Words of wisdom and tales of the trade from the guys who keep the Bars in Santa Cruz safe
Wherever there’s a crowd of people drinking, there’s bound to be a jackass or two. Much as we might wish we could just hit the “Eject” button and send the rabble-rousers flying, it takes a living, breathing human to get rid of that unwanted guest who’s had one too many. Which, of course, is where bouncers come in. The doorman is a figure who appears throughout history and throughout nature: The Old Testament makes mention of “gatekeepers” whose duty was to keep things copasetic at the Levitical Temple, and even certain species of ants have their own peacekeepers whose duty is to chuck out unwelcome parties. Clearly, this is an essential service, but few people have the stones for it, let alone the physical power.
GT recently got some perspective on the bouncer’s life from three local doormen: The Catalyst’s Igor Gavric, The Poet and the Patriot’s Bob Night and The Asti’s Al Marks. Generally affable folks, they all claim that the vast bulk of the job consists of socializing with people rather than physically intimidating them. More importantly, they offer all kinds of insights, information and colorful tales of life as gatekeepers at some of Santa Cruz’s best-known haunts.
IGOR GAVRIC The Catalyst
It can’t be easy to serve as the head of security for the biggest nightclub in Santa Cruz, but 27-year-old Igor Gavric seems to be taking it all in stride. Laid-back and friendly, the 6-foot-4, 280-pound security guard (also the owner of Kaijin Mixed Martial Arts: 2100-E Delaware Ave., Santa Cruz; 427-2560; kaijinmma.com), says The Catalyst (1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 423-1338; catalystclub.com) is the first place he’s ever worked: He was a young lad of 20 when he took the job as a means of making a little money on the side while playing college football and finishing up school. “I got thrown right into the fire!” he notes with a smile.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS OF THIS JOB?
I think the biggest misconception people have is that bouncers—which we don’t even call ourselves; we’re security guards; we’re staff. Everybody thinks you’re Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse, but it’s really not. We employ all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. And here, it’s a lot more personal interaction than, say, at a bar down the street. Sure, we have people with backgrounds in martial arts, [but] people who do PR work as their main job work here, too. There’s no real set guideline for what you need to have to work here.
DO YOU THINK THAT’S LARGELY TRUE ACROSS THE BOARD?
I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that people hire more based on people skills than physical type of things.
STILL, IT DOES REQUIRE AN ABILITY TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
Yeah. The biggest thing I like to tell my guys is that it’s a confidence issue. We invite all our employees to come up there and just learn basic self-defense skills, because the biggest thing isn’t pushing yourself out onto people, but if you have a certain self-confidence, you don’t create those kinds of situations. You’re confident in being able to control a situation if it comes to that, but you don’t feel like you have to exude a certain machismo, for lack of a better way to put it. So you’re relaxed, you’re comfortable in yourself, and you know if push comes to shove—because sometimes it does happen—you can handle yourself.
HOW DO YOU STAY OUT OF DANGER ON THE JOB?
The beauty of working here is that on almost any given night, there’s more than enough of us here to be able to handle a situation. You never go into something just by yourself, where you don’t know if there’s three guys waiting to hit you or what have you. But we work with the guys, and we show them certain holds to restrain people. If push comes to shove, we can do that, but we never instigate that. You always try to talk it out. We go as far as we can [with that], but all kinds of stuff happens—sometimes people grab beer bottles and swing ’em, and stuff like that. So you have to be ready for a little bit of everything.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT?
I mean, it’s scary to hear it, but it’s really not that bad, ’cause if someone’s in the condition of doing that, they’re not moving too quickly!
WHAT HAS THIS GIG TAUGHT YOU ABOUT HUMAN NATURE?
You get a singular person, and that person is generally smart and easy to deal with. You get a group of six people—they tend to get dumber as the group multiplies.
WHAT’S THE MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD ON THE JOB?
There was one time we were down here—maybe my second year working here—when we had this group of New Zealanders come in. You know the boat hanging in the atrium? It’s over by the bar now, but it used to be right in the middle, hanging maybe 11 feet up to the edge, and all that was holding it up was two chains. So, four New Zealanders got a bunch of people to make a scene and occupy [security staff] as they all climbed into the boat. That was a fun one, trying to get ’em out of there! We had a guy working here, Matt Strickland, who was from New Zealand, and he managed to coerce them by telling them where he was from, who he knew and all that stuff. We managed to get ’em down, but we had a DJ going—everything stopped, and the whole crowd was entertained by us trying to get four kiwis out of a boat!
AL MARKS The Asti
His shaven head, goatee and brick-wall build might give him a rough-edged appearance, but 24-year-old Al Marks is being right neighborly to GT: With no advance notice, he’s agreed to an interview at the door of The Asti (715 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 423-7337), where he’s been a bouncer for about two years. The six foot four, 265-pound doorman frequently takes breaks from our chat to amiably tease incoming patrons, who clearly get a kick out of the smart-ass banter.
THIS LOOKS KINDA FUN.
It’s entertaining, you know what I mean? What else am I gonna do on a Friday night? Either I can make some money, or I can hang out and bulls*** with people and not get paid for it. But I gotta stay here until 3 o’ clock in the morning. I work another job, so I’ll get off work about 3 o’clock, ride my motorcycle back up to Boulder Creek, and I’ve gotta be at work at my other job in San Jose at 7 a.m.
WHAT HAS THIS GIG TAUGHT YOU ABOUT HUMAN NATURE?
It’s taught me a lot about picking your words wisely—saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Being direct is the best option. [Gesturing toward a burly patron who is leaving the building:] The other thing it’s taught me is that mother****ers like this are usually the nicest guys in the world. Just because somebody looks tough doesn’t mean they are. But it does mean that they do have potential to be … which I know, because he and I played football together.
WHEN THINGS GET OUT OF HAND, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT, AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LINES YOU’RE FORBIDDEN TO CROSS?
Obviously, you’re not allowed to hit anybody. As far as how you get someone out, the first option is always to ask somebody to leave. And after that, you [escort the person out] as quick as possible and with the least confrontation possible. As far as picking somebody up, [putting him in a] headlock or anything like that—to be honest with you, very rarely does that happen. Very rarely.
WHAT’S THE MOST MEMORABLE THING YOU’VE SEEN ON THE JOB?
Without using her name, because she works in a local establishment, the first time I met a friend of ours was when she got on the bar with a mandolin. We turned off all the music, and she just sang 15 Johnny Cash songs. She’s got a killer voice. Most of the time, when people—especially women—are on this bar, it’s not to sing!
BOB NIGHT The Poet and the Patriot
If it weren’t for his sincere smile and easygoing demeanor, 41-year-old Bob Night would be the living definition of intimidating. Clad in black, standing 6 feet 7 inches tall (“if I stood perfectly straight, which I don’t”) and weighing 340 pounds, the eight-year-plus employee of The Poet and the Patriot (320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; 426-8620; thepoetandpatriot.com) laughingly notes, “I have almost the traditional, stereotypical look of a doorman: big and bulky. Funny thing is, the ones I always worried about were the ones that were closer to 5-foot-5, 5-foot-7 and that only weigh about 140 pounds. Those are the doormen you have to worry about, because they make up for their size in aggressiveness.”
Night, a former Army member, is not someone who needs to throw his weight around. “I just kind of sit there and look like a big teddy bear,” he says with a smile. As our conversation progresses, he proves to be just that: a big teddy bear. And when you’re dealing with someone who could easily crumple you up and toss you over his shoulder into the trash, that’s a very good thing.
DOES THIS JOB REQUIRE A BACKGROUND IN MARTIAL ARTS, BOXING, ETC.?
A lot of places hire people who have that, but it’s actually not really necessary. It’s best to have a person who’s capable of getting along with the customers, because it’s actually more of a verbal job—or at least it should be. Here, it’s always verbal. The most I’ve ever had to do is put a hand on someone’s shoulder and say, “Sorry—bartender says you’re done. Time to go.”
HAVE YOU EVER HAD ANY RIDICULOUS SITUATIONS INVOLVING FAKE IDs?
Oh, yeah! A young lady handed me an ID once saying she was 6-foot-1. I handed it back to her and just kind of looked at her and giggled. I was like, “No, hon. This says you’re 6-foot-1; you’re standing maybe 5-foot-3; you don’t have the right hair, the right face; it’s just an obvious no.” There are occasions where you just go, “Oh! That’s your brother!” They’re like, “How do you know that?” “Oh, easy: Because I know your brother, and he mentioned that his old ID’s missing. And you don’t quite look like your brother.”
WHAT’S THE MOST MEMORABLE THING THAT’S HAPPENED TO YOU ON THE JOB?
The saddest was the day our founder passed away almost two years ago. We closed that evening, and the immediate family and coworkers all sat around and mourned together. Awkward nights? A young lady comes walking up, and she’s like, “I don’t have an ID, but will these work?” [He mimes a woman flashing him.] I was like, “No, hon. That means you’ve had too much!” It’s like, “I can’t count the rings on that. Sorry, my dear.” That was an awkward and kind of giggly night.
ARE YOU A NIGHT PERSON BY NATURE?
Actually, I am. I mean, I can function at any time of the day, but I’m a massively night person. I’m also an insomniac, so I do a lot of meditating to make up for the [lack of] sleep.
WHAT KIND OF MEDITATION?
It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s mind-over-body. I focus on a thought and lower the heartbeat a little bit—just calm the whole body one step at a time. It’s kind of an offshoot of a couple different [meditation methods] I’ve come across over the years. My father introduced me to an old monk when I was 4 to help calm me down, ’cause I was always very energetic. He taught me one form, and I couldn’t even pronounce the name of the form anymore.
AS A DOORMAN, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE RULES YOU’RE REQUIRED TO PLAY BY?
All the employees here go to the ABC LEAD [Alcohol Beverage Control Licensee on Alcohol and Drugs] course. They teach you how to spot fakes, what types of IDs are accepted, what ones aren’t. You’ve gotta do that every two years to renew your ABC card. Other than that, you just go by the bar’s rules as well as what ABC and the police dictate, such as 21 and over, must be current, not expired. Thank God ABC finally said, “Hey—passports are acceptable again.” [Laughs.] Each bar has its own set of rules, but they also fall within the ABC rules of making sure everybody of legal age is inside. And if you see someone that’s too drunk, try to get ’em a cab; try to get ’em a safe ride home. You stop them from driving if you can, but you can’t physically stop a person. You can recommend to them, “Let’s get you a cab,” and hopefully that works.
WHAT HAS THIS GIG TAUGHT YOU ABOUT HUMAN NATURE?
I’ve been around for a while and seen a lot of different things, and I’ve realized that everybody deserves the best chance they can, and being friendly is the best way to make everything work smoothly. I try not to judge anyone, because I’ve been around the block a few dozen times, to say the least, and you never know what a person’s going to be like just by looking at them.