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The Art of the Door

Veteran bouncer Robert Walters on the intricacies of drunken-crowd management.

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Walters at Lit Lounge.  

How did you get into bouncing?
I had just come to New York, and I needed a job. One night, at Rock Ridge Saloon, my friend— he was a bouncer—got jumped. I broke up the fight, and I talked the guy down or whatever. So my first job was at Rock Ridge Saloon.

What did you do before bouncing?
I was a golf caddie. It was awesome. It helped me to learn to deal with people. That’s how I started learning my people skills.

What do you say to angry people to talk them down?
Whatever it takes. If somebody is mad at you, just be calm. Two people can’t be mad, that won’t work. If you’re calm, then you can get to the bottom of the situation, and usually it’s just a misunderstanding. Getting physical is the last thing that has to happen, because most people, if you let them keep their dignity, will just leave.

How do you stay calm when tempers are flaring?
Before I go to work, I do a type of meditation. I’ll put on jazz, like Miles Davis, John Coltrane. I usually listen to Kind of Blue, that’s my favorite album. And I get ready for the night by clearing out my mind. You don’t want to come to work with baggage.

Is it easier to bounce now?
I think it is, personally. But I’m older, so I already went through the phase when I was sort of a dick. Then I got to the phase where I’m like, “People are people, too.” I don’t take things so personally. I’ve seen things go really bad when things didn’t need to go bad. If that person had taken five extra seconds to say “Okay, you’ve got to leave” instead of “Get the fuck out!” then it could have been different. A lot of bouncers think automatically of getting physical, but it’s the wrong thing to do, man.

What does the “dick phase” look like?
It depends. I wouldn’t say it happens so much anymore, because we have a lot more to lose now. Now you have to have a license to bounce, so you can’t have a criminal record. It weeded out a lot of assholes. This job is about people skills, basically, and being able to talk to people. Because 99.9 percent of the time, it doesn’t have to get physical or any of that shit. Most people don’t really want to act up—it’s the alcohol. You know, we’re not serving cranberry juice. So you have to learn to be patient.

What sort of antics do people pull if they can’t get in?
Really everything, but mostly they take out money.

Do you accept bribes?
I’m just going to say this: Money talks, but it depends on the situation. Somebody could offer me $1,000, but if they’re a jackass, to me, I’d rather just not have you in here messing up the party.

Interview by Mike Vilensky


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