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A Night at the Door With Three Times Square Bouncers

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

A young woman stands in the middle of Times Square, playing Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” on her phone while spinning around to record all 360 degrees of 42nd Street’s bright lights, endlessly scrolling news tickers and flickering digital billboards. A cluster of middle-aged women is dancing, phones in hand, to the sounds of the Village People’s “YMCA” playing from a bar’s doorway, while bodies weave around them, holding up their own screens to capture the surrounding bustle and chaos.

It’s another night in Times Square, one of the world’s most Instagrammed destinations, which sees nearly 330,000 visitors daily. To New Yorkers, the area is somewhat of an intentionally forgotten nether region, its throngs and LEDs bemoaned as if its days as a sex shop and red light district were something to yearn for. But for many tourists, New York City is defined by Times Square. To them, it’s the center, the spotlight, the entire reason for traveling across the country—or the world—to experience.

In a destination known for never sleeping, it’s no surprise that the abundance of drinking establishments at its Midtown core doesn’t either. To quench the thirst of the massive and diverse crowds, the blocks in and around Times Square are stacked with Irish pubs, theater cocktail lounges, craft beer bars, hotel bars and historic nightclubs, whose doors remain open well into the small hours. With such a wide range of options, it can be difficult to know which entryway through which to seek a space apart from—or within—the crush. But often, the person standing out front can act as a weather vane.

At Rudy’s Bar & Grill, Timothy Thrower Jr., aka “Jiggy,” presides over the door at the old-school tavern. He’s charismatic, with a buoyant laugh and the Brooklyn Bridge tattooed on one arm. Rumored to have been a speakeasy, Rudy’s dates back as early as 1919, and was one of the city’s first bars to get its liquor license post-Prohibition in 1933. Today, it’s known for free hot dogs and the oversized pig statue that stands sentry alongside Thrower. Just east, on Eighth Avenue, Edwin Hernandez, with his soft voice and charming smile, looks after the line at The Copacabana, a classic nightclub that opened in 1940 and inspired Barry Manilow’s song “Copacabana.” Back in 1957, the club was embroiled in an infamous incident between Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, a handful of other New York Yankees and some local bowlers, resulting in a broken jaw and a lawsuit; by comparison, according to Hernandez, the scene today is relatively tame. A jog up Seventh Avenue finds Jonathan Nuñez, a boy-next-door type, at Tanner Smith’s, a five-year-old cocktail bar named for an early 20th–century gangster. Nuñez, a Brooklyn resident, says Times Square is like a second home, where coworkers and the bar’s regulars have become his extended family.

In this installment of PUNCH’s “A Night at the Door” we discovered that Midtown’s bright lights and sleepless nights are sought out not only by travelers hunting for a good ’gram, but also by New Yorkers, who, despite the swarm and the clamor, still manage to find a sense of home and communion.

bouncers times square nyc

Timothy Thrower Jr., aka “Jiggy” 

Age: 27
Workplace: Rudy’s Bar & Grill

How long have you been working as a bouncer? 
I’ve been here just about six months. Before that I was at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and before that Dave & Buster’s. One night, when I was working at Ripley’s, I was meeting some friends here when my shift ended. And as soon as I come in, they asked for my ID, and he was like, “Yo, bro, do you do security? Do you want a job?” I was like, “Fuck it, why not.” He took my information, and now I’m bouncing [the idea] off a couple of my friends. So one of the older guys I know was like, “You’d be a fool if you don’t take this.” Ever since then, I’ve been here.

What makes Rudy’s so special? 
You can have a homeless artist and a billionaire, and they can have a conversation, and they don’t judge each other. They literally are both just having the same beer and the same hot dog. There’s no judgment at this place; everyone talks to everyone. I call it the international attraction. International attraction for beer. A couple people from Ireland, a couple people from Brazil. Every night is a special night here. We don’t want to change that feeling.

Being in such close proximity to Times Square must make it quite a touristy crowd. What’s it usually like? 
There are definitely locals that blend in with the tourists. It makes the tourists feel like they’re a regular. When people are visiting for a week, they’re here four or five nights of their seven-day trip. And the locals blend in with the tourists. Make the tourists feel like they’re a regular.

What makes you good at your job? 
I’ve been interacting with people since Dave & Buster’s. Interacting all the time, checking IDs, making sure everyone is 21, kicking out drunk people. I’m a good bouncer because I can talk to you, at the same time I can watch that guy over there, and let this guy in. I can see it all, not let anything go.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen while you were on the job?
When I worked at Dave and Buster’s, there was a guy that was drunk. I could tell it wasn’t just alcohol. He was sleeping at one of the booths, and I noticed it was a guy I helped get in earlier because he said he left his ID inside. I wake him up, he looks at me, says, “What’s up, bro,” and falls right back to sleep. Now I’m trying to wake him up, and he says he’s not going anywhere. I grab him, he swings at me, knocks my earpiece out with my radio. Eventually we got him out, the police came. He didn’t remember any of it.

What’s your post-shift drink? 
I gotta give that to Jameson. Good old double of Jameson and I’m good.

bouncers times square nyc

Edwin Hernandez 

Age: 32
Workplace: The Copacabana

How long have you been working as a bouncer? 
I’ve been at Copa for eight years.

What makes Copacabana so special? 
It’s legendary. It’s one of the legendary clubs of New York City that’s been around since the 1940s. It’s one of those weird commodities. Everyone is welcome here—this is New York. You have your regulars, and you have your tourists, your locals. On Tuesdays this is the place to come to dance salsa. It’s a great time. On Saturdays, it’s all about the nightclub experience, the Latin, the Top 40. It’s a good range.

What is the crowd usually like? 
This is another reason it’s so special. You get people here to celebrate their 21st birthday the same night you’ll get others celebrating their 60th or 70th. It’s a little bit of everything. Everybody likes to have a good time.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen while you were on the job?
Oh, you see everything. It’s not one thing over another. All sorts of characters. Anything and everything, you name it. One of the most memorable for me was seeing Floyd Mayweather. He’s one of my idols. I’m a big boxing fan. He was here in 2017 to receive a Fighter of the Year award.

What makes you good at this job? 
I’m a people’s person. I can talk to anybody. I’ve had to break up quite a few fights. They’re usually over nothing. Mostly small things with alcohol and women. That’s usually the cause of them.

How did you decide to become a bouncer? 
I got a text message from a former boss, I met him, I liked the vibe, and the rest is history.

What’s your post-shift drink? 
[Laughs] Definitely Hennessy.

bouncers times square nyc

Jonathan Nuñez 

Age: 32
Workplace: Tanner Smith’s

How long have you been working as a bouncer? 
I’m going on three years. I’ve been in the industry for 10. I like it here because it’s more hospitality mixed with being a good bouncer.

What makes Tanner Smith’s special? 
It’s very diverse here. We get more tourists than anything else. But also the staff. Tanner Smith’s is more like working somewhere with a family, everyone here is so kind and looks out for one another. It’s a very family-oriented bar.

What’s the weirdest or craziest thing you’ve ever seen while you were on the job?
Craziest was when I first started. It was past 4 a.m. and we were all just chilling. There was one guy that we didn’t know. We let him stay to have a few drinks, but then he didn’t want to leave. It was the first time I really had to kick somebody out that didn’t want to go. You know, by that time, everyone else wants to go home. It’s better to go to Duane Reade, buy a six-pack, and drink at home. He just wanted to make a scene. Other than that, fights. I used to work at a club, and fights were always the craziest, always over dumb things. Over something like someone accidentally taking your drink.

What’s your favorite thing about working in this neighborhood? 
The people that I meet and how friendly people are. There are customers from Florida, from Australia. Then the neighbors we have right next door. We have the neighborhood regulars. [Just then, a man who lives next door walks by, and asks Nuñez about his recent vacation to Chicago.] In an area so tourist-driven, you can still find the locals, the small-knit community pockets within this massive place.

What’s your post-shift drink? 
Guinness. I’m a beer guy. Guinness, or—it depends on where I am. I like to drink different beers at different bars. I tend to enjoy sour beers. At the craft beer bar, The Three Monkeys, the manager got me into sour beers.

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Michelle Heimerman is a visuals editor for Bon Appétit and a board member of Lens on Life where she conducts photography workshops for Syrian youth at Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Previously the photo editor and contributing photographer for Saveur, Michelle continues to report and shoot drink and food culture stories across the globe.