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A Night at the Door With Three Las Vegas Bouncers

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

Everything changes in Las Vegas when the sun goes down. As the glow of casino marquees illuminates the skyline, voices get louder, dresses get tighter and inhibitions begin to fade. Sin City built its reputation by marketing equal doses of excitement and discretion. We all know the tagline—“What happens here, stays here”—but not everyone is here for the same reasons. There are bachelor parties and trade show attendees blowing money on VIP tables, lap dances and slot machines. But there are also plenty of locals who have little reason to ever hit the Strip.

At Gold Spike, a two-minute walk from the neon chaos of the Fremont Street Experience—a touristy five-block stretch of downtown casinos transformed into a pedestrian mall—both post-shift industry types and guests from the adjacent Oasis boutique hotel find a place of respite. Known for its outdoor fire pits and jumbo beer pong and Jenga sets, Gold Spike is where you’ll see Howard Faagata, an easygoing, broad-shouldered man who runs security operations under the oversight of the Downtown Project; the neighborhood rejuvenation campaign is headed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who relocated his company’s headquarters into the old City Hall campus in 2012.

The Industrial Corridor neighborhood, west of the Strip, is a different beast altogether, one consisting largely of cannabis dispensaries and strip clubs. Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club bills itself as the largest strip club in world, complete with a topless swimming pool and al fresco dayclub. At a desk at the end of a long, windowless hallway sits head of security Steele Lishnoff. On Sapphire’s payroll since day one, Lishnoff is nightly decked out in a sharp form-fitting suit, and has strong opinions about how cell phones and technology have changed what a bouncer can—and can’t—do these days.

Of course, the center of the action is on the Strip, a four-mile slice of Las Vegas Boulevard littered with hotels, casinos, restaurants and clubs. The largest of these, Hakkasan Nightclub at the MGM Grand, holds thousands of people and spans three levels of lounges, plus a main floor where the world’s most famous DJs—Tiesto, Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris—take the stage well after midnight; it’s a place where even the VIP line moves slowly. With his tall, lean frame, Lloyd Garcia doesn’t seem imposing at first glance, but he carries himself with an authority earned from years of working clubs up and down the Strip.

In the latest edition of A Night at the Door, we dive into Vegas at the moment it comes alive—and hear from the people who hold the line in three very different ways.

Bouncers Las Vegas

Howard Faagata

Age: 42

Workplace: Gold Spike

217 Las Vegas Boulevard North, Las Vegas, NV 89101, goldspike.com

How long have you been working here?
Almost five years. I work for Gold Spike, but under the umbrella of DTP (the Downtown Project).

How did you get involved in security?
I’ve been in the business for 18 years. I’ve worked at strip clubs, nightclubs on the Strip and all around downtown.

Which clubs on the Strip?
I worked at Pure [at Caesars Palace] and XS [at the Wynn] back in the day.

What’s the biggest difference between those venues and a place like the Gold Spike?
We get more locals here. It’s much more affordable than the Strip. We get a lot more—I wouldn’t say trouble downtown, but… We have more L.A. gangs that come downtown. They usually don’t go on the Strip. They can blend in downtown and nobody would even know… Biker gangs, we look out for them too.

What are the telltale signs of trouble you know how to detect that the average person doesn’t?
Most people with common sense would know how to detect [a potential problem]. When you’re walking in intoxicated and pushing people, that person shouldn’t be here [past the front door]. If you’ve got the same color on—all red or all blue—that might not be the person you want in here. As time goes on, the gangs change too. You don’t usually see them in colors anymore. You’re seeing them in Louis Vuitton and Gucci now.

My impression has always been the Gold Spike is a very safe place.
Yes, definitely. A very safe place.

What’s unique about the Gold Spike? What makes it special?
I always say it’s like a grown-up’s Dave & Busters. You’ve got [giant] Jenga and beer pong in the back. We’ve got bands on Sunday nights. We open up the backyard and people roller skate the third Wednesday of every month. We have a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights. We have art competitions.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen working the door?
We had an [armed] FBI agent who came up. I said look, you can’t come in here with that gun. Our policy is that you’ve got to put the gun away in our safe. She wanted to know my name. She said, ‘I will never respond to you guys if you call for us.’ That was very surprising to me. She showed her badge and everything. She didn’t want to [talk with my superior]. She left at that point. Most Metro cops that come here armed, they’ll walk back, put their pistol in the car and come right back.

On duty or off duty?
Off duty. When they’re on duty, I’ll let them in and they can walk around.

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
I like a Kamikaze.

Party drink, huh?
Yeah [laughs]. Make a Kamikaze and I’m good to go.

Bouncers Las Vegas

Steele Lishnoff 

Age: 47

Workplace: Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club

3025 Sammy Davis Jr. Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89109, sapphirelasvegas.com

How long have you worked here?
16 years.

What’s your background?
I graduated from Arizona State in ’95. I worked the door at a club out there [in Phoenix] called Empire. I got recruited to work out here through an independent junket host, who had players from overseas. I was basically taking care of all his clients, checking them into hotel rooms, making sure there were no problems whatsoever. Then I started doing promotions at Baby’s nightclub inside the Hard Rock. One day, I was at the bank and a gentleman came up to me and said, “I like your style,” I thought he was BSing me—”I’m opening the world’s largest gentlemen’s club.” I went into the office the next day. Thought it was BS. Turned out it wasn’t. I did all the initial hiring for the club with John Lee, the GM.

What’s the secret to finding a good person to work security?
I’m not going to lie. Size has a lot to do with it. When a bigger guy comes over, people tend to listen more. Eye contact and a smile go a long way. I start right at the front door, setting the tone. Back in the day, when I first started working clubs, there were all these rumors about bouncers and getting put on the railroad tracks. There’s a stereotype that goes along with a gentlemen’s club and I think Sapphire has changed the game with our security hosts. They’re not bouncers. ‘Bouncers’ is a bad word. We don’t throw anybody out. In this day and age, you cannot do that. Everybody has [a phone with a camera] in their hands. If you throw someone out on their head, that’s going to show up somewhere else.

Has there been a shift from muscle to personality to squash problems?
A hundred percent. People are holding cell phones in their hands every time you walk someone out. You can’t get away with things that happened before cell phones. We have a license. I have to protect our license. We have zero tolerance for any kind of aggressive behavior. This is not the streets. I’ve been called every name in the book. I have to politely [tell a troublemaker] their night is over, but if this goes well, you can come back another night.

How do you compare the challenges of working the door at a nightclub in Phoenix to a gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas?
Working the door at Sapphire is all about customer service. Las Vegas is a transient town and you have one shot with a guest. Our biggest competition is not another gentlemen’s club. Our biggest competition is actually Las Vegas itself, because there’s so much to do here. When I worked at Empire, it was college kids and locals. That was the only game in town.

What makes Sapphire special?
The square footage with the pool is over 100,000 square feet… If you walk out on the floor, you’ll see the energy. We have higher ceilings, a great stage show, it’s very couple-friendly. It’s not your old strip club that’s a smoky room with low ceilings. This is like a nightclub with topless entertainers. We have 16 luxury skyboxes that overlook the entire club. We have a free limo that will pick you up anywhere on the Strip. We have a house Uber account, so if you’re off the Strip, we can still pick you up.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at the door?
We wouldn’t let Justin Bieber in when he was underage.

Did he even try to pretend with a fake ID or was it just a stature thing?
He was at the back door [VIP private entrance]. I said no. I have a license to protect. No guest is more important than our license. We’ve been running a clean club for 16 years. To let Justin Bieber in when he was under 21, that wasn’t going to fly.

What’s your go-to drink when you’re done with a shift?
I’ll have a Scotch or whiskey. If I’m with guests, my go-to drink is Champagne. Champagne is always a celebration. Shots of 1942 are good. Tequila is so popular. Tequila is the new vodka.

Bouncers Las Vegas

Lloyd Garcia

Age: 41

Workplace: Hakkasan Nightclub

3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109, hakkasannightclub.com

How did you get involved in this line of work?
I started in 2008 at Caesars Palace when it had Pure nightclub.

Had you done any kind of bouncing or security work before then?
I worked for the sheriff’s department as a corrections officer. I definitely got to play with some crazy individuals there. It was not my scene.

So you started at Pure. What are some of the other nightclubs you’ve worked at?
LAX inside the Luxor, Chateau [at Paris], Wet Republic [dayclub at MGM Grand], Jewel [at Aria], Omnia [at Caesars Palace]. I’ve been pretty much all over.

Tell me about Hakkasan Nightclub. What makes this place special?
Hakkasan is more of a family to me. A lot of these guys I consider brothers and sisters.

They just updated the lighting rig too, right?
Yes, that’s phenomenal. I’m mostly stuck at the front door… Steve Aoki was one of my favorites when he used to throw the cakes [into the crowd as part of his act]. I loved to hang out by the production booth and watch that.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
These younger females. I don’t know if it’s the YouTube tutorials or what, but they can make themselves look like their mom, grandma, anybody—it’s insane. Finding a fake ID is easy. But the biggest challenge is [figuring out]—Are you your mom? Your sister? Your cousin?

So they’ll show up with a family member’s ID?
That’s our biggest challenge.

Ever had to break up a fight?
Absolutely. It’s people skipping lines or just getting rowdy and wanting to get back in after getting booted out for the evening. Luckily, we have our Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department here. They usually send us a couple officers nightly to assist.

What’s the wildest security problem you’ve ever seen?
Multiple people fighting at once. That’s when it gets a little crazy.

Do you get people who start whipping out money, thinking a tip will solve any problem?
Every night that happens. They think 20, 30 bucks is going to make it go away. But our guys are trained to enjoy their weekly paycheck rather than that 20 bucks.

What’s the craziest tip you’ve seen somebody offer?
Well, one guy was booted out and he was insistent on getting back in. We were sticking to our word—no, no, no—but this gentleman had a lot of money. He was throwing out a hundred dollars [at a time]. Just rude, disrespectful. After it was all said and done, it wound up being $1,500.

And he got nothing out of it.
Actually, he did [get it back]. We made sure to give it to the police officers and they walked it back to him.

What’s the biggest dress code issue?
Tennis shoes. We stay away from the athletic wear, but that has all shifted in the fashion world. I see they’re spending hundreds of dollars on Balenciagas and Louis Vuittons, I don’t mind it. But the guys wearing the Jordans that are just as clean, I have to deter away from that.

What have you learned working at Hakkasan as well as other nightclubs on the Strip?
Patience, patience, patience. I have two little boys—a seven- and five-year-old. I feel like the clientele sometimes gives me more of a hassle than my children do.

When you get off a shift, what’s your favorite drink at the end of the night?
I would definitely go with tequila. Don Julio blanco.

Just straight?
Straight, no chaser. I have a good half-hour drive home. So it’s a quick one.

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Rob Kachelriess is a Las Vegas-based writer whose stories often cover food and beverage. His work has appeared in Thrillist. Travel + Leisure, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Supercall and other national publications.