In the too-trendy world of L.A. nightclubs, getting behind the ropes can make or break an evening out. Those who work the door hold the fate of all club-goers in their hands, determining with a flick of a hand who gets in and who stays out.
It's not a task for the faint-hearted and it's usually the domain of beefy guys named "Tiny" or Italian-suited men with moussed hair. The job description is alternately given as "being thrown to the wolves," "on the firing line" or "in the trenches."
On the Front Lines
But, if club war is hell, that hasn't stopped a few women from working the front lines.
When Djenat James worked at Nipper's, the exclusive champagne bar on Rodeo Drive, she got used to the shocked looks from men unaccustomed to finding a young woman running the door. "Sometimes when a man's standing there saying, 'No, you can't come in,' sometimes they'll take it easier from a woman," she says. "But then a lot of times they'd look at me and say, 'Get your superior.' And I'd say, 'You're looking at her.' It was always a shock, especially with the men, to see a woman doing this."
Caroline Clone recalls the time Richard Dreyfuss came to her club, Palette, one night when she was working the door. The actor didn't have enough money for the cover charge, and Clone told him to "go in and find your friends and leave your ID (at the door) because we have a policy," she recalls. "My staff was just laughing at me. I do not recognize celebrities."
Some Men Show No Respect
"Some men (who come to the club) don't have any sort of respect for women," says Janelle Thibodaux, who works the VIP door at the Apartment at the Stardust Ballroom. "Men don't seem to have any problem with pushing you out of the way or grabbing you. They think I'm this little girl, so I'll just walk right up the stairs and grab them by the shirt collar, and that kind of catches them by surprise."
British-born Caroline Clone is the principal owner of Palette, born a hip West Hollywood restaurant in the early '80s and reborn recently as a nightclub with a Caribbean restaurant on the way.
And although she oversees a large staff, she makes sure she's never far from the front lines herself.
"It's nice to check in and get back down there," she says over lunch at a West Hollywood cafe. "The last thing they expect is to see the owner of the club doing this. But I never want to lose touch with what's going on, and I want to let my staff see that I support them and that I can do it too. I've done every job there is to do in a nightclub."
The 30-year-old Clone (an adopted last name) cut her teeth on the British punk club scene when she was 16, deejaying at clubs like Louise's and Billy's, where the Sex Pistols reigned and she could dye her hair blue without anyone minding.
She came to the United States in 1980 to pursue a career in film costuming and fashion design, but found she missed the club scene. "I call it club addiction," she says. "Once you've been behind the scenes at a show, you can't forget it."
On a dollar bet she threw a bash at a local club that was a phenomenal success, and she was off again.
When she took over Palette earlier this month, she vowed that there would be no "snotty" attitude at her club, which has different theme nights throughout the week, some nights catering to a gay clientele.
'Check Everyone's ID'
"When I'm working with a new person, I never put them straight on the door," she explains. "They have to come in and train for three or four weeks; otherwise it's like throwing them to the wolves, literally. The first night I'll baby-sit them for the first part of the night. It's very, very important that they check everyone's ID."
Of the ability to work a door, "You can always tell if somebody's got it," Clone continues. "I don't want a tough, snotty kind of person. You've got to be able to size somebody up in 30 seconds, and if they're too stoned or don't look like they're going to mix in, you try to persuade them to come another night. Like if your mum and dad showed up and they think it's ballroom dance night, we're not going to take their money."
Abuse From Patrons
While working the door at various clubs, Clone has taken her share of abuse from patrons who don't seem to care that she's a woman, letting out strings of epithets, demanding to be let in while intoxicated, threatening discrimination suits. She also deals with police officers who field occasional complaints from neighbors about the noise.
Palette keeps an open-door policy with guests; there is no picking and choosing from a mob outside.
But the latest in club exclusivity is being on the VIP list, meaning you know the club owner (or know someone who knows the club owner) and don't have to pay to get in. "I think the picking and choosing has been replaced by this VIP list," Clone says. "It's become increasingly important to people."