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A Night at the Door With Three New Orleans Bouncers

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

New Orleans’s seasonal humidity is the stuff of legend—summer air condensing onto virtually every surface from 9 a.m. until midnight, everyone walking a little bit slower, everyone cracking beers at 11 a.m. (or earlier). Drinks really are required to remain cool and calm in the heavy air, though the revelry continues on through winter, too. The dozens of parades, parties and Jell-O shot–laden second lines leading up to Mardi Gras in February and March transform into endurance tests for tourists (and, on occasion, the odd overenthusiastic local). Professional pacing is mandatory to deliver oneself to a bleary Ash Wednesday morning. Of course, not everyone can keep up, so the bars in a 24-hour drinking city like New Orleans require a special kind of person to keep the peace.

At Tipitina’s, an old-school Uptown music venue, Brian “Tank” Greenberg lives up to his muscular nickname. But his wire-rimmed glasses and business demeanor reflect his managerial style, which comes in handy when crowds line up to see acts as diverse as the Neville Brothers, the late Dr. John, Parliament-Funkadelic and Wilco. Across town in the Marigny, the soft-spoken, formidably built Edward Gordon’s infectious grin lets you know you’re okay to come through the Blue Nile’s Frenchmen Street door. Here, beneath a backdrop of a psychedelic desert mirage mural, brass bands play while the second-story porch provides a shady place to watch street performers below.

A few miles down the road, when he’s not performing in local death metal bands, gravel-voiced, wild-haired Ryan Evans is responsible for keeping an eye on potential debauchery at the Upper Ninth Ward’s Saturn Bar, a renowned, family-owned dive. On any given night, Evans welcomes New Orleans’s finest (read: weirdest) for Mod Dance Party DJ nights and DIY punk shows at the city’s most perfectly cluttered bar, complete with tiki heads, toy figurines, photos with Alec Baldwin . . . and the original owner’s cremated remains.

For this edition of “Night at the Door,” we talked with the bouncers of a town lush with culture and climate to learn how to take (and give) a punch, how to surprise George Clinton and how to keep your cool in the Crescent City, both figuratively and literally.

NOLA Bouncers

Brian “Tank” Greenberg

Age: 37
Workplace: Tipitina’s

How long have you been working doors or at bars in general?
“I’ve been working at Tipitina’s on and off since July 2003, so I just made 16 years. When I started in 2003, I was on the door staff, and I became a manager in 2010. I became general manager at the end of 2017.”

What makes a good bouncer?
“A good bouncer, one, doesn’t call themself a bouncer; two, doesn’t get wasted before or during work; three, treats all customers the same, whether they are regulars or first-timers to the venue; four, always carries a flashlight, pen and pocketknife while working.”

How’d you get your nickname of “Tank?”
“I used to work in radio, and that was just my on-air name that someone gave me, and it just kind of stuck.”

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened while you’ve been working door here?
“On the Tipitina’s logo, we feature a banana. So bananas are kind of our thing. There was a time when we used to have a guy that worked on the doorstep wearing a banana suit all the time. We called him Johnny Bananas. He was a funny guy, but it was [still] a guy in a banana suit working on security.

[There] was a particularly special show because George Clinton was a special guest. And [Clinton] was backstage, but at some point in time I guess he decided the backstage bathroom had a long line and went in the [public bathroom]. So Johnny Bananas goes to use the stall, rips the door open, and there’s George Clinton in this stall. And we always joke about who was more surprised to see this—you know, this was 2010, 2011, so George Clinton still had the long dreads; he hadn’t totally cleaned up his entire act—was it Johnny Bananas opening up and seeing George Clinton in the regular public bathroom stall, or George Clinton seeing a giant banana rip the door open of the stall and probably scare the hell out of him?”

I’m wondering if Clinton actually believed what he saw.
“Exactly. Like, ‘Maybe I’m hallucinating this. There’s no way a banana just opened the door on me.'”

Have you worked the door at other locations before?
“I worked at a place down the street called Ms. Mae’s, which is a 24-hour dive bar. I worked there for about seven years, a couple nights a week there whenever we weren’t open here.”

Do you have a post-shift drink preference?
“I liked blended scotch on the rocks. Johnnie [Walker] Black might be my favorite.”

NOLA Bouncers

Edward Gordon

Age: 38
Workplace: Blue Nile

How long have you been doing door work?
“I’ve been doing it for eight and a half years at a variety of bars. I also do security at movie theaters.”

How did you get into the profession?
“I got into bouncing through one of my cousins, who was working on the police force in Hammond, Louisiana.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen while working on Frenchmen Street?
“The craziest thing I’ve ever seen was this drunk who was talking to everybody, trying to start a fight, but then ran when the police came.”

So he just got away?
“Oh, no, they caught him. He didn’t get away that easily.”

Do you have any kind of post-shift drink?
“If I choose one, I’d choose Hennessy, Crown [Royal] or Patrón.”

NOLA Bouncers

Ryan Evans

Age: 33
Workplace: Saturn Bar

How long have you been working the door?
“Ever since I moved here, probably about four or five years ago. I was moving into town, and my friend was done here, so I sorta just picked up where he left off, occasionally barbacking but mostly just doing door.”

What’s something you love about your job?
“It can be very monotonous, but if you like people-watching, it’s great. It’s cool [laughs], because being here [in] more of a tourist environment, somebody walks in and they see some band t-shirt that I have on, and they start talking to me and then we realize we have, like, five friends in common. Actors and actresses come to town, and, like, I couldn’t tell you who the new Superman is, but you recognize some people . . . Eric [Wareheim] came in once. Real sweet guy.”

How long is a usual shift for you?
“Some nights [in the past] during the busy season, if it was a DJ night and we were making money we’d just go to 5:30 or 6 [a.m.] I think there’s only the three of us that work here, so I think we’re all kind of over that. [laughs] If it’s a real late night, that’s like 4 [a.m.] nowadays, which is right up my alley, because I still work at a guitar shop. I’ve been working for the big corporate “man” guitar store for a little over five years now.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen on the job? I do remember seeing you kick a dude on the ground once . . .
“Oh yeah! He refused to leave, and he said some very, very rude things to a female bartender that I won’t repeat. He was just being a jackass, [but] his three friends were totally cool, one of them was like, ‘Dude, we’re leaving immediately. We don’t want any part of it.’ But the dude just didn’t wanna go, so I shoved him on the ground and kicked him in the ribs. And it’s funny, because big dude kept talking shit . . . [but] he wasn’t doing much talking with his fists. Mainly his mouth.”

Anything else weird or annoying?
“I had these two older guys [I had to remove]. One had on, like, a Harley-Davidson button-up shirt. I’m like, ‘Okay, granddad biker.’ I know a couple of dudes that have been Sergeant [at] Arms for the Bandidos bike clubs and shit like that. My friend Fuzzy once went and picked up his [chapter] president’s 19-year-old girlfriend out of a bar, butted the bouncer in the face, picked this chick up, put her on a motorcycle and drove her back to Pennsylvania. You know what I mean? Like, You’re not exactly a biker.

The guy in the Harley shirt was trying to get in between me and his friend, and I wasn’t even trying to get handsy with his friend or anything like that. And I’m just like, ‘Oh, man, like, you’re actually pissing me off more than this loud, obnoxious drunk . . . when’s the last fight you got into?’ Fighting wears you out. It’s not like a one-punch knockout thing. You ever hit someone and they didn’t get knocked out? Then you’re like, ‘Oh shit, now we gotta keep going?’ They were gone within five minutes. But a lot of it’s just, you know—you take money, you say, ‘I’m sorry, 22-year-old from Italy, but your Italian license is not going to work,’ and they get all huffy and puffy . . . but we get a lot of regulars. Everyone’s pretty pleasant for the most part.”

Does that sort of thing happen pretty regularly?
“No, it’s really not that kind of Patrick Swayze-Road House thing as much as you think it is. For the most part, most people are pretty sweet, you know? Honestly, it’s almost more like babysitting.”

Do you have a favorite post-shift drink?
“I don’t drink anymore, but the last thing I was really into was definitely tequila. That was my shit. Working with Rob [one of the co-owners], he can actually make really great cocktails. One of the more interesting liquors that I liked was Żubrówka. That shit’s awesome. You do that with, like, iced green tea and honey and lemon—fuck Margaritas, you can down a pitcher of that in, like, two seconds.”

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Andrew Paul's work is recently featured in AV Club, GQ, Rolling Stone and The Forward, as well as McSweeney's Internet Tendency and TNY's Daily Shouts. He lives in New Orleans, and online at andrewpaulwrites.com.