A Night at the Door With Three Oakland Bouncers

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

Once upon a time, Oaklanders would stream into San Francisco on weekends to drink. But as The City’s once-diverse nightlife scene falls into an icy Silicon Valley-induced death spiral of high rents and displaced patrons, the laid-back pleasures of The Town have become essential.

Many San Franciscans now do the reverse commute, spending their Saturdays at the multicultural and LGBT-friendly watering holes that give Oakland its sparkle. Full of stories and live-and-let-live California charm, Oakland’s bouncers are mini-mayors of their blocks, greeting neighbors and cracking wise with regulars while keeping an eye out for city slickers who’ve had a few too many.

For this installment of PUNCH’s “A Night at the Door,” which explores what these gatekeepers experience nightly in cities across the country, we started in the shadow of the Grand Lake Theater at a relaxed dive called Heart & Dagger Saloon. There, 72-year-old doorman Gary examines tattooed youngsters’ IDs with a grandfatherly twinkle, complimenting their latest thrift-store scores. Then it’s on to the busy downtown scene at Cafe Van Kleef, known for its fresh-squeezed Greyhounds, live jazz and floor-to-ceiling knickknacks. Finally, we headed to the suburban Oakland-Berkeley borderlands for a vodka-soda at the White Horse Inn, one of the oldest continually operating gay bars in the country, where regulars shoot pool to the strains of Pet Shop Boys.

Oakland Bouncers

Gary Krieger

Age: 72
Workplace: Heart & Dagger Saloon


How long have you been working here?
“I’ve been a bouncer since ’84, so that’s 34 years now. I’m the oldest continually working bouncer in the Bay Area. I’ve worked at Heart & Dagger for about nine years, since it first opened. I tell my friends it’s like a retirement home for aging doormen.”

What makes this place special?
“We’ve got great customers. It’s all local people, and they bring their friends and their dogs to have a beer on the patio. You know, these kids are not angry, they’re not carrying guns, they listen when I talk to them. I spent enough years on the pointy end of the spear, doing hip-hop shows and punk shows. You knew you were gonna get into a fight every night, and you kind of looked forward to it.”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“Yeah, but this bar is a cupcake bar. [Laughs.] I just go up and put my arm around people—I use the age card a lot these days, because it really works now. I’ll just put my arm around them and go, ‘What are you doing, son?’ and the guy will go [sniveling voice] ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ And I’ll say, ‘You’ve gotta go home now,’ and he’ll say, ‘Can I come back tomorrow?’ and I’ll say, ‘Sure, you just can’t come back acting like this.’

“If I can get people to focus on me, then I’ve got ‘em. A couple of guys start pushing up on each other? I’ll just jump in the middle and say, ‘OK. First rule is that nobody hits the old man.’ I get that laugh, and then I have them, they’re focused on me. I used to fight—now I talk.”

What’s the biggest challenge of working here?
“Honestly, staying on your toes to catch fake IDs. Last night, we had a group of six kids come in with bad IDs, but they looked really, really good. The fake IDs they’re doing these days are a lot better than they used to be.”

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
“I don’t drink anymore—I found out I was allergic to it. I started breaking out in handcuffs and felonies. [Laughs.] I’ve been clean and sober for 13 years, and it’s probably the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I’ll drink a cranberry juice, though. Good for the kidneys.”

Oakland Bouncers

David Thuillier

Age: 50
Workplace: Cafe Van Kleef


How long have you been working here?
“Five years.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen working the door?
“People love to steal stuff. They’ll take anything that isn’t nailed down—big stuff, too, like a painting or a lamp. A guy just walked out of here one time with one of the lamps, didn’t even try to hide it. I asked, ‘What are you doing?’ and he was like, ‘I just thought it’d be cool to take it.’”

Did he give it back?
“Yeah, he didn’t fight me on it or anything. But I was just like, ‘That is not how that works.’”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“We only have one bathroom, so the line can get pretty long. Sometimes, people will just get tired of waiting and pee on the floor. They could go outside the bar and do it around the corner, but they do it there for some reason. I had to kick a guy out the other night for that, peeing in the bar. Didn’t get any on me, thankfully.”

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
“Usually I don’t drink after shifts; I’ll have a soda water. But my favorite cocktail is a Sazerac. And late at night, if I want a little something sweet… sometimes I’ll have a Bailey’s. [Laughs.] I’ll admit it! One time, the owner, Cindy [Van Kleef], was doing the ordering for the bar—she was looking at the order list and she asked, ‘Why is Bailey’s on here? We don’t sell any Bailey’s.’ And I had to come clean.”

What have you learned working here?
“Not to take things personally. Most people, their intentions are good, but sometimes people say horrible stuff. Like this one guy, he was mad, and he told me, ‘I bet your parents are ashamed of what you do.’ I was a diver in the Navy! That’s why I don’t like the term ‘bouncer.’ I prefer ‘door host’ because it’s about setting a tone, about getting people in the right mindset so they’re not just respectful to you, but respectful to the other patrons.”

Oakland Bouncers

Corey Holroyd

Age: 42
Workplace: White Horse Inn


How long have you been working here?
“About three months. I’ve done security work before, but this is my first time working at a bar.”

What makes this place special?
“Well, of course it’s really well-known, because it’s the oldest gay bar in the Bay Area. But the people are really nice, and don’t usually cause too much trouble.”

Have you ever had to kick anyone out?
“Only two people so far in the time I’ve worked here. Last week was pretty bad, though—a regular got a little bit too intoxicated, and decided to use race as a means of insulting another patron. About 95 percent of the people that come through this door are gay, so for people to belittle each other for being gay doesn’t really work in this atmosphere. So saying something racist is the only other option, and that isn’t cool.

“Anyway, I had him going out the door, but someone else said something, and then he started to lunge back in. Unfortunately, that meant we had to bring him down to the ground. Then he got back up again, and I had to pin him against the wall. But he finally calmed down and waited for his Lyft.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen working the door?
“Someone told me early one night that we were expecting a busload of drag queens. I thought, okay, like a group of 10 or 15 people. But no, a legitimate bus pulls up, and a ton of drag queens come out. It was awesome. And then as they were leaving, they were like, ‘We’re going to Vegas, wanna come?’ But I had to stay and work.”

What have you learned working here?
“Tolerance. I’m a pretty mellow person; I try to make people smile. But you have to learn to tolerate any type of attitude you’ve been given. Some people are just in a bad mood, and I’m here as a person they vent to, not because I want to be, but because I’m out here. Maybe you have an argument with your significant other and you’re venting, and those are things you should really be saying to them, but you end up saying them to me because I’m the person standing here.”

What’s your favorite post-shift drink?
“A shot of Jameson.”

Related Articles

Allie Pape is the senior editor at Hoodline and writes about television for Vulture.