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A Night at the Door With Three Cleveland Bouncers

June 15, 2021

Story: Emily Anderson

photo: Simon Brubaker

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

People from Cleveland know that our reputation precedes us. By Midwestern standards, we’re a little rough around the edges. Even though the bustling live music circuit on the lake brings in out-of-towners on the weekends, Cleveland is a city for the locals—a place where working hard and playing hard is a way of life; where dance floors are always full and cups are never empty.

Home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland also boasts bars that offer a diverse lineup of live music every day of the week, from a cello player solo set to a homegrown hip-hop trio to house-spinning DJs. Strike up a conversation with a local, and find they’re likely linked to the music industry somehow, creating an atmosphere of loyal citywide participation.

Situated around sports arenas and concert venues, Cleveland is walkable in the summer, but blanketed in nearly insurmountable snow drifts come winter. Though die-hard fans and drinkers venture out year-round, the summer social scene is twice as lively. In this installment of “A Night at the Door,” we spend a warm spring evening at some of the city’s most beloved spots to meet the people keeping CLE’s peace.

In our world-class theater district, featuring the iconic Playhouse Square, Barbara Pesa casts her watchful eye over Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, a German beer hall where crowds dance to polka and drink beer from liter steins. A few blocks south, at classic draft house City Tap in the Gateway District, Diesel Moore, a quiet, formidable man in a black shirt marked “security,” checks the IDs of Cavs fans who filter in from the nearby arena before and after games. Just beyond downtown, in the residential neighborhood of Coventry, industry veteran and jack-of-all-trades Wallace Settles marks time at the Grog Shop, a basement venue that commands a cultlike following for its mix of underground shows and national acts.

Should you ever find yourself in Cleveland, these are the people who have your back as you get to know our brand of good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll.

Barbara Pesa

Age: Undisclosed

Workplace: Hofbrauhaus Cleveland

How long have you worked here?

Since they opened. Six years.

How did you get into this line of work?

You know, I’m from the old Hofbrauhaus. I’ve been in the bar industry for 20 or 22 years.

How did you end up in Cleveland?

Oh, honey. I came from Croatia. 27 years ago.

So why Cleveland?

Well, we have many friends here. We came to visit, then decided to stay.

How would you describe this place?

Myself, I love my job. I also love the people that I work for. I love the public because it reminds me so much of the old country.

What is the crowd like here?

Very happy. They love our food. They like our music.

What makes you good at your job?

I love the people. And I love when everybody’s happy.

Do you ever have to turn people away?

Sometimes I have to turn people away with no reservation, but only when I have no choice.

Whats your favorite thing to do when you get off work?

When I get off of work, I love to go out to the ethnic clubs and see all our customers from here.

Do you have a favorite after-work snack or drink?

Love the pretzel and a good Winterzwickel beer.

Wallace Settles

Age: 40

Workplace: The Grog Shop

What is your role here?

I am a talent finder, I book shows, and I host karaoke and comedy events. I do the door because it’s a job that needs to be done in here. I do it four to five times a week.

How long have you worked here?

Six years. But I’ve been throwing events here for about 12 years.

So how did you get into this line of work?

I was a rapper. So I was making rap music, and I was here all the time. I think in the back of my head this is what I always wanted to do, I just didn’t know that until I actually got inside a place and started actually doing it.

How did you end up in Cleveland?

I’m from here. I grew up on this street.

How would you describe the Grog Shop?

A very cool shithole.

Whats the crowd like?

It’s different every night. You just never know.

Whats your karaoke crowd like?

Very rambunctious. Very loud. It’s not normal karaoke. It’s kids doing rap songs. It’s called “Shitshow Karaoke,” so, you know.

What makes you good at your job?

I’m good with people. Knowing a lot of people makes it easier to diffuse situations. They know, like, “Ah, Wallace ain’t having that shit.”

Do you ever have to kick people out?

All the time.

Whats your go-to strategy for that?

Screaming. At the end of the day, once you’re to the point where you’re kicking somebody out, that’s where all the voices get raised and all that shit. Being nice only goes so far then it’s Fresh Prince out the door.

Whats the craziest thing youve ever seen when youve been working?

I had a national band—I won’t say the name—and the lead act was on stage and he ran through the crowd and he poured honey in somebody’s hair. And then he got back on the stage—it was a sold-out show—and our security guards grabbed him up and dragged him out not knowing who he was. I had to run outside like ‘DUDES, that’s the lead singer! Take him back inside!’ I have way worse stories than that, but I can’t tell you those.

Whats your favorite thing to do when you get off work?

Smoke weed. I work with a bunch of rap artists, so I go see them and work on music.

Whats your favorite after-work drink?

Tito’s and soda. I realize I’m a 300-pound man but I used to be a 400-pound man.

Diesel Moore

Age: 33

Workplace: City Tap

How long have you worked here?

Long time. Since 2010.

What got you into this line of work?

I was always curious about it and I had friends doing it.

What makes you good at your job?

Being a big guy. (chuckles)

Have you ever had to kick anybody out?

Not here, but at other places I have.

How would you describe the crowd here?

It’s kinda like a laid-back crowd. It gets busy though.

Whats the weirdest or craziest thing youve seen working security?

People getting it on in the bathroom. And everything, just people being wasted.

What brought you to Cleveland?

I’ve always lived here.

Whats your favorite thing to do when you get off work?

Probably just grab a drink here or whatever and go home.

Whats your favorite thing to drink?

Coors Light is my go-to.

Tagged: Bouncers

Emily Anderson is a freelance journalist from northeast Ohio who specializes in bar- and beer-related news. She’s a 15-year industry veteran, currently bartending events and consulting on cocktail menus. When she’s not working, you can find her experimenting in her kitchen and fussing over her houseplants. Follow her on Instagram: @ladybeerdrinker.