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A Night at the Door With Three Philadelphia Bouncers

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

Philadelphia Bar Bouncers

Philadelphia is an honest drinking city, and not just because everyone here tells you exactly what’s on their mind—they do that sober, too. Local establishments tend to champion their own and smoke out phoniness in all forms; precious service, posturing patrons and all other incarnations of trend or rigidity have little success here. This down-to-earth quality has shaped the city’s diverse yet wholly approachable bar scene. Sprouting out in every direction, Philly’s nightlife is anchored by a concentration in Center City, a walkable matrix of gridded blocks where cobblestone streets and colonial buildings share space with staggering corporate towers.

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 our night in Old City, a tourist-congested, historic district by day that reveals its moodier inclinations by night. Buffalo Billiards stands out as one of the neighborhood’s more accessible bars. Veteran bouncer Jake Collins works the door at the spacious pool hall, which draws a casual, sports-loving crowd; it also has locations in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

Just off Rittenhouse Square sits The Franklin, a standard-bearer of the local craft cocktail scene that served its first drinks in 2009. It has since grown beyond its intimate (and supposedly haunted) subterranean lounge, adding a casual upstairs tiki bar. Ryan Shaner mans the unassuming staircase that leads to both.

A ten-minute walk eastward is Time, a Center City stalwart since 2008. It’s a restaurant that hosts live music seven days a week in its dining room, though the space also features an adjoining whiskey bar and a Parisian-inspired dance club. West Philly native Jeff Boanes, Jr., runs the door here; his brother, Lydell, works the door at Milkboy, another bar and performance venue, three blocks away.  

Sometimes, it seems like the rest of America hears the weird news about Philadelphia before the good news. Stories about Gritty or dumpster pools or cops coating street poles in Crisco. Understandably, these beat other plot lines in Q Scores. Here is your periodic reminder that Philly has a palpable drinking personality and a headstrong identity that’s embodied—and preserved—by the people out front.

Philadelphia Bar Bouncers

Jake Collins                                                                                                                                     

Age: 33
Workplace: Buffalo Billiards

How long have you worked here?
“I’ve been working here for 12 years. This is the only bar I’ve ever worked at.”

How did you get the job?
“I worked with somebody that worked over here. He was like, ‘Hey, we’re looking for people, would you maybe be a bouncer?’ I thought that was hilarious. I’ve been straight edge my entire life.”

Is a bar a difficult work environment for a straight-edge person?
“People are surprised that this doesn’t make me want to drink, being around it. It’s not something that ever goes through my mind. This is an alcohol industry, but it’s also a people industry at the same time.”

What makes this place special?
“I would say we’re about 40 percent regulars, and we pride ourselves on that here. We make sure everyone is having a good time. We’re not a bar that has a lot of problems.”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“We had a guy with either his mom or girlfriend, we couldn’t really decide which one it was. Maybe both? He threatened to take a swing at one of the bartenders, so I was carrying him out, and while carrying him, the girl jumped on my back, and we all went to the ground and kinda wrestled our way to the door.”

You couldn’t tell if it was his mother or his girlfriend?
“It could’ve gone either way. You ever see one of those people, and they could be either 22 or 52? She was one of those.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen working the door?
“There was a guy on St. Patrick’s Day that had a pocket pretzel, and he just kept munching on this pretzel over the course of like, six hours. He would reach into his pocket, take a piece of the pretzel and eat it while he was trying to talk to girls. I was watching him specifically because I was so intrigued. Then the night was almost over and a taxi was pulling up. He’s eating the last bit of his pretzel—I guess his pretzel was like his sundial for when it was time to go home or something—and the people he’s talking to are getting in the cab. He drops the pretzel on the ground, picks it up before the cab door closes, then jumps across the people in the cab, who I don’t think he knew. The door closes and the cab drives away. I still, to this day, can’t process that.”

What have you learned working here?
“A lot of it is judgment of character. That’s rule number one when it comes to this job.”

What do you like about working here?
“You’re the first face and the last face every single person that comes into this place sees on any given night. That’s something that I take pride in.”

 Philadelphia Bar Bouncers

Ryan Shaner

Age: 34
Workplace: The Franklin

How long have you worked here?
“I worked here for a year then I left to do another job and now I’m back, so about a year and a half. I’ve been working in the bar and restaurant industry for almost nine years.”

How did you get the job?
“I was doing freelance, whatever the fuck you needed me to do. One week I was helping a friend paint a house. The next week I was babysitting, then I was walking a dog and doing illustration work. A buddy of mine who worked here said, ‘We have a door guy position open, would you be interested? You gotta dress kinda nice.’ I was like, court or funeral? He goes, ‘A little bit of both.’ I said, I can pull that off, no problem.”

What’s the biggest challenge of working here?
“I have two hoops that you gotta jump—not even jump through, they’re so big you can walk through ‘em. Do you have identification? And two, just let me know how many people you’re going to be. If you’re going into the cocktail lounge, it’s limited seating. And I’ve been presented with forms of identification that are just so… shit I ain’t never seen before.”

Like what?
“Somebody once showed me their foreign inoculation certification. You know what I can’t do with that? Let you in. But like, I’m glad you don’t have the mumps, dude. Oh, and when people have a picture of their ID on their phone. We have a great clientele, but there are some nuts in a tree. What are you gonna do?”

Has anyone ever tried to bribe you to get in?
“When I say it’s limited seating, they think I’m holding a table for anyone who can grease me to get them down there. Or one of those scenes from an old mob movie, I’ll just bring a table out from the back. You could be the president’s daughter or you could be a guy who just got done working at an Ace Hardware, you’re all the same to me.”

The president’s daughter?
“I think this was last year, in late February. I’m standing out front and there’s this blonde in line with four of her friends. I’m looking at her like, why do I recognize this person? Prior to that, a guy wearing a brown leather jacket to his waist, blue jeans, white sneakers and a half-buttoned-up polo starts standing on the left side of the building. Then another guy who almost looked identical to him stood on the right side. Then I looked across the street—another guy, he was wearing the identical clothing. I’m like, did I take acid accidentally before work or something? Then I noticed, on that small side street, there’s an SUV. Two guys get out of it with the exact same clothing. Upon further inspection, I see both guys flanking the building have earpieces in. I went down into the lounge and saw my manager. I said, ‘Hey, I may be losing my fucking mind but I swear to god the Secret Service or something is out front.’ I remember him walking out, and the door didn’t even close all the way. He quickly turns around and goes, ‘Yeah, Tiffany Trump is in line.’”

You weren’t expecting her?
“They didn’t tell anyone they were coming, so we didn’t know. I ask, ‘What is the protocol? What do I do?’ My manager goes, ‘Treat her like everybody else. She’s gotta wait.’ When people complain about waiting in line here, I want to be like, look, I made the president’s daughter wait, Jack.” 

Did you frequent cocktail bars prior to working at one?
“No. I’m a very ‘beer and a shot’ kinda guy. But just because those are my cups of tea, that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand why people want to go to The Franklin. You’re getting the best cocktails and best environment in the city, without a doubt.”

Philadelphia Bar Bouncers  

Jeff Boanes, Jr.

Age: 30
Workplace: Time

How long have you worked here?
“I’ve been here for about nine years. I was grandfathered in by my Uncle Rob. He was the front guy and he brought me in. At first I wasn’t too optimistic about bouncing because I had never bounced before. But I know that I’m a people person, so I thought this may be a nice fit for me. Then as soon as I heard the music I was like, oh snap. That was the connection right there.”

Are you a musician?
“My father was a drummer, and going to band rehearsals with him, I picked up the bass. I feel a connection with the music. Every Tuesday we do an open mic, and every once in a blue moon I get someone to cover my shift and I’ll go up there and play my bass. My coworkers, if it’s the first time they’ve seen me play, they’re like, ‘Damn, you really good!’ I’m like foreal? [laughs] It’s something I just like to do.”

What makes this place special?
“You have live music, then you have the whiskey bar, and then Friday to Saturday, you got the club upstairs. Three different bars, and I tell people they got three different personalities. You have the live music section, that’s grown and sexy. Over here, talk shit, drink, spit. Upstairs, it’s young, wild, stupid, do ya thing.”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“Ah man, jeez. I mean, yeah. Some people get a little too rowdy, or you have people that are just being disrespectful. I walk up to them, nice and calm. Excuse me, how you doing? I peeped what you just did, and we don’t do that here. I’m sorry. It’s about that time. Or hey listen, can you talk to me out front real quick? I think you need some air. The last thing you want to do is get into an altercation. You never want to put your hands on people, because then the police gotta get called.”

What’s the biggest challenge of working here?
“Fake IDs. Now, that’s not a challenge for me because I know what to look for. But nowadays we’re getting flooded. When they come up with the fake IDs, man, they just be ready, just confident. I’m like I admire your confidence right now, man, but I can’t let this one rock, brother. ‘Why?’ Then I break down what’s wrong with the ID and they’re like, ‘Damn, is it that bad?’”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen working the door?
“This was about three years ago, it’s in October and it’s a weekend. My man Rob had went to the bathroom so I was like, all right, cool, I’ll hold you down. This lady walks up and I ask to check her ID. I say, ‘Miss, are you alright?’ ‘Yeah, I’m fine, I just really have to use the bathroom.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, just give me your ID and I can help you get inside a little faster.’ She’s feeling around for her ID, and I think she really, really has to go. And she’s wearing these beige pants. She hands me her ID, I’m looking at it and looking at her, and she gets this weird look on her face. Next thing you know, I see wetness just trickle. I’m like, ‘I think you pissing yourself.’ She’s like, ‘Oh no!,’ takes her ID, runs off down the street.”

What have you learned working here?
“Patience. Especially when a person’s drunk. You gotta be polite, courteous… you gotta be that angel for them, that guardian. [stretches out arms] I got you. I once carried this woman out to get her outside. Her friends were like, ‘It’s her birthday!’ Jesus Christ. I had her sit down with her back towards the wall. ‘Miss, are you okay?’ Nobody’s home, so I call the paramedics and they come scoop her up. Then she comes out the next week! I was like—you!”

What is your favorite post-shift drink?
“Knob Creek 120 Proof, that’s my shit. After a long night dealing with people, yeah, you gonna need that.”

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