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A Night at the Door With Three Melbourne Bouncers

January 08, 2024

Story: Fred Siggins

photo: Fred Siggins


A Night at the Door With Three Melbourne Bouncers

January 08, 2024

Story: Fred Siggins

photo: Fred Siggins

The eyes and ears of three very different bars tell us about their normal—and not-so-normal—nights on the job.

Melbourne is the undisputed hospitality capital of Australia, with more food and drink establishments per capita than any other city in the country. The liquor laws here are more relaxed than in other parts of Australia, thanks to a huge population of immigrants from Southern Europe, who helped usher in a late-night dining and drinking culture in the mid-20th century when the rest of the country was still kicking people out of pubs at 6 p.m. Melbourne’s laid-back approach to drinking means that, unlike in the rest of the country, most of the cocktail bars, restaurants, craft breweries, wine bars, neighborhood pubs and other venues that serve booze don’t have security of any kind.

But the big pubs that turn from casual watering holes to dance parties on the weekend all have bouncers, as do live music venues, anywhere gambling takes place and nightclubs of all shapes and sizes. For this installment of A Night at the Door, we spoke to bouncers at three iconic Melbourne venues that each represent very different sides of the city’s nightlife.

Heartbreaker is a craft-cocktail homage to the American rock-and-rolldive bars of the 1980s, filtered through the imagination of Michael Madrusan. A Melbourne native, Madrusan learned the cocktail trade at Sasha Petraske’s Milk & Honey in New York before coming home to open The Everleigh, a moody, speakeasy-style venue considered by many to be the best classic cocktail bar in Australia. Heartbreaker is where Madrusan lets down his hair. This loud, neon-lit bar, often packed to capacity on weekends, has always treated its bouncers as part of the team, wanting service to be just as good at the door as at the bar.

Revolver Upstairs, called “Revs” by the Melbourne masses, is the city’s most notorious nightclub. Situated on Chapel Street, the South Side’s primary entertainment strip, Revs has an exceedingly rare 24-hour liquor license, meaning you can party there for three days straight if you have the stamina. Steeped in mythology, Revs has become synonymous with wild nights and hazy memories of heading home well after sunrise.

In Melbourne’s inner suburbs, there is a pub on nearly every block. Most occupy heritage two-story buildings once used as hotels, and are known for having a full food menu and lots of beer on tap. Imagine a German beer hall crossed with a sports bar—where you’d also be happy to bring your kids or Grandma for lunch. Melbourne’s pubs also provide a critical venue for the city’s much-loved live music scene, hosting gigs in their public bars or dedicated band rooms. The Retreat in Brunswick, a neighborhood known for its live music, is a pub where local acts play nearly every night and DJs turn the place into a dance party after 11 on weekends.

Ossika Xavier

Age: 34
Workplace: Heartbreaker

How long have you been working security at Heartbreaker?
Basically since it started, so about eight years now. You start to lose track after the first year and everything thereafter seems to blend into one.

One of the things I notice about Heartbreaker is that the guards are always chatting to people. What do you chat about?
There are few topics you wouldn’t cover. It depends on what people want to come to you with. I have no idea who’s approaching me, so they throw whatever, and we’ve got to catch it. We play a game of throwing back and forth until you start to take the conversation in its own direction. We go from geopolitics, to interior design. I like hair and makeup, you can talk about cars, the brain’s functioning...

How do you decide who gets in?
I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. [Laughs.] Seriously, the biggest thing we look for is vibe. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how you talk, who you’re with. But anyone who sticks out, maybe they’re yelling or seem a bit nervous, that’s when you slow down to make a judgment. Once you’re inside, I don’t know what’s going on, so I need to feel confident about you getting past me.

What’s your favorite thing about working the door?
You’ve got so much time to refine various aspects of your own personality. You have so many microinteractions with people and through that you learn a lot about yourself: the way you communicate, the way people perceive you. The more people you talk to, the better you get at being able to articulate your thoughts. 

What’s your least favorite thing?
Getting up the next morning. [Laughs.] Once my kids get up, between 6:30 or 7 o’clock, they need me to be present, especially when they’re developing. Giving to your family after spending nine and a half hours on the one spot, and you could have had all hell break loose, and you gotta be present first thing Sunday morning. That’s the hardest part.

December is “silly season” in Melbourne, when all the businesses have their Christmas parties. Do you get to see the office drama play out?
One million percent. It’s like watching a TV show. You get a feel for who’s talking to who, who’s making eye contact and who’s not, all the nonverbal communication. This is the human kingdom and you’re watching each type of person as their own species.

Raymond Kelly

Age: 68
Workplace: Revolver Upstairs

How long have you been a security guard, and how long have you worked at Revolver?
I’ve been in the industry since I was 38, and I’m 68 now, so 30 years. And I’ve been at Revolver for 10 years now. 

How do you decide who gets in and who doesn’t?
We don’t discriminate. We only look for aggression, antisocial behavior, signs of intoxication or being substance-affected. Apart from that, it’s a party, in you go. I’m always trying to give new people a chance. I’ll always ask, “Is it your first time here? Have you come to see a special DJ?” So we take that couple of minutes to give them a small induction and make them feel welcome to the venue. 

What do you consider “antisocial behavior”?
When they’re in the line, I can hear them saying, “Are there any girls up there?” That’s the warning sign, straight up. That’s what Revolver is. What we uphold is that male, female, transgender, whatever, you are protected in here; you are safe. 

How would you describe the Chapel Street area as an entertainment district?
The good thing about Chapel Street is that we have a number of clubs that cater to different kinds of people. Onesixone is maybe a slightly older crowd, then we have Chasers, which is real doof-doof [Australian slang for hard techno and house] music, Electric, Circus... When those nightclubs close, everyone will come here to finish their night.

What makes Revolver special?
It’s the people. Have a look around you, mate. Everyone’s enjoying themselves, everyone’s having a good time, feeling safe. I could sit here by myself and I would feel surrounded by company. You can come into this venue alone, but you’re not alone. 

What’s the longest shift you’ve ever done?
We’re only allowed to do 12 hours, so sometimes I’ll start at 12 a.m. and finish at 12 p.m. the next afternoon, or come in at 6 p.m. and hand over to another guard at 6 a.m.

What’s the craziest ID you’ve ever been handed?
There was one from the U.S. where the picture on the ID was of Homer Simpson. Someone actually tried to get in with that. 

Most pubs and clubs in Australia have their security managed by contractors, so you might have different guards on the door every day. It’s rare in Australia to have someone like yourself, who’s a permanent staff member here. You’re part of the experience. What’s that like?
It’s not like going to work. It’s something I enjoy. Most of our guards here stay long-term. It’s like family. 

[At this point a couple of young guys recognize Raymond and come up to say hi as we’re talking. He beams.]

You see what I’m saying? There you go, mate. I don’t think that happens to most bouncers. 

Rhys (last name withheld for privacy)

Age: 28
Workplace: The Retreat

How long have you been working security, and how long have you been at The Retreat?
About five years now, and consistently at The Retreat for two years.

For people who might not have been to Melbourne, can you describe the live music scene in Brunswick?
I’d say it’s a hub. There are so many venues that cater to comedy and live music and entertainment in general. It’s just a great strip that brings a lot of people in from around the city and the surrounding suburbs, so it’s a good melting pot.

What role do you feel like pubs play in the scene?
I think they’re instrumental. You need a venue, and the culture around that venue has to allow for musicians to perform and set the vibe, so pubs are pivotal.

What’s it like working the door at The Retreat?
It’s great. You get to talk to so many different people, and have so many different conversations that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to have.

Any conversations that stand out for you?
One that comes to mind is a guy on Friday night who had broken his kneecap 11 times riding motocross. I kept on saying to him, “Maybe you should find something else to do,” but he was so passionate, so it was great to have that conversation. He’d invested it all. I wouldn’t break my kneecap for anything.

How would you describe the style of music at The Retreat?
We’re not exactly a themed venue. We have pretty much everything. Hyperpop to rap to hard rock to heavy metal to punk.

Do you see the crowd change a lot depending on who’s playing?
Definitely. Depending on the act, you have maybe 30 percent of the crowd dedicated to whatever that genre is, and as the night goes on the venue transforms from this beer garden, Aussie pub to more of a late-night place. We have a cocktail bar upstairs that opens at 9 p.m., we have music acts that go late into the night and DJs that come on after that. There’s always a bit of crossover and it’s really cool to see everyone getting along.

The Retreat is open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and definitely turns into a bit of a dance party after the DJs come on. How would you say it’s different from the more traditional nightclubs you’d find in Melbourne?
The main difference, I would say, is there’s more of a community aspect to the culture here. You’ll have people who may have come for a specific band early in the evening, they may be on a date or here for a work function, whatever, and they just kind of hang around and make friends.

Do you have any favorite regulars?
We have a guy called Larry, he’s a fantastic person. Always dressed to the nines, he’s often seen wearing a cape. Every time I’m here I see him. He always shows up around 11 or 12 when the dance floor vibe is starting to kick off and he can mingle. He comes alone and leaves alone most of the time, but you never see him alone when he’s here. 

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Tagged: Bouncers