“Why not?” I ask.
“We don’t comment on club policy,” he answers. When I persist, a larger, greyer beard—who I assume could only be the manager—ushers me away with the few, nuanced words, “You’d better leave.” The eyes of some in line suggest the same. This is the closest I get to one of Montreal’s most notorious doormen.
Scene outside a bar. Pierre, dressed in black, stands sentinel by the door, exposed hands immune to the frigid temperatures of the Montreal night. He scans the line of first-year McGill students. Two coatless boys, who had obviously not predicted a lineup, push their way to the front. Haggling over a bribe, the two become displeased with Pierre’s ten-dollar-a-piece demand. One is promptly thrown down onto the cold concrete; the other stands in readiness for his own blow, which, fortunately for him, does not come. I stand inconspicuously off to the side, just out of Pierre’s range, approaching him a short while after witnessing his conduct.
“A good bouncer shouldn’t . . . doesn’t need to fight,” he says.
“A good doorman shouldn’t have to fight,” Stephan, an employee at Club Super Sexe, tells me. Sounds like some sort of freemasonry between the doorman lot, but it doesn’t take me long to figure out that Stephan (unlike Pierre) is a true believer in the axiom. Aside from protecting the women, it is Stephan’s job to organize, keep safe, keep clean—pretty much run—the entire floor. Busy as an apartment superintendent, he must also act friendly and outgoing, to ensure a returning clientele. “A doorman is not like a bouncer. He has much to do and cannot waste time being violent. If we are, that is bad business . . . If there is a problem, we will, of course, handle it. But we do not get edgy. C’est un business.
I move through the wide streets of Toronto’s entertainment district where lines of rowdy, sparkle-clad teenagers extend from nearly every doorway. “I don’t think I’d ever want to do what bouncers do,” says one police officer. “They’re shot at, stabbed, or some pissed-off guy will come back later one night for a drive-by. You know, the sort of guy you’d eject in the first place—sort of a Catch-22 for a bouncer . . . And that’s at eight to ten bucks an hour.” I argue with him a bit. Not every bouncer, I feel, is a martyr; some bring the violence on themselves. “Yeah, to a degree. But really you got to look at the bar. Maybe a guy like that helps a lot more than he hurts.”
“It all depends on the customers the place has,” says Albino, a bartender on Montreal’s St. Laurent Blvd. “The doorman usually reflects who and what’s going in. To even need one says something. Here, for instance, we don’t need security, because if someone starts picking on the waitresses, we got enough regulars in here to show ’em straight.” I noticed a small rail spanning the floor-to-ceiling windows. “Yeah, I put that up in the summer when people started racing out on their tab. Takes ’em a couple extra seconds now to get away.” I thought that was perfect: some places need a massive brute, some only a fence.
Sitting behind a large desk with buttons, switches and four televisions, Phil the concierge reminds me of a pilot in his cockpit. He has broad shoulders—he probably lifts weights regularly—but appears somewhat weak-kneed. His glasses are tipped to one side and his hair looks like a salt shaker may have been dumped over it. He becomes surly when I begin to ask questions and is curt with his answers if he responds at all. I get the impression that Phil, doodling on his desk calendar, does not have much to do.
A small Portuguese woman in kitchen-maid attire walks into the building, head down. Phil rushes up to her. Quiet murmurs. I give them their privacy. Eventually she disappears into an elevator. I take another shot at chatting with Phil, but in a few short moments the maid returns to the foyer, putting an end to our interview as Phil is back at her side. She is crying this time and pulling away from his confused and clumsy paws. It seems messy, so I leave.
Outside a nightclub I speak to some female bouncers, the first I have ever seen. A homeless man had suggested I go check it out: “There’s rarely anything to fight over there. It’s the psychological effect, you know.” A medium-sized woman in her early twenties responds with a bit of a snicker when I explain my purpose. “What?” I ask. She considers my professional carriage and dinky pad of paper “cute” amid the pell-mell of carousers up and down the street. I giggle with her. It had worked, the effect was true: I hadn’t any urge to quarrel. Now, I thought, why hire an idle or edgy weasel when you can get a fox?