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A Night at the Door With Three Sydney Bouncers

January 19, 2023

Story: Lee Tran Lam

photos: Alana Dimou


A Night at the Door With Three Sydney Bouncers

January 19, 2023

Story: Lee Tran Lam

photos: Alana Dimou

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

Sydney has been running on booze since the British settled here in 1788. They brought a thirst for alcohol and a penchant for pubs that endures more than 200 years later. Sure, these venues have a reputation as blokey beer barns, but they can be progressive, too. In 1797, when she opened the Three Jolly Settlers pub, Sarah Bird became the first woman in the country to own a liquor license. This inclusive approach is reflected today in treasured Sydney institutions like The Imperial and The Bearded Tit, among the city’s favorite LGBTQ-friendly venues. 

But Sydney offers more than just pubs. For after-hours drinking, nightclubs have long been vital to the city’s scene, sometimes serving as edgy cultural hubs for music and theater, and sometimes becoming exclusive refuges for megawatt celebrities. (Kinselas in the 1980s and 1990s was both: Pop star Kylie Minogue and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence were just two of the famous figures associated with this legendary club.)

The flourishing of Sydney’s bar scene has been a more recent development, in part thanks to a change in licensing laws back in 2008, which made running a small bar more accessible. It led to young guns opening lo-fi venues on shoestring budgets; some became especially influential and paved the way for the city’s dynamic drinking scene. Shady Pines Saloon, with its eccentric taxidermied décor and dive-bar slice of Americana, opened in 2010 and its current team and former employees have gone on to launch some of Sydney’s coolest bars.

For this installment of “A Night at the Door,” we start with Tio’s Cerveceria, a “Margarita mansion” run by Shady Pines alumni Jeremy Blackmore and Alex Dowd. Since opening in 2011, the bar has reportedly served more than 100,000 Margaritas (and counting). Then we head to Earl’s Juke Joint, also operated by a former Shady employee: Pasan Wijesena unveiled his low-key, high-vibe venue in 2013, keeping the butcher storefront of the previous Betta Meats business intact. We end with The Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre, deep in the industrial heart of Marrickville’s craft brewery scene. Launched last year and operated by Hawke’s Brewing Co., it’s dedicated to Australia’s most popular prime minister. Each frothy pour helps support the late leader’s Landcare environmental charity.

Sydney Bouncers
Alex Richardson

Age: 55
Workplace: Tio’s Cerveceria (and various other venues)

What is your role?
An access-control engineer—I’m only joking! Bouncer, door bitch—it is what it is.

Your first job was at the legendary Kinselas. What was it like?
It was a cliquey scene back then. We only had three bloody clubs. To know one was to know all. And we didn’t have mobile phones, so bouncers were the old Filofaxes. We were like answering machines, because you had to go from club to club to club to find a friend.

Who went to Kinselas?
Everyone from George Michael to Brooke Shields to Grace Jones. It was Instagram before Instagram—it was where you went to see or be seen. It was where you paraded your new outfit.

That’s where I met my husband. He got called up to Kinselas for an assault. We had to knock off early to make our statements. So that’s a story to tell the grandkids: how the bouncer married the policeman.

When small bars opened in Sydney, did you notice a fundamental change?
Yeah, it was very cool. I think it’s got a lot to do with who opens the bar: Shady Pines, Tio’s, those guys. They’ve just got a feel for it and they create a vibe.

What was Tio’s Cerveceria like when it opened?
Awesome. That whole combo: the cactus, the party lights, right down to the smell of the popcorn—the classic taco smell from the Old El Paso seasoning.

Do you have a standout memory from Tio’s Cerveceria?
You used to get a free round of drinks if you took your bra off and gave it to them, so they had all these bras hanging at the back of the bar. I used to literally sit down and go, “Oh my god, that bra would have been $120, WTF!” Some of them were really nice bras; I would not give that up for a bucket of Coronas.

What’s it like working the door?
A lot of those small bars, you’re often swinging on your own, everywhere from Tio’s to Shady. So you’re managing a crowd, you’re working the door, you’re stopping drinks coming out the door, you’re sending people over to the smoking section. A lot of places your line is only allowed to be so long. Your line at Tio’s, it’s got to be up against the wall.

If people were compliant, you wouldn’t need a bouncer. You’d just have a sign saying “No drinks outside, no smoking” and if people obeyed that, we’d all be good. But they don’t. And once they’re drunk, they want to argue about it. Dude, I don’t make the laws.

You’ve been around for a while. The way people drink—has it changed?
It’s a timeless thing. People go out, they socialize, they fuck up or they have a nice time. People have married the person they met that night many years later and I remember the night they met in the club. The only difference now is you’ve got mobile phones, so you can find each other. Half the reason the old clubs used to become so popular is because we had no mobile phones, so you had to go there if you wanted to know where people were.

What is your after-work drink?
I don’t really drink. I’d normally drink water on the door and go home. I was never really a drinker.

Mikey Allan

Age: 36
Workplace: Earl’s Juke Joint (and Jacoby’s Tiki Bar)

What is your role?
I refer to myself as a doorman. We check IDs, scan for intoxicated people so they don’t get in, we keep the head count. There are a lot of things going on. The main thing is keeping everything safe, looking for hazards.

Do people get confused when they look for Earl’s Juke Joint and see the Betta Meats sign instead?
It’s definitely a hard one to find. The shopfront is a butcher, but behind the curtains is a crazy small bar. It’s like a Harry Potter doorway, where there’s nothing there, but there’s something behind it.

Everyone will come out and they’ve got their dad joke at the end of the night: “I’ve got my sausages and I’ve got my steak.” I’ve probably heard it about a million times.

When people approach you on the street and ask what’s behind the door, what do you say?
I usually tell them it’s one of the best bars in Sydney. It’s the atmosphere, the people behind the bar, it’s everything. It’s a great place. No one inside really worries about who you are.

You work at nearby Jacoby’s Tiki Bar, too, which is owned by the Earl’s Juke Joint team. Do you get many questions there?
They still ask what it is. Because it’s very hidden from the front. Everybody still asks what Jacoby is. “Is that a strip club?” I tell them that Jacoby’s is the best rum bar in Australia. Come in and have a look.

You’ve been a bouncer for over a decade. Have you noticed many changes?
There are not a lot of nightclubs around anymore. I feel like the generation that’s coming up now has never seen what it’s like to party in Sydney. The small bars are great; I’d rather work in the small bars now than do the nightclub stuff.

What qualities do you need to be good at this job?
A lot of patience. No one ever wants to get told no. Telling someone they’re intoxicated is the last thing they want to hear. We’re not there to ruin the night, we’re not there to mess up anyone’s plans. It’s about being assertive, but friendly while you do it.

Have you kicked out anyone?
I’ve kicked out hundreds—not at these ones, these ones are really good. This is the nursing home job for guards. All you’ve pretty much got to do is smile, wave, nod and you’re good. You don’t have to run inside when there are fights, because usually everyone’s on it before that. That’s why I like doing the small-bar stuff.

What is your after-work drink?
I don’t really drink anymore. People go, “How do you work in a bar and not drink?” I don’t know, I just do. If I stay back and have a chat, I’ll just have a Coke or something off the tap. I still drink liquids! Just not the alcoholic version.

Sydney Bouncers
AJ Nerona

Age: 30
Workplace: The Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre

What is your role?
Checking IDs, keeping an eye out for anyone who’s slightly looking intoxicated and letting the managers know, dealing with disputes with patrons. Usually in other jobs, I have to kick out 50 per week, but this place, I’ve probably kicked out or refused 70 people in total and we opened in March.

It’s definitely quite wholesome, especially when telling people, “Hey, mate, you’ve got to slow down the beer or you’re going to be cut off soon.” When I do have to cut them off, the majority of them won’t even put up a fight.

Do you have particularly strong feelings about Bob Hawke?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t born around the time he was prime minister. From what I learned about modern history, I’d be a fan, definitely. Thanks for the Medicare, bro!

Did you know he broke a world record for drinking ale in 1954, when he was a university student at Oxford?
Yes, for drinking out of that huge pipe glass or whatever it was. I’m going to have to break that record, because I do like my beer and I do like to scull beer. I’ll break it one of these days.

What makes you good at your job?
You’ve always got to be sympathetic. I’m friendly, but stay off my radar. If I’m doing my job and a customer puts up a little bit of a stink and they say, “You’re just like every other security guard, just a big beefy meathead,” I’m like, “I like long walks on the beach holding hands with that special someone. Jeez, get to know me a little bit!”

What is your after-work drink?
It depends on what I’m doing tomorrow. Normally I’ll go for a lager. It’s a good comfort drink. Or if I’ve got an early start, I’ll just have a large glass of wine.

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Lee Tran Lam is a freelance journalist based in Sydney/Eora. She’s also the editor of the New Voices On Food books and host of The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, Culinary Archive and Crunch Time podcasts.