Unless you’re Ashton Kutcher or Madonna, getting past the rope at Mister H, the Chinatown-themed burlesque lounge located inside the Mondrian Soho, is no small feat. You need the right look, attitude, and accomplices. Failing that, cash to burn helps. (Bottle service here costs $400 to $5,000; one bottle admits four guests on average.) To see who gets in and why, we shadowed two bouncers on a recent Friday: Six-foot-seven Disco, a dreadlocked family man with 22 years’ experience working the city’s toughest doors (Southside, Bungalow 8), and his partner Giovanni, late of Boom Boom Room and La Esquina. Though Mister H doesn’t open till 11 p.m., the 200-person club was already filled to capacity by 10 p.m., thanks to two pre-booked birthday parties. Here, observational highlights from the rest of the night.
11:30 p.m.: A trio of twentysomething brunettes, already slurring their words, strut up to the door. “We’re here for the birthday party,” says a girl in a neon miniskirt. Disco tells her that he’s already let in the maximum number of guests allowed for Birthday Girl No. 1’s party and suggests they grab drinks at the hotel bar until more people leave. “But we’re on the list,” argues Neon Skirt. “Everyone’s on the list,” says Disco.
11:35 p.m.: A stocky guy in a fedora approaches. “Hey, man,” he says, “I’m the G.M. at Riff Raff’s; we want to check out the scene tonight.” He motions to two buddies. “I know you’re in the industry and normally I’d take care of you, but tonight I can’t,” says Giovanni. Name-dropping ensues, and the G.M. asks to speak to one of Mister H’s higher-ups. Giovanni heads inside to find him, but resurfaces minutes later, only to turn him down again. The name-dropping killed it. Explains Disco: “If someone says to me, ‘I work here, I work there,’ I respond, ‘Let me see your business card.’ If they work for that individual, nine times out of ten I’m going to let them in. But if you come up and try to do a Jedi mind trick on me, believe you me, I’m going to call your bluff.”
11:42 p.m.: Disco receives a message from someone inside and calls out three women’s names. Neon Skirt and friends push to the front of the line. Birthday Girl pulled some strings (read: purchased more bottles).
11:45 p.m.: Four guys in puffy jackets close in. Puffy No. 1: “We’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes!” Puffy No. 2: “I flew in from out of town for this!” Giovanni: “Not going to happen tonight, guys.” They retreat, and Giovanni says: “They’re ugly. One guy was okay, but he doesn’t make up for the rest of them on a Friday night.”
11:50 p.m.: Disco recognizes a thin, good-looking couple and waves them through. “That guy has been coming here since day one,” he says. “Plus he had a pretty female. That helps. I don’t want to let in the whole rugby team, you know?”
11:55 p.m.: Six fratty guys wearing a rainbow of blazers agree to buy three bottles. The bow-tie-clad leader tells Disco that ladies will be joining them later; he expects them to be let in. Disco nods.
Midnight: Two women in towering heels chat up Disco. “So, this weather …” starts one. “What’s your heritage?” asks the other. Small talk works. When the door clears, Disco ushers them in. “They weren’t bugaboos—like, complainers,” he tells us. “They were charismatic and cute and not singing stupid shit. They were good for the room.”
12:08 a.m.: Four inebriated yuppies attempt to push their way in. “How much is it going to take?” asks one guy. “You need a vagina,” snipes his ladyfriend, and they all crack up. Disco meets them with stone-cold eyes; the unit sulkily retreats. The lesson: Don’t offend the doorman. “The worst thing anyone has ever said to me is, ‘I could buy you, sell you back, and buy you again,’ ” he says. “Women have even offered to have sex with me if I let them in. You hear it all out here.”
12:30 a.m.: One male, flanked by five leggy dates, slides right in. “That [ratio] is always going to work,” says Disco. “Especially if you’re with tall blondes. There’s a certain look we’re going for.” The crew emerges minutes later, unimpressed and headed elsewhere.
12:35 a.m.: A guy in sunglasses approaches, carrying a bouquet. He says the flowers are for the Birthday Girl. Disco lets him in, in spite of the shades. (“Why wear sunglasses to a nightclub? It’s already dark in there.”) His reasoning: People who come bearing gifts are almost always on the list.
12:40 a.m.: Bow Tie is back; he buys two more bottles to get some friends in. “It’s expensive to be a guy in New York,” says Disco. “If you don’t have certain ins, it’s going to cost you.”
12:45 a.m.: Four cocky Indian men in suits agree to buy a bottle. “It better be crowded,” one warns as he hands over his credit card. The charge: $500, just to get in the door.
1:10 a.m.: Six Jersey Shore types with gelled hair roll up. “Eh! Disco!” they shout in Brooklyn accents, slapping one another on the back. “Regulars,” says Disco and lets them in.
1:30 a.m.: Four Asian woman flirt with Giovanni. “It’s my birthday,” one swoons in a breathy baby voice. “You like them young, don’t you?” He lets her through, along with three friends, but the rest of the entourage is turned away. A bespectacled male offers to go home if Giovanni lets in this one girl. “She’s from out of town,” he pleads. Giovanni doesn’t budge, so Glasses pulls out his business card and offers him a free meatball sub from his restaurant. No dice.
2:15 a.m.: A man wobbles up, his eyes lolling every which way. “My friends are inside and drunk,” he slurs. “Why can’t I get in?” “Because you are drunk,” says Giovanni.
2:20 a.m.: Some guy gives a spiel about working for Creative Artists Agency. Disco asks to see his card, which he can’t produce; he offers a health-insurance one instead. Disco is unmoved. The guy, growing ever more impatient, whips out his cell phone. “Google me! Google me!” he shrills. “How could I make this up?!” He shoves his phone at the bouncers. Disco points at the street and tells him to have a good night. Dismissed.
2:30 a.m.: A woman also argues that Disco should let her in because she saw people leave. “I know how this works!” she whines. Disco raises his eyebrows and muses, “So now you’re telling me how to do my job?” She’s out. “You give me negative energy,” he says, “I’m going to give it right back. That’s just how it is.”
2:45 a.m.: A few regulars float past the rope. “True New Yorkers,” says Disco. “You come here every day, you bet I’m going to take care of you.”