A newsletter for the industry pro (or aspiring pro).

A Night at the Door With Three Aspen Bouncers

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

Deep in Colorado’s rugged Elk Mountains, Aspen and its reputation as a hard-skiing, hard-partying enclave need little introduction. Once a 19th-century silver mining boomtown, Aspen, in the last 70 years, has gone from a global cultural center to a soulful midcentury ski oasis to a cosmopolitan, year-round resort scene. During ski season or midsummer, a walk down the cobblestones of Mill Street might find you face to face with celebrities like Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Kevin Costner and Jack Nicholson, fashion moguls like Diane von Furstenberg and Domenico De Sole and execs like CNN president Jeff Zucker and Disney chief Michael Eisner. Come off-season (spring and fall), the second-, third- and fourth-homeowners vacate, and locals reclaim their territory.

With fewer than 8,000 permanent residents (the population swells to 50,000 during the holidays), you’ll find more than 100 restaurants and bars, music venues drawing world-renowned acts, a robust art scene and shopping that rivals the Champs-Élysées. And while it’s surrounded by 5,527 acres of skiing across four resorts, it’s the area’s bustling après-ski and nightlife scene to which many flock. From centrifuged junmai daiginjo at Nobu’s Matsuhisa and sommelier Jill Carnevale’s 1,500-bottle list at Ellina to a spritz on the deck of The Little Nell’s Ajax Tavern or a ski-boot-dancing lunch at the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro (which is, rumor has it, the world’s largest purveyor of Veuve Clicquot), Aspen has a watering hole for the most extravagant of cravings.

For this installment of PUNCH’s “A Night at the Door,” we started at the Caribou Club, an iconic members-only establishment where the glitterati and volunteer firefighters drink, dine and dance side-by-side in wood-paneled, fire-lit rooms. Three parts plaid-clad English lodge, one part luxe Western saloon, Caribou made Page Six over the holidays when Mariah Carey refused to remove her coat at the door. Here, the very polite Brian Pollack holds the keys, ushering members and their guests through the mahogany and brass door (except on Halloween, when anyone in costume is welcome). Just around the block, in a subterranean 6,000-square-foot space, 7908 Aspen (named for the town’s elevation), former college hockey players Stephen Sherer and his brother Mike host a melting pot of Aspen characters in the quasi-psychedelic supper club. A few steps away, in a red Victorian building dating back to 1892, The Red Onion remains the people’s bar. At “The Onion,” Stratton Klenda welcomes dozens of professional skiers with his dazzling smile while search-and-rescue team members—the superheroes of a mountain town —tend bar, where the shelves overflow with more than 200 whiskeys and a counter is inlaid with hundreds of old ski passes.

These stalwarts bear witness to both sides of the Aspen coin, rugged and glitz, which, in many ways, makes them ideal gatekeepers of the mountain town’s legendary après scene.

Bouncers Aspen

Brian Pollack
Age: 46
Workplace: Caribou Club

What is your role at Caribou?
For 14 years, I have been the active manager who handles security and the security staff for the Caribou Club.

How did you get into this line of work?
I started working in bars, event centers and concert halls when I was young. At the time, with my size and being sober, it was easy to advance quickly within the business. It worked well with my schedule and age at the time, and it was a lot of fun.

How did you end up in Aspen?
I moved here about 24 years ago for a change—a different job, the lifestyle and the mountains.

How did you get this job?
When I moved to Aspen I didn’t know anyone, so I fell back on some old skills and got an evening part-time job at a building housing Eric’s Bar, Aspen Billiards, Su Casa and The Cigar Bar as a doorman and security to get to know the town. I was a manager within a few months and worked there for almost nine years. When I was done at Eric’s, I thought that I would be done working nights, as my business during the day had grown and the nights can sometimes be very late. The Caribou Club heard I was available, and one of the staff suggested I come work for the club. I was hesitant at first to include nights again into my schedule, but now after 14 years with them, I am glad I took the opportunity and I am very grateful for the staff, clientele, and all the friends and memories.

How would you describe the Caribou Club?
It is Aspen’s most prestigious private club. The kitchen provides world-class dining and catering and the club hosts events and nightlife that can go in any direction you design. In my opinion, any night is what you make it, and the Caribou Club offers many different avenues for many different appreciations.

What’s the crowd like?
The crowd can change in a minute, from one group coming down to the next. We get a wide range of members and guests from all over the world. The crowd varies based on the time of night, the season and local events. Everyone that comes in is there to have fun and we are fortunate to see all aspects of Aspen’s social life.

What do you think makes you good at your job?
Sobriety and lots of experience. Also being calm and having patience.

What is the biggest challenge of your job?
The late hours and staying out of the kitchen. Besides the staff and the people I work with, the food may be the second-best part of the job.

How do you turn people away?
We try to explain that the Caribou Club is a private club and they need to have a membership or be with a member when they arrive. Not everyone who comes to the club knows its policies. We only turn someone away if they’re not interested in joining or don’t agree to the club’s policies.

I would say that most people design their own exit or entry. Myself or another ambassador aim to prevent any escalating situations and defuse them as respectfully as possible.

What’s the craziest or weirdest thing you can recall seeing?
You can find weird and crazy anywhere if you are paying attention or looking for it. For me, it was seeing and holding one of the last bottles from Napoleon’s cellar. It was a cognac from Napoleon III’s cellar, dated 1812.

What’s something you learned at the door that surprised you?
This was a long time ago, and it wasn’t at the Caribou Club, but I watched a police officer completely turn a really bad situation around by acting calm, collected and kind. It didn’t surprise me, but I learned from it.

What’s your after-work ritual?
Get home safely.

Do you have a favorite after-work drink or snack you like to enjoy?
Nope, no thank you. No drinks for me.

Bouncers Aspen

Stephen Sherer

Age: 37
Workplace: 7908 Aspen

What’s your typical night look like?
I get to the club and check in with the staff to see what’s on deck—to see if we have any VIPs, what tables are booked. When I’m arriving, they’re usually winding down dinner service. From there, we’re setting up, moving tables, watching dinner patrons, setting up the front door and making sure we have the right number of chairs and tables in the lounge for bottle service. By 10 p.m., we have someone at the front door carding and from there it moves into people-watching.

How did you land the job?
I started a clothing brand, ISVERA, with my brother, Mike. We are business partners, best friends, hockey teammates. We’ve done custom apparel projects with a lot of the clubs and restaurants in town. About a year into doing 7908’s apparel, the owner [former actor Roger Wilson] thought we’d be a great fit to manage the clientele, the door, the crowds. We’ve been in town more than 13 years and have experience running the door at many events. We know how to manage an X Games crowd. You have to be systematic, sell tickets, create VIP lines and use different strategies over time. It’s all about avoiding chaos.

What do you enjoy about your job?
The team, the family. Everyone I’ve met at work is friendly and carries themselves professionally. And the DJs—Bryan [Normand (aka Kid Kamillion)] uses these 10 screens… it’s hard to explain. He’s running video loops of various types of imagery that change with overlaid graphics. It all ties into the music, which is an eclectic mix that works for all the people there. He’s like a magician. He has a major role in setting the vibe of the place.

How would you describe 7908?
It’s a very posh space. It’s open and airy and beautifully decorated with artwork by Mr. Brainwash that gives it a new-age feel. The menu is exquisite; the cocktails are elaborate. It’s all done with a lot of passion and you can see that in the space. The coolest part of the club is experiencing the shift from dinner crowd to night crowd.

What’s the crowd like?
It’s definitely interesting—it’s a blend of all the different walks of life in Aspen, from high-end tourists who come and want to spend money to local families to low-key skiers and snowboarders. The staff is international, and there’s always a lot of their friends visiting.

What is unique about nightlife in Aspen?
Aspen is a mecca for the outdoors and the organic things of life. At the same time, we have some of the best nightlife of any ski town. It’s not just a ski town with one or two bars. Aspen has legit nightclubs and incredible dining and world-class hotels.

What is the biggest challenge of your job?
Having to tell someone I know to calm down. You can’t reason with someone who has had too much to drink.

What’s something you learned at the door that surprised you?
The more assertive you are and less friendly—or less BS—the smoother it goes. Tough love, I guess. That’s not even really in my nature—I’m usually easygoing. But when you have a crowd of people trying to go into a skinny space, you have to be direct and assertive. When it’s peak hours and everyone is trying to get in for last call, I’m not here to chitchat.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the clock?
The dancing. There are a lot of interesting dance moves out there. Also, the surprising amount of people sleeping at the club. Whether it’s on a table, on a couch, in the bathroom. It’s more common than you think.

How did you end up in Aspen?
I’m from Pittsburgh. I had finished school there and felt like I needed to get out of southwestern Pennsylvania and spread my wings. My brother was in a position to do the same thing. His best friend had done a winter in Aspen. That summer after graduation, we all talked about snowboarding and Aspen. After hearing his stories, we were like, ‘Let’s do it!’ It was like a Dumb and Dumber thing. I had never been to Colorado. But I was always interested in heading west, and I had a love for snowboarding. We did it blindly, and we stayed.

How do you manage a night job and wanting to snowboard in the morning?
If getting up and getting the powder is your thing, it’s ingrained in you and you worry about sleep later. A lot of people in Aspen have to work late, and a lot of them get up, ski, eat, work, sleep and repeat. I’m a retired snowboarder so I sleep in. When I’m at the club until 3 a.m., I sleep in as late as I can. In peak season, it’s a grind—you’re up late every night. Then, it’s not healthy to get up at a normal hour.

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
Absolutely. That’s the difficult part of the job. You never want to disappoint a customer or someone who is spending money and being loyal, but being overly intoxicated is not fun for everyone else around you. Spilling drinks or being a liability is unacceptable, and it’s not fair to the guests or the people who work there. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s someone who drank too much and has lost touch with surroundings or how they’re being perceived by everyone. Or it might be someone who continues to enter a bottle service where they aren’t welcome. I don’t love to be the bad guy and I avoid physical confrontation. We always have the Aspen police behind us. We aren’t trying to get [guests] arrested—that tactic is mainly so they start to pay attention.

What are some personality traits that help you excel in this position?
Awareness in social situations. I’m pretty in tune with what’s going on around me, even outside of work. I tend to survey the room or people-watch, or have an idea of what’s going on—that’s a good trait to have for this line of work. I do think that treating an establishment like it’s your own home helps. It’s how you protect the house—by treating it like it’s yours. It’s about respecting others and having respect for where you work

What’s your after-work ritual?
The best part of the night is while we’re closing and moving furniture, and I’m hanging out with the bar guys and listening to the stories of the night: the best customers, the best tips, who got flashed. It’s such a great group of guys behind the bar. After work, I’m chatting and unwinding and may or not have a beer.

Bouncers Aspen

Stratton Klenda

Age: 23
Workplace: The Red Onion

What’s your role at The Red Onion?
Security. Door guy. I’m checking IDs and making sure everyone is 21. And it’s almost like a barbacking gig at the same time. I make sure the bartenders have everything they need, I restock the bar, clean glasses, anything to help when I have a moment away from the door.

How did you get into this line of work?
Just by hanging out at The Red Onion. If you hang out here long enough, they’ll put you to work. There’s no other bar where I’d rather work. It’s where I spend my time anyway, so I might as well work here.

How did you end up in Aspen?
I’m from Wichita, Kansas. I moved to Aspen in 2015 to work for Aspen Skiing Company as a lift operator on Aspen Mountain.

How would you describe The Red Onion?
The Red Onion is the locals’ watering hole. People come here to enjoy good company and have a relaxing time at the bar. It’s the polar opposite from a flashy nightclub. The Red Onion is for anyone and everyone. We see just about every type of person come through the door. They might be seeking a low-key bar to spend the evening or maybe they’re having drinks before going out to a club later. We have 220 bottles of whiskey, so we’re somewhat known as a whiskey bar. But we also sell $3 pours of Coors and probably go through more than just about anyone.

How does it feel working in Aspen’s oldest bar?
There’s a big picture over the tables from the 1930s that shows The Red Onion and no other buildings around it. We’ll be closing down, and I’ll be wiping down the bar and just thinking about how this place is 127 years old. A lot of Colorado ski resorts are purpose-built to be resorts, and you can tell that. There was nothing there before someone decided to put in a chairlift. Aspen has real history as a silver mining town and it still feels like a real town.

What is the biggest challenge of your job?
Trying to be everywhere at one time. I’m at the door, but I need to be at the bar, too—restocking, cleaning broken glasses, all sorts of things you want to try to do when you have a moment away from the door. But it never fails that as soon as I leave the door, a big group comes through.

How often do you turn people away?
During my very first shift three years ago, I had to kick someone out who tried to fight me on the way out. Then, I had to kick his friend out, and they started fighting outside. One guy had a bloody nose, and my knuckles were bleeding because one of them scratched me on the way out. I knew that night, that my boss, the bartenders, and even the other patrons had my back. The regulars are loyal.

What’s the bartending crew like?
Incredibly solid and, in some ways, a family affair. Our bar manager is a volunteer for Mountain Rescue Aspen, one of the most prestigious search-and-rescue teams in the state. One bartender used to compete on the Freeride World Tour [events in which the best freeskiers and snowboard freeriders compete to be world champion]. We have ski instructors, professional skiers, siblings. It really feels like a family.

What’s your after-work ritual?
It depends on who is bartending. Some want to clean up and get out. Some want to have a Coors and count their drawer. Once in a while, I’ll go across the street in through the back door of New York Pizza and grab a slice for me and the bartender.

Related Articles

Tess Weaver Strokes is a writer and editor based in Aspen, Colorado. A former editor for Powder magazine, Tess has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN The Magazine, Outside, Surfer, Freeskier and more. She also writes for brands like The North Face, Patagonia and REI.