had to bear-hug and forcibly eject a woman who was throwing punches. I couldn’t do a whole lot to her once she was out nor guard the door as there were other pressing issues to address. Sure enough, a few moments later, she runs back in throwing punches yet again. The second time, a head lock and arm restraint was sadly in order followed again by a slightly more forcible ejection. I did not suffer much. I managed to block all her punches but a couple of stiletto kick to my knee area hurt pretty bad.

Sadly, violent bar episodes are not the sole domain of idiotic, hormone-ridden men. Women occasionally enter that space too and somehow have to be dealt with. When they do have to deal with it, male bouncers are extremely reticent to put their hands on women even when physical self-defense calls for it. Tradition isn’t the only reason. The primary reason is fear of prosecution. It’s not difficult for a female guest to plead sexual harassment, assault, battery or a number of other charges and get a much larger, beefier, “scary” looking man in black locked up – whether justified or not, whether drunk or not. Fairness often doesn’t enter into the equation. It’s simply the reality we live in.

As many a [male] bouncer will tell you, physically dealing with females is a whole other ballgame as there is the precedence of tradition… ” don’t hit a woman” as well as the fact that most men are grossly bigger and stronger than most women. There are exceptions obviously. Anyway, most men obviously have a massive advantage in inflicting great bodily harm on most women if they chose to do so. Therefore, you’ll generally find that the playing field between reacting to violent men and violent women is far from level. One word of caution: leaving marks on women is never a good thing. An extremely unfair double-standard for sizing up assaults between men and women does exist.

Many years ago, I was involved an altercation where an intoxicated young lady (half my size) was literally punching me for several minutes and blocking my escape. I bore no marks of the assault. After I had endured an epic beating, I at some point grabbed her by arms, and basically sat on her to keep her from continuing the assault. When the police arrived, they ran through their Standard Operating Procedure of separating and questioning both sides – nothing unexpected there. The problem is that the young lady had a small bruise on her harms which were clearly a result someone grabbing her arms. So I was initially cuffed – not fun or fair. In the end, I was released and not charged at all once all the facts came to the surface.

I cannot emphasize enough the value of good quality video surveillance and DVR. Enough said. Remember, you’re a bartender, not a bouncer. You’re well within your rights, and requirements of employment, to keep safe and not get involved. Make the manager immediately aware of the situation or call the police if necessary.

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4 thoughts on “Bar Security – Being Your Own Bouncer

  1. Very informative. As a security professional in the banking world, I couldn’t imagine one of my tellers putting their hands on a customer who was acting out, but then again, we (usually) don’t have to deal with drunk people.

    You’re right in that security cameras/surveillance are CRITICAL to any business, especially food service/hospitality where customer complaints are frequent. It may even be worth it to spring for an audio component to your system, or heck, body cams for bartenders (?).

    Coming from banking, my first instinct is to keep employees safe while reducing liability to the company. If a situation arises where you need to get physical with a customer, you employer should have a clearly defined set of guidelines for its employees to follow. As long as you are acting within the guidelines established by your employer, you are GENERALLY free from liability, as your employer will handle any legal action. But if you “venture off the reservation”, you’re on your own.

  2. I would like to know if theirs any laws regarding a bartenders safety, such as a bartender leaving after hours by themselves because there is no bouncer or bar back?

  3. Pingback: Bar Security – Being Your Own Bouncer - Bartending.News

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