A Night at the Door With Three Nashville Bouncers

The eyes and ears of Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Attaboy Nashville and Duke's tell us about their normal—and not-so-normal—nights on the job.

If you’ve watched a documentary on country music, a televised Tennessee Titans football game or Nashville Predators hockey game or nearly anything else filmed in Music City, you likely have a vision of Broadway—the neon-bedecked street that plays host to a Bourbon Street style of seven-days-a-week partying.

Certainly, Nashville likes its liquor. There wouldn’t be decades of songs about tears in your beer without the aforementioned beers. But the city’s drinking scene is more than just Broadway. For the latest installment of PUNCH’s “A Night at the Door,” which explores what gatekeepers witness nightly in cities across the country, we started at Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge on Broadway, which is indeed world famous. Tootsies is the grande dame of honky-tonks, a purple landmark (yes, she’s painted orchid purple) among a sea of no-cover live music venues, where John examines the IDs of everyone from Travis Tritt and Kid Rock to throngs of bachelorettes.

We moved on from the downtown party to East Nashville where the city’s outpost of the New York City speakeasy, Attaboy, welcomes young music industry execs, hipster musicians and tourists who want more than PBR in a plastic cup. The bar’s gatekeeper, Greg, acts less like a doorman and more like a consummate host. And, finally, we ended the night up the street at a place called Duke’s, a watering hole that’s as eclectic as its neighborhood. That’s where we met Jason, the Saturday night doorman who has a weekday gig as “Two Dollar Elvis,” offering tours of Nashville while dressed as the King.

Nashville Bar Bouncers

John Sanchez

Age: 28
Workplace: Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge


How long have you worked here?
“Five years. I worked at The Stage down the street before that.”

What makes this place different?
“This is Tootsies. Everybody knows it. It is famous. Willie Nelson wrote his first songs right here. Famous people still come in to Tootsies. Travis Tritt was in here a few days ago. Kid Rock comes in here and people just go crazy when he walks in. They want to get him on stage.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at the door?
“The bachelorettes, I guess. The ideas they come up with and the things they have to do… I don’t want to get too into detail. But they carry [inflatable sex] dolls around with, you know, stuff [inflatable penises].”

What have you learned working here?
“Appreciation for the musicians and the stuff they have to deal with. We get a lot of calls to the stage. The bands go around with the tip jar and interact with people and talk to them. They have to do everything we do and then play a four-hour live music shift.”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“I’ve had to kick a handful of people out, but it is fewer than you would think. Over the years we’ve gotten better at being hands-off and de-escalating the situation. If we see something we walk over, we ask what’s going on. If we have to, we’ll separate groups, have one group go out the front and the other go out the back. If they want to meet around the corner, hey, go at it. But we’ll de-escalate inside the bar.”

What makes you good at this job?
“I’m a people person. I can talk to people randomly and spark a conversation. I thought that would make me good at security. Plus, I’m a big guy; I’m 6’3″. But, I’m more of a lover than a fighter.”

Does that mean people can sweet-talk you?
“We don’t let people in if they can’t walk. If you cannot walk a straight line for me, you are not getting in my door.”

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
“A nice, cold Bud Light and a shot of Patrón with a lime.”

Nashville Bar Bouncers

Greg Keesee

Age: 29
Workplace: Attaboy Nashville


How long have you worked here?
“Since we opened in July 2017, so a year and a half.”

What makes this place different?
“I love everyone I work with. Even on days off we don’t want to be away. We will come here and still keep hanging. In Nashville there are other great cocktail bars, but there’s nothing else like this.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at the door?
“These five fraternity-looking dudes in pink and pastel blue shirts… one was in a kinky BDSM sort of dog costume with leather shorts and a leather vest and collar. They just walked him around the whole bar—he was the groom for the bachelor party—on a leash and treated him like a dog. When we went to take his order they said, ‘He prefers to drink out a bowl rather than a glass.’ They weren’t even drunk; they were just totally committed to character.”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“Yeah. You try to not disturb anyone around them because we’re a really small place. So we just drop a tab on them and get them to leave.”

What makes you good at this job?
“This is kind of a Swiss Army knife kind of job. It is not just a door position, where you check ID and let them in, but you are also a host and server and barback. It is a unique combination of skills and I think I am able to adapt to every single person.”

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
“I’ve been on a serious red-wine kick lately, but a Dark ‘n’ Stormy is the go-to for sure. That’s the staff standard.”

Nashville Bar Bouncers

Jason “Two Dollar Elvis” Buchanan

Age: 43
Workplace: Duke’s


How long have you worked here?
“Six months, but I’ve done it before at other bars. Everything in the bar from barback to booking shows; I’ve done it all.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at the door?
“It doesn’t get any weirder than Duke’s. The people are strange. It’s kind of a fashion show every night. Rockers, punks, cowboys, hipsters, goths, the new wavers or whatever the kids call it these days. And then the squares show up and that’s when it gets weird.”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“I have to watch both doors, so I have to stand in the parking lot, so I can see both doors at the same time. Because I’m out here, I don’t really have to throw people out because I don’t let them get in in the first place. Nobody gets past the Junkyard Dog.”

What makes you good at this job?
“Most people think that doormen are big, overgrown muscle meathead gorillas who want to beat you up. I’ve approached it as guarding the business. If someone underage gets in, the bartender can lose their ABC card, the bar is going to get a huge fine and I am obviously going to lose my job, so I do take it seriously.”

What’s your favorite post-shift snack?
“Right now I’m really into the sandwiches here. Duke’s has the best sandwiches in town. There’s the Hall of Fame, which is named after me, so that’s what I eat after my shift. It has roast beef, tomatoes, pickles, giardiniera and Worcestershire.”

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Margaret Littman is a Nashville-based writer and editor with a soft spot for dark liquor, cowboy boots and late-night dancing in Memphis. Read more of her work at littmanwrites.com.