Nightlife: More than meatheads

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 17, 2013 - 2:07 PM

Two veteran security staffers in Minneapolis talk tactics and tales from the service industry's front lines.

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Ron Upton, who has spent 20 years keeping watch in Uptown bars. He has never thrown a punch, he said: “You use the brain before the muscle and you’ll have a quarter, at the most, of the problems.”

Photo: Bre McGee, Special to the Star Tribune

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Being a good bouncer takes more than brawn. Size helps, but thick skin and a level head are equally important.

It was Ron Upton's even temper as much as his then 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame that landed him a gig as the longtime doorman at the late Uptown Bar and Cafe.

"You use the brain before the muscle and you'll have a quarter, at the most, of the problems," the security sage said.

Still a sturdy 220 pounds, Upton has been babysitting barrooms in Uptown for 20 years. After working Cause Spirits and Soundbar's door for a few years after the Uptown Bar closed, the gray-goateed bouncer now keeps a watchful eye on the pitcher-downing carousers at Mortimer's.

The saloon sentinel's job is more than snatching sorority girls' fake IDs and booting bad seeds. Upton describes himself as a diffuser, a friendly (at least on first contact) decorum upholder who tries to de-escalate situations before they boil over. In his 35 years in the service industry, he said he never has thrown a punch. But not all issues are easily extinguished.

One night at the Uptown Bar, he caught a patron in the employees-only basement. The man said he was with one of the bands playing that night. That turned out to be false, and Upton kicked him out.

Shortly after being shown the door, the man returned with a friend. Again, Upton began escorting them out. As they were approaching the door, an off-duty bouncer from another club who had been in the bar "drinking all night" decided to intervene and wrapped his arm around the first man's throat and pulled him into the parking lot.

"Well lo and behold, these two guys had like a dozen friends out there," Upton recalled. "I'm telling you, it was the worst time I've ever had working security."

A backstreet brawl erupted, and the off-duty bouncer began beating and kicking the man, whose friends fought back. Armed with a few holds from his high-school wrestling days, Upton managed to break up the skirmish and get away with only a scratch.

"I walked [back] in, and I had blood on my arms," he said. "Everybody's worried, 'Ron, are you OK?' It's like, 'I don't get hurt.' I break up fights, I don't start 'em."

His downtown comrade-in-arms Hunter Christiance, a bouncer at the Seville near Target Center, also has a strong preference for nonviolence. He's never been in a "Road House" rumble. But the 6-foot-5, 270-pound "host," as they're called at the club, doesn't mind crushing unruly patrons -- with kindness, that is. The mohawked teddy bear with Kodiak stature said the downtown Minneapolis gentleman's club preaches hospitality for guests, even the difficult ones.

The mild-mannered Christiance -- whose physique suggests pro wrestler over charm-school director -- has learned to accept the occasional verbal abuse from people denied entry or asked to leave the club if it lets them deflate.

"After a while of doing it, you learn not to take things personally," he said. "I'm here to perform my duty, and sometimes it conflicts with what they want."

Upton and Christiance acknowledge that some in their field can be too aggressive with problematic patrons. Christiance started in the security game more than seven years ago at the defunct Sharx Night Club and Sports Bar, where he first worked as a male dancer. His brief security stint there ended after he witnessed other bouncers overzealously "dragging" people out of the club.

"That was the last time I ever worked there," the 43-year-old said. "I didn't like how they handled it, because it was too physical. They enjoyed it too much."

Neither Christiance nor Upton cares much for the term "bouncer" and its bruising connotation. But given their formidable body mass, making trouble in their establishments still seems unwise. 

Harriet's birthday

South Minneapolis' Harriet Brewing celebrates its second birthday Saturday with a bash in El Nuevo Rodeo's upstairs ballroom. The Belgian-inspired brewery will offer 12 taps, featuring its staple brews and a few twists (see the chardonnay barrel-aged Divine Oculust). Malamanya, the Brass Kings and Postina provide the soundtrack, with live art from Chuck Hues and Jesse Brodd, and a tapas bar laid out by El Nuevo.

6 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat., 21-plus, $14-$20,

2709 E. Lake St., Mpls. 612-728-0101,

www.elnuevorodeorestaurant.com.

St. Paul pub to cross river

Minneapolis beer and burger fans got some good news last week when Blue Door Pub co-owner Jeremy Woerner said that he and partner Patrick McDonough plan to open their second location, in the Longfellow neighborhood, by the end of the month. The sister restaurant to the original St. Paul haunt, known for its Juicy Blucys and craft-beer focus, will feature 16 taps and a somewhat sleeker design than its predecessor.

Michael Rietmulder writes about bars and nightlife.

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