The Bouncers of DTLA: On the Front Lines of Los Angeles Nightlife
There’s an assumed stereotype with bouncers, especially in high-volume nightlife: They’re tough, they’re intimidating, and their sole purpose is to pick you up by your haunches and throw you out on the street if you get too rowdy. While some of these things may be true, it would be rash and ignorant to assume that’s all these men have to offer with their service. LA Downtowner sat down with three of Downtown LA’s most seasoned and respected doormen to hear their stories, clear up any presumptions, and pick their brains and see what really goes down at the door.
Doorman/Bouncer at: The Wolves
Pro-tips for The Wolves:
“The Old Fashioned High West is a must-have, and Tuesday through Saturday you’ll see Ivan at the door.”
Number of fake ids confiscated.
“17 exactly, I keep them.”
Do’s: “When someone respects that I have to check their id. Sometimes people get upset about that, and I’m just doing my job. Then when someone’s like, “Don’t I look over 40?” I’m like I’m not going to answer that, I just need to see id.”
Don'ts: “Name dropping. You know what I mean? When someone walks up and goes oh I know this person and this person, they really don’t and you can see it from a mile away. “
An Ohio native and LA transplant, Ivan moved to Los Angeles when he was only fourteen. He’s lived Downtown for four years and spent years previous to that living in Anaheim. Prior to working as a doorman, Ivan briefly worked for a pension firm setting up 401K plans, but has been in security since he was 18. Working mainly in building security until he moved to New York in 1998, he has also worked as security for celebrities such as Russell Crowe and Dave Chappelle.”Those are my two, not a bad two either.” Ivan chuckles. From there he built his resume, working various gigs here and there and later opening his own small security firm called Security Agency.
“I met The Wolves’ owner trying to do a monologue for my actor’s reel,” says Ivan. “Then we were talking, and he asked about my security company. I was like “Fine, let me send some guys over there.” So I worked a couple guys, and about a week later they call and say, “Ivan, it’s not going to work,” and I said “What, you’re firing me?” “They said no, we don’t want your guys, we want you.” So I started working the door for The Wolves. I hadn’t done this is sort of thing in a long time, not since New York. It’s rough, I gave up the gun for the suit. I mean, my wife thinks I look better in a suit, but I’m not used to being unarmed, it’s just different. I’ve been doing armed security for the last ten years. From walking around with a tactical vest on and two guns to nothing, it’s crazy.”
Ivan’s systematic routine of getting into the zone for a shift is reminiscent of the routine’s of the Steve Jobs and Zuckerbergs of the world. Simple, yet regimented and effective. “I wake up, I have bagels (my wife, she premakes my meals),” jokes Ivan. “I have blueberry bagels with blackberry jam, two eggs, two sausages, water, tea, and I watch Criminal Minds. Every day that’s what I do, it puts me in the zone. I take a nap about 1pm, wake up around 2:30pm and start my process.” Also an actor by trade, Ivan’s people skills and comedic, outgoing personality go a long way with the patrons entering The Wolves. “Once an older lady told me this: “Your doorman is important because that’s the beginning of the experience. If you’re not on point, I don’t even want to go in there because I’m not even feeling you. If I’m not feeling you, I don’t give a damn what press it’s had. Keep smiling that big smile and people will keep coming here because of you.” That was very nice to hear.”
As you can imagine, on the front lines of the gritty streets of DTLA, running into trouble isn’t always the issue, it’s trouble running into you. “A young lady once,” Ivan begins, “she was mentally disturbed. She came in when I was in the bathroom I guess, and I come out she’s throwing stuff all over the bar, and she hit the fire alarm. It’s hard for a man to be security and deal with a woman. This wasn’t a small woman either, this was a pretty strong, hefty, mentally ill woman. She was breaking glass and kept throwing things while she kept swinging at me so I put her outside. She went to swing at me again and I backed up, then she left. Two days later, I didn’t even recognize her, but she comes back and says to me, “Thank you for not hitting me, most security guards hit me. I was off my meds.” She introduced herself, started crying, and goes, “Can I have a hug?” I gave her a hug and that was it. I still get emotional when I think about it.
Despite any tough situation Ivan has had to take into his own hands, he maintains a cordial and respectful demeanor at the door. “The staff is great at The Wolves, very helpful. They love me and I love them.” says Ivan. “There’s a big age difference, and they’ll come and ask questions, and at first I’m like, “Why are you asking me?” but then I realize oh, I am older, that’s why they’re asking me. It feels good, I can spread some wisdom that way.”
Doorman/Bouncer at: Copa d’Oro, Tony’s Saloon, Seven Grand, Cole’s, Las Perlas, Cana Rum Bar, Golden Gopher, etc. -- “Wherever I’m needed.”
“At the end of the day, we’re all people, man. Eye contact! Just treat me as an equal. I’m going to treat you with respect and I’d like to be treated with respect in return.”
“Lack of awareness and not listening. If you’re just aware of your surroundings and listen, you’ll be good.”
Number of fake ids confiscated:
“I’d say 3 or 4 a night on a busy night.”
Danny Ledsinger, also an Ohio native, made the move to Los Angeles to follow his dream of becoming an actor and stand up comedian. Additionally working at a popular gym for 8 years where he gained his personal trainer certification, and working a stint as a FOH employee in the restaurant industry prior to moving to the west coast, today he’s the inviting face greeting you in the sharp black leather jacket at some of your favorite haunts from Downtown to Venice. “I worked at Cheesecake Factory many moons ago and then Olive Garden. I went from that to the gym.” explains Danny. “For me it was between LA and New York, and I don’t like to freeze, I don’t like having a lot of people around me, and I like the sun and the beach.”
When Danny arrived in Los Angeles, he worked the door at bars and cocktail lounges such as Honeycut, Seven Bar Lounge and Golden Gopher. “Those were my first three and then I kept moving around a lot. In Venice, I’ve worked The Brigg and James’ Beach, and Canal Club across the street. I think they just lost their license to dance and I had to work security for an industry party there for a tech company. I saw on the sign: “Sorry no dancing.” So I don’t know if you start bobbing your head they kick you out or do a little two-step or something. I’m like, “Woah, it’s like Footloose in here!”
Much like the many professionals working in Los Angeles that have accrued several different gigs, Danny juggles his security jobs with auditions and stage time for his stand up comedy, which sometimes even fall before a late shift -- and still manages to work in personal and family time. “Now my wife and I are expecting too so we’re real excited.” says Danny. “We have English bulldogs, so that’s been good practice for the terrible twos.”
Even in such a demanding and often exhausting environment, Danny considers himself to be a very mellow person, but takes precautions when it comes to absorbing negative or unwanted energy. “I wear energy crystals and mala beads just because as much as I do love people, some people have bad days. Their negativity hits the crystals and turns that into a positive.” explains Danny. “I love interaction with people, man, just getting to know people, but there are also the knuckleheads, At some of the more crowded places, it’s funny when see adults try to get into a club like Chuck E Cheese. Ya’ll ain’t kids, just stand in line. You’re older than me, why am I having to talk to you like I’m your daddy?”
Danny goes on to describe one of the more frustrating situations he’s encountered while on the job. “So this guy was sleeping. You know, I went up to him like, “Hey man, I see that you’re sleeping, just, unfortunately, we don’t allow sleeping in the bar, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave, is that cool?” He’s like, “Man, I just spent all this money.” And I told him, “Hey, I understand that but I’m going to have to stand right here until you walk down the stairs, okay cool?” He’s like ok, ok and then he came at me and goes, “Hey, you know, you’re cool, you’re lucky I don’t want to fight you.” Long story short, the man’s friend tries to calm him down with no avail. “I’m like, “Alright it’s time for you to go.” says Danny. “So I sort of gently guided him towards the exit and then he kind of came at me, so I kind of Wakanda’d his head because he came at me fast and I caught his head in my arms with his face in my chest. I caught his elbow and had to slam him down. See, I wear energy crystals to prevent this. It didn’t work that day.”
Danny looks at the bright side of his position as a great way for people watching. When asked how he prefers to pass the time on a slow shift, he says: “Exactly that, just crack jokes with the other guards, and you know, you just have to have a good imagination.”
Doorman/Bouncer at: Golden Gopher
“I’d definitely say belly-up if you can, or the patio is excellent. You can kind of just tuck away and have an Old Fashioned or a pint and enjoy yourself.”
Do’s: “Just have a good demeanor when you walk in. I know it’s hard out there for people. You know, like jobs and pressure, but just try to be cordial.”
Don’ts: “Don’t be trouble. You can kind of anticipate a person before he walks through the door. Like, “Eh, this bar’s probably not for you.” Not to judge a person but you can look at them from head to toe and know they’re in the wrong place. We don’t want that. We just try to weed out the trouble before it gets through the door.”
Number of fake ids confiscated:
“Wow, I don’t know, it could be 50, it could be more.”
Born in Miami and raised in Orlando, Derrick McMillon played college football at the University of Central Florida. “My gig on the side was being a door guy at this little bar called Sloppy Joe’s.” says Derrick. “The main one started in Key West then they branched out, but I worked at the one in Orlando. So that was my first one, and I’ve been a door-guy/bouncer going on 20 years. It’s a good side-gig. The Hollywood industry pulled me this way so I’ve been in Los Angeles for 21 years. It’s been good, still standing, still going. It’s great just to be a part. People come out here with these big aspirations about being a star, and it’s kind of a privilege really just to work and be a part of this industry.
Once Derrick made his move to Los Angeles, he worked at the Key Club and other famous Hollywood clubs and venues such as The Viper Room, The Roxy, Black Room, and the Formosa Cafe. He also spent time bartending and waiting tables on the side. “A lot of times as a bartender, you end up someone’s doctor, their psychologist, you’re everything at once.” Danny jokes. “You got to balance, you know. I call it Pull-Away Power. You have to know when to pull away because you know, this guy over here needs a drink, someone else over here needs a drink, you just have to juggle. It’s the same thing at the door. You have to put a fire out over here, greet someone over here -- head always on a swivel.”
As Derrick works solely at Golden Gopher of 213 Hospitality, he’s grown a love for the network of concept-driven bars spanning the downtown area. “I’ve noticed that I like giving people directions and telling them what’s good around here to eat, or where some live music is or what bars should they should hit.” says, Derrick. “It’s cool with 213 because I definitely like guests to stay at Golden Gopher, but if they get tired of it, I can send them to another 213 bar. It’s cool man, because they have this pamphlet where they have a map of all their bars. I just hand it to people and they can go to Las Perlas for the Mexican Mezcal theme, or walk around the corner to Seven Grand, or you go to Cole’s for the French Dip or The Varnish in the back for a speakeasy. It’s cool, I’ve never really worked the door where the owner has several bars so close. “
Derrick puts in the work to maintain his easy-going attitude even he’s stuck in a difficult situation. “Whatever I’m going through I kind of just put on the work face. I try to keep the good morale up because a lot of people are looking at you maybe to be greeted like, “What’s up man?!” People like to go where they know you know their name, like that Cheers song. It’s like when they come in and you go, “Oh hey Bob,” or “What’s up Susan, I haven’t seen you in a while.” They’re like, oh, he cares! It’s the little things. Everyone likes when you care. “I’ve always been the guy they call to kind of put the fire out. I’ve got big bruiser buddies that if you look at them the wrong way, they’ll put you in a headlock, but I’m just not that dude. I could do that but I choose not to.”
Visit Ivan, Danny, or Derrick and throw a shoutout their way the next time you find yourself out on the town -- and remember, just be cool.
Written by Dakota Nate | Photography by Robiee Ziegler