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How a Doorman Sees It

He's gotten perks, wielded power--and stood around in the cold all night.

June 27, 2002|Louise Roug

Keith Rosary has seen how low people will go to try to get into a club.

And it's not pretty.

Rosary, who started working in clubs 20 years ago when he was 18, has seen the hopeful give away jewelry, throw punches and even file suit to get in.

"Wearing a press pass from 1942, coming up, saying, 'Press,' " he said. Calling from "Steven Spielberg's office" to get on the guest list; yes, he's heard that one a few times. "But then when you ask them for a business card, they won't have one."

Rosary, who has worked the door at the Highlands, the Garage, the Palace and Martini Lounge, could teach a short course in nightclub history. In the 1970s, the rock 'n' roll years, the bouncers looked like bikers and in some cases were: Hells Angels members worked "security" at some places. That gave way to the "velvet rope mentality" spawned in the late '70s and early '80s at the famed New York dance club Studio 54.

"The headset and shades constituted the cool doorman look. You didn't have to look at the guests, and it was cool to ignore them," he said. "It was a power thing. To ignore you, to miss you, that was to have the power." The now-defunct Vertigo, where he worked for a while, nearly got its liquor license revoked because of its discriminatory dress code. Four men sued and won $250 each in Small Claims Court when a dress code kept them out of the Mayan. So someone invented the guest list.

"Of course, there's no list," Rosary confessed. "That's just a way to keep people out."

And those powers of inclusion or, more often, exclusion ensure doormen good graft. Some guests have dropped up to $1,000 at the door, he said.

"That's what it's all about: If you take care of me, I'll take care of you. The perks are incredible." A week after he slipped Tommy Hilfiger into an exclusive MTV party, for instance, Rosary received an entire spring wardrobe in gratitude.

"But we go through so much," he said. "We're underpaid, and we stand out here in the cold, all night."

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