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A Night at the Door With Three New York Bouncers

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

Babys All Right Brookyln NYC Bouncers

There-goes-the-neighborhood-isms are inevitable when talking about New York City nightlife. New clubs and restaurants are named after the shuttered factories and storefronts they inhabit; bars with history are tourist attractions by virtue of rarity.

Yes, a Wells Fargo bank has supplanted legendary jazz haven Lenox Lounge, and VICE Media has long since displaced Williamsburg rock venues 285 Kent and Glasslands with its Silicon Valley-scale offices, but even so, there are more places to drink than ever. Among the polished lounges and warehouses bumping with all-night raves, you can still find community. Owners, artists, bartenders and bouncers, of course, are what give these places—new and old—their soul.

Though only five years open, Williamsburg music venue Baby’s All Right has such a soul from the day it opened. With its stripped-down Korean menu, antique wallpaper accents and neon lighting, Baby’s looks a bit like it forded the East River from the Lower East Side, yet it manages the appeal of a stalwart. Drawing a spectrum of acts from Pharoah Sanders to David Cross, Baby’s is popular for word-of-mouth shows by bands like Hot Chip and Chairlift. It’s equally legendary for Ana Guzman, the bouncer who will remember your face three years after a casual conversation. Guzman, who runs the security team at Baby’s as well as her own security company, is known for hospitality—an important distinction in a city where nightlife can make even locals feel like voyeuristic tourists.

For this edition of “Night at the Door,” we spoke with Guzman and two fellow bouncers who share the same ethos. Guzman’s business partner at Thrill Life Productions, Margarita Serrano, spends nights trekking across her childhood neighborhood in Brooklyn and Queens running several security teams for venues like the Knockdown Center, an arts and music hall run out of a formerly long-vacant door factory. And Lisa Napolitano, a self-identified martial arts mom and construction manager, moonlights at Brooklyn’s massive free music festival Celebrate Brooklyn!, where she holds down the throngs, adopts the wayward souls and welcomes the regulars. Their shared gift is that, in a rapidly transforming city of millions, they manage to make you feel right at home.

Babys All Right Brookyln

Ana K. Guzman

Age: 38
Workplace: Baby’s All Right, partner in Thrill Life Productions

How long have you been working at Baby’s All Right?
“I put together the security team at Baby’s about five and a half years ago, when we opened. I started bouncing around ‘99, and mostly at that point I was dealing with girl problems. Two years later, I’m running my own team, I’m supervising, doing bigger venues, eventually staffing 11 venues in New York City, so it’s been pretty fun.”

I’m told you have an amazing ability to remember faces.
“I sort of have a photographic memory. I have to remember who not to let in! [Laughs]”

Do you have to be the therapist in some ways?
“I feel like a therapist at the door sometimes, but it feels good. Sometimes boyfriend-girlfriend things happen, the girl comes out crying, and, of course, I’m a woman, so I’m going to ask, and then eventually they’ll end up telling you what happened. People come outside, have a smoke and we start talking about… anything. They come back and hug me, sometimes they even send postcards saying, “Thank you so much, you don’t understand what I was going through, and just you listening made my day.” Especially tourists from different countries. I call Baby’s the United Nations of venues, because I see [more] different types of IDs than I’ve ever seen in my life, and I grew up working at clubs in New York.”

You must have met a ton of people over the years.
“I’ve done private security, have done security for celebrities. Alicia Keys, Rosie Perez, Eve, Nicki Minaj. I had to guard Beyoncé, that was pretty sick. We had a Sandy relief fundraiser with Mos Def, Dave Chappelle, and she came by with Jay-Z. I had to go with them around the corner through a hidden door, and I got to Instagram her.”

I hate this question, but do [male] bouncers treat you differently because you’re a woman?
“At the beginning, yes, but once I started supervising, staffing, scheduling, I was giving these guys work. I think I earned my respect right away because I was hands-on. I never stand back because I’m a female, I’m always with them on the front lines. And I’ll think strategically, like, pick up bottles around the bar. They ask me, ‘Why you picking up bottles, that’s the barback’s job.’ And I’m like, ‘Because we could get hit with these bottles!’ And they’re like, ‘You’re right, Ana!’ Things like that, they’ll love it. When I’m on search, they love it because they’re like, ‘Ana’s gonna find everything, she goes deep.'”

What do you do with the stuff you find?
“We keep it. [Laughs] Just kidding.”

What are some other tactics you use, like cleaning up bottles?
“Sometimes dudes follow girls, getting touchy, so I become camouflage, watch him go from this girl to that girl and on to a third, and that’s when we need to talk outside. Or when I see someone pushing people, I stand in the crowd so they can push me, and I can tell them to stop. I’m security, so if you pushed me, you just pushed 20 people before you got to me.

Have you ever been hit before?
“I have been swung at, I’ve been hit by a bottle by a dude. I got stabbed with tweezers once [laughing]. This was at Santos Party House—I was breaking up a fight, and one of my guys was like, ‘Ana, yo, right there!’ [pointing at her torso] and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ and pulled it out and tossed it. Oh my god, the craziest night. Just get this done, get these people out there!”

What’s your favorite post-work drink?
“I drive, so I don’t drink after work, but before I will take a shot of tequila or [a] Paloma.”

Knockdown Center NYC Bouncers

Margarita Serrano

Age: 29
Workplace: Knockdown Center, Elsewhere, cofounder of Thrill Life Productions

How long have you been bouncing?
“I became a bouncer straight out of high school, about 10 years ago. My uncle had his own security company, so I got paid $18 an hour to go hang out at the club. That’s pretty much how I looked at it. And it’s been a 10-year run of fun. How many people like doing a nine to five? When people are getting up to go to work on Tuesday, I’m sleeping.”

So you run around between, like, five jobs?
“Oh man [laughs]. My bones. My bones! I’ll leave my house Friday at 4 o’clock, and I don’t get back ‘til Sunday noon, sometimes, and maybe I’ll stop in between to shower. You see how big this place is. In a weekend, just daytime events 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.—that’s 10 miles a day, walking back and forth.”

Have you had to diffuse a physical situation?
“I had someone swing at me once, but every situation is diffused with words, even if the person is wrong. ‘How can I help you, are you okay?’ I tell the older gentlemen who work for me that I’m small, I’m not big, and if I made it without using force, there’s no reason. Some people get into the security industry to be like RoboCop and have authority and it’s like, no, that’s like ’90s security. The millennial security style is to be nice, listen to your customers, and make sure they come back, because if they don’t come back, you might be out of work.”

How do you figure out if someone is going to be a good candidate for a job?
“I usually start everybody with the search. If we got 3,000 people coming through the door, you’re going to say hi about 1,500 times. You’re gonna go through a hundred bags. If you don’t lose your shit while you’re searching, you’re good. You gotta deal with people who might not have the best hygiene, they might have had a bad day, they might have had issues with the guest list and they have to pay, so they might be upset. The searchers, they’re getting it all. All women start at the search, and that’s how I started.”

Having started out in high school and as a woman—do you get treated differently than six-foot-tall dudes?
“I’m always getting mad support from the women. Men sometimes find it funny when I ask to see their ID, and they’ll be like, ‘You’re security?’ And I’ll be like, [lowers voice to the moderate level of a sheriff in an old Western] ‘Yeah, I’m security.’ Or they ask for the supervisor, and they’re like, ‘You’re the supervisor?’ So, you know. I’m always getting shit from the guys.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at the door?
“There used to be this guy who would come to Output, and he would wear a full-body latex catsuit.”

What’s your favorite post-work drink?
“Patrón or Don Julio on the rocks.”

Celebrate Brooklyn Bouncers NYC

Lisa Napolitano

Age: 53
Workplace: Celebrate Brooklyn!, The Great Irish Fair, St. Ann’s Warehouse

How long have you been working at Celebrate Brooklyn?
“Nine years. I bumped into a friend of mine who runs security, and he said he needed a woman to go in the ladies’ room, pat women down, that kind of stuff. I’d never even thought about security until then, but nine years later, I’m still doing it. I’ve done St. Ann’s Warehouse, which is the theater right off the water, under the Brooklyn Bridge. And whatever various jobs pop up. I don’t solicit. The jobs come and find me.”

Celebrate Brooklyn is huge.
“Yes, the attendance typically is 5,000, ranging up to 9,000. And about 22 security guards. We’ve had to close the venue with almost mini riots because people can’t get in. Or sometimes there will be a flare-up, and you have to figure out if it’s a distraction so they could charge the stage. I hold the stage.”

That must be a tough line to hold.
“It is. I’m five-foot-three and a buck thirty on a good day. I am certified in kickboxing, but I’ve never used any of it. I’m a mom, I use my words. I remember one show, I was alone holding the VIP tent, and about 50 people were trying to jump over the fence. I stood there, and hand to God, I said, ‘I am a mother! Do not do this! I will take care of you if you do!’ And they all froze. The whole time inside, I’m going, ‘Oh my God, if they jump, I’m done.'”

So you’ve never had to use your martial arts training?
“I think the key to that is—and it’s not a slight—women are mostly not driven by ego or easily insulted. If someone can’t come into the VIP area, and they go, ‘Oh! VIP, I’m not important enough!’ I say, ‘Well, your mom thinks you’re very important.’ At the same time, whenever people need help, they come to me. Maybe they look for the woman. I’ve been thrown up on more times than I can count. I’ve carried women. I’ve stood by women who have literally passed out on the lawn and we’re waiting for the ambulance to come. I’ve been cursed at. I’ve been spat at. I’ve been swung at, and I’m really good at ducking. I teach the guards like I teach my son, anytime you go somewhere, the first thing you do is look for an exit. Look for a place to hide. My son is like, ‘Mom, you’re getting this in my head.’ I’m like, ‘No. This is the world we’re at. Know your exits, know a place to hide, and have a great time.'”

Do you have regulars?
“Yes. You get to know everybody, you hug and kiss and high-five them, and I’ve watched their kids grow up. There was this one elderly woman, a retired Rockette who was like 94, we called her Grandma. She was very pushy. ‘Lisa!’ She’d call for me, and the guards would all say, ‘Grandma’s here.’ I’d have to go get her and I’d walk her down to the front, and she’d tell people, ‘I want to sit right there.’ I would give them the look, like, Could you just get up and move over? She’s 94, you know, and they would. The minute the music started, she jumped up with her walker, legs flaring and kicking.

“When she’d leave the venue and her daughters weren’t there, I would go out and wait with her for the Access-A-Ride. Unfortunately, she passed away, and her daughter came last year and singled me out, told me, ‘Mom always spoke about you.'”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at the entry?
“A naked guy body painted as a mermaid.”

What’s your favorite post-work drink?
“Bud Light.”

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Whitney Kimball is a New York-based writer who covers the formation of nascent communities, ranging from online fandoms to small town civil rights campaigns. She previously worked as an editor for Art F City, Hopes&Fears and Jezebel. She webcomics on Instagram @theartcomic.