With nightlife playing such a crucial role in the university experience, The Glasgow Guardian explores the problems surrounding the all-powerful gatekeepers of the club.
Those two dreaded words: “not tonight”. No rejection stings more than that which ends a night-on-the-town before it gets started. The gatekeepers of Thursday nights are pervasive in Glasgow culture, but not as much as the horror stories surrounding them. Are they steroid-taking, muscle-shirt-wearing, failed police officers searching for a fight? Or are they protectors of the most vulnerable on our Friday night streets? We at The Glasgow Guardian ventured onto the sticky dance floor to carry out some fieldwork. Armed with our clipboard (but no guestlist), we heard from students about their experiences.
There is no doubt that bouncers have a hard gig at times. Violence seems all too frequent on our streets generally, not least directed towards bouncers. In 2019, a doorman working at Nico’s Bar on Sauchiehall Street was branded a “hero” after wrestling with a gunman. In April last year, a woman was sentenced by Glasgow Sheriff Court for spitting in the face of a bouncer whilst being ejected from AXM Club in Merchant City back in 2019. Rachael, a fourth-year student, spoke to The Glasgow Guardian to express some sympathy for the role of bouncers, stating, “I think some of them are quite lonely; they see a lot of people every night, but are they seen?” Her fellow students, however, did not concur.
Two business students complained of being kicked out of club toilets for vomiting just as a bouncer passed. Perhaps a tale as old as time – something which is a mere case of wrong place, wrong time for the students, is a routine and an understandably frustrating occurrence for nightclub workers. Can we blame bouncers for doing their jobs when clubbers potentially overstep the mark? Many students who were reached out to by The Glasgow Guardian expressed hostility toward bouncers and the recurring theme of violence that connects many students’ interactions with them. However, Stuart Lister, in his 2003 book on bouncers, notes the necessity of gatekeeping for the security of club-goers. After all, it is much more challenging to control drunken masses once they have crossed the precipice of the door. With this necessary rejection comes the genuine risk to bouncers of physical retort from rejectees. How do you stop a violent protest before it begins? Sometimes perhaps, with force. Maybe bouncers are bound to project a violent aura because that is the most effective way to intimidate away violence. And we have all, knowingly or not, enjoyed the fruits of the rejection of some rotten customers looking to cause issues once inside.
We asked a bouncer at our local what he thought of the case against his industry. Although we usually are told to “go home”, he was happy to be heard: “what people don’t realise is that I’ve also been rejected from clubs. I know what it feels like. But I don’t kick-off. That’s what’s wrong with society now; everyone feels so entitled because no one has ever told them ‘no’. Then they try to get into the bar 10 vodka coke’s deep at 18 and you’re the first one to really tell them no.”
We spoke to two more of these alleged gatekeepers at the infamous West End pub Kitty O’Sheas, asking them whether the persistent reputation of the industry was justified. The first bouncer, wishing to speak anonymously, remarked: “It’s not like it was in the 80’s, the world has moved on.”
He went on to say that his career is a very dangerous one, giving heed to an ongoing court case against one of the pub-goers, suggesting that the bad reputation isn’t all it seems: “Of course we are all licensed now, so our behaviour is completely surveyable. It’s a customer service focused job. We just want to say hello, have a little bit of banter, and slate you for your awful driving licence picture.”
His colleague was more than happy to answer for himself: “I tell people that my job title is Visual Welfare Analyst”; laughing, he went on: “joking aside, I am here to observe and analyse the welfare of the customers. Ninety-nine percent of our customers have a great experience with us and go on and enjoy their night with no problems. But it’s always that one percent, that one guy’s friend’s friend that had a bad time and that’s the story you hear about, and somehow a rep sticks.”
It was a, perhaps surprising, pleasure to chat with these Visual Welfare Analysts about their jobs, which they were clearly very fond of.
Despite this defence of the industry, some stories remain somewhat troubling. A contributor told The Glasgow Guardian of an incident in their small-town club where a bouncer ejected him due to perceived aggression. However, according to the contributor, there had been a fundamental misunderstanding by the bouncer, or lack of attempt altogether, to understand who was the aggressor and who was the victim. The bouncer ejected the two party-goers simultaneously, causing a wholly foreseeable fight to break out on the street. The bouncer stood by as the victim’s skull was fractured in the ensuing confrontation, failing to do so much as call the police. The contributor, who wished to stay anonymous, went on to spend time in intensive care as doctors treated a life-threatening brain bleed.
One persistent stereotype of bouncers is the idea of masculinity, perhaps due to males predominantly working in the sector, with there being “only around 14,000 [female security professionals] in the whole country”, according to the latest statistics. Female safety is a highly pertinent issue when discussing the responsibility of bouncers. Instances of women being removed from clubs or left alone and separated from their friends are more common than not. Bouncers have a duty of care to all club goers, but arguably especially to women leaving the club alone in the early hours of the morning; as has been seen recently in Leicestershire, where a woman was kidnapped and raped by a group of men whilst walking home alone and drunk after a night out. Like many other women, a night out with friends, fun-filled with dancing, drinking and laughter, turned into that of a life-changing nightmare and a scene of violation, brutality and fear. Security staff are in a position to protect the welfare of female clubgoers and, all too often, do not.
To add fuel to this misogynous fire, the partygoers that have been in contact with The Glasgow Guardian remind us that there is also a general consensus surrounding the bouncers overly exerting their power through conversational, in addition to physical interactions – something which is experienced, not only by females but by a multitude of different identities. Freedom of speech is one thing, but to be explicitly stereotypical, to sexualise or assume someone’s gender or sexual orientation is a breach of this in its entirety. We spoke to a law student at the university, wishing to stay anonymous, who told of a night out last year at a popular LGBTQ+ bar in Glasgow’s city centre. This involved a bouncer denying her friend entry and, in absurd justification, uttered, “We don’t accept tran**** from Paisley.”
Partygoers can’t be blamed for drawing together the analogy of a nighttime scene and society at large. Yet again, a couple of (usually) straight, white men decide our fate. But perhaps we need to understand that it is often a two-way street to ease this “us and them” divide. We have to coexist with the bouncers and learn, in both parties, some sort of mutual respect.
At the end of the night, we have to take their perceived slights with a pinch of salt, a wedge of lime and a shot of tequila.
We will leave our examination of the party police with an anecdote which we could not possibly gatekeep in good conscience. Our mutual flatmate recently enjoyed a visit from her parents. They had come all the way from Bermuda, and she naturally wanted to show them some of the local nightlife. Bouncers were once again propelled into the centre of our night when, at a bar popular with Glasgow students, our flatmate’s mother approached the door. While gripping our IDs in the usual nervous apprehension, he looked at her mum, waved his hand welcomingly and commented, “no need to see your bus pass love”.