Drunk and Disorderly: A day in the life of nightclub bouncers
Joseph Delgatto is in his 30s, has two kids, ages four and one, and a wife at home.
He works as a door bouncer at a popular club in Denver and has for quite some time. He says that most days are par for the course, monotonous and hardly exciting. Except, he says, things can change quickly and become as serious as life or death within seconds.
The worst he’s seen is like something plucked straight from an Eli Roth film.
“People around (these two friends) in line say they were arguing for awhile, and then one slapped the other one, turning it physical,” he remembers. “They really got into it, and one of them gouged the other one’s eye. It was really horrific, because it was dangling out of her socket by all the nerves or whatever. It was the most gruesome thing I’ve ever seen. And the girl who did it realized what she had done to her friend and she started sobbing on the ground while the other one was sort of in shock.”
They called the police and an ambulance, his boss having to later update him on the girls’ situation — both ended up fine, but that could have just as easily not been the case.
That’s not the only time things went awry though, Delgatto says. He sees plenty of fights and a lot of stupid drunk injuries.
“This guy got wasted and tried to do a backflip once,” he remembers, joking about how stupid it was. “He almost broke his neck.”
But the worst Delgatto has ever seen is something he still has a problem talking about. It was when two guys were drunk and got into a fight. The first one pulled out a knife, he says, and stabbed the second one before running away. He was later caught and arrested, but it was a horrific scene with a lot of screaming and “blood everywhere.”
“I did some first aid and everything, trying to keep him still and calm while we waited for an ambulance,” he says. “My whole uniform was soaked in blood.”
The guy had surgery and lived, but Delgatto wasn’t so sure the man would make it when he was helping.
Yet occurrences like these are far more rare than people seem to think, or than what is portrayed on TV.
“You do see a lot of crazy things,” says 26-year-old Alex Lopez, another Denver bouncer who’s been in the job for about three years. He adds that most of the job is sweet and heartwarming, while only some of it is bizarre and horrifying.
It’s most common for people trying to get in with a fake ID or with an older relative’s ID, he says. It’s not like they’re hunting down people committing major felonies or holding knife wounds so patrons don’t bleed out every night.
“After a while, you just start to figure out how to spot them,” he says. Some are poorly made, sometimes the person is obviously not the one in the photograph, and sometimes they don’t even know the details of their own alleged life.
“I had a kid once who was probably 15 or 16, he had this sort of half-ass beard, so I knew he was trying to look older, and it didn’t really look like the picture on his ID at all. So I asked him what his date of birth was while I held the license. He got the month and day correct, but he hesitated way too long on the year and messed it up.”
It’s par for the course.
“The hardest part about being a bouncer is that everyone assumes you’re all brawn and no brain,” says Lopez.
Lopez has plenty of brawn. He’s 6’2’’ and says he weighs a little over 200 pounds. He’s broad, has a serious face, and styles himself with a shaved head and slight beard. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d want to mess with, and that’s the point.
But he’s also working as a bouncer at night so he can attend school during the day, going for his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology.
At the clubs Delgatto and Lopez work at, the rules are fairly simple. You have to be over 21, you have to have a current photo ID, and you can’t be so drunk that you are having trouble standing up or behaving badly. You also have to not be causing trouble, or a risk for causing harm to yourself or club property.
And they can only let in so many people at a time because of fire codes.
“People get pissed all the time about not being let in,” Lopez says. “But, I have to follow policies and everything. It’s not personal. It’s just a job. A lot of people seem to think it’s personal, but there are rules like every other job.”
He says some people accuse him of only allowing in pretty or handsome people, like in the movies, or of unfairly refusing them entrance.
He says he’s been offered his fair share of favors, by girls and guys alike to skirt the rules though.
“I get hit on quite a bit,” Lopez laughs, “but you can never really tell if they like you or if they just want to get in or get a discount or something.”
“I’ve had quite a few girls offer me ‘favors’ to get in,” Delgatto adds with the same laugh. “A lot of the time, it’s to flash their boobs at me, kiss me, or give me a blowjob.
“It’s a job, just like everywhere else,” he adds. “I show up, do what I need to do, so I can get money to pay the bills and feed the kids.” Still, it’s a job that he enjoys. “I like the energy of seeing the club. I like keeping people safe while they have a good time,”.
At the end of the day, what he and Lopez do is important. It’s the checks-and-balances clubs need in order to keep patrons safe and having a good time. Their eyes always need to be open while they're on the clock.
Delgatto recalls one story when he was inside the club while someone else manned the door, checking on a situation that seemed like it might escalate into a fight.
He happened to see a guy pull something from his pocket and slip it into a drink.
“He was walking toward this girl, his date I guess,” he says. “I stopped and confronted him. He got kicked out of the club and I was able to call a cab for his date so she could get home safely. She was crying and she hugged me and thanked me.”
Lopez says he also works hard to maintain the safety of his clientelle.
“If someone is feeling too drunk or not safe to wait for a cab alone or whatever, I’m always happy to wait or walk with them,” he says. “I’ve had girls say they’re leaving their dates and the guy is pissed, and I’ll stand with them until they get out of there.”
He says the best part of his job is meeting people though, even if there are some he’d rather never see again. “They’re ready to have fun and most are nice,” he says. “It’s cool to get to see a lot of people.”
Lopez adds that even though he’s not doing this long term like Delgatto, it’s a job that gives him a lot of experiences.
“You wind up with a lot of stories if you do this long enough,” Delgatto says.
Even if they’d both rather leave some of those stories to the movies.