Downtown Minneapolis is in typical Friday night form. Dolled-up women and the men trying to impress them step out of expensive cars outside the popular Seven nightspot and restaurant. After handing their keys to a valet driver, they wade through heavy foot traffic to assume their place in line. But before their party starts, they have to get through Bryant Webster.
Granted, 99 percent of the time that’s something to look forward to. The doorman in the black suit takes a break from checking IDs and discreetly sizing up people in line to embrace a departing patron and crack jokes with another. But don’t think he takes his job lightly.
“My No. 1 thing is to ensure a fun and safe environment,” Webster explains later in an interview.
Webster is a weekend fixture on the bustling corner of 7th Street and Hennepin Avenue in front of the swanky steak-and-sushi lounge. With a trim mustache that Tom Selleck would applaud, the security veteran has become one of the more familiar faces in downtown nightlife over the past decade. Dispelling stereotypes of mean-mugging “bouncers,” the gregarious courier-by-day seemingly knows everyone passing through his sidewalk turf. He is one of the best in the biz.
“Customer service, to me, it’s not a department. It’s an attitude,” Webster said in his distinctive baritone. “With me being the first person you see, the last person you see, my customer service has to be a point for me to enjoy what I’m doing.”
That customer service instinct dates back to his days as a limo driver and suit salesman (the latter explains his sense of style). While keeping order at the upscale three-level bar and restaurant’s front lines, Webster also plays facilitator — gauging guests’ wants and needs, and trying to answer questions before they’re asked.
“It’s kind of like matchmaking suits with a tie,” the Missouri native said. “You’ve got the guy’s hair, skin tone down. You know he’s got earth-tone suit colors, he needs this kind of shirt. Same thing in the hospitality business. You have to find out what makes them happy to be here.”
Seven’s greeter-in-chief started working security in 2003 after a fateful run as a chauffeur. Following orders, he grabbed a bottle of Champagne and a dozen roses before picking up two Edina businessmen, who happened to be Keyvan and Kam Talebi, now of Crave and Union restaurants. The brothers were then closing on the Block E spaces for Escape Ultra Lounge and Bellanotte in downtown Minneapolis and by the end of the trip they invited Webster to interview.
After working at Escape and Bellanotte, Webster logged time at the Chambers hotel and NBA City and Hubert’s in the Target Center. About six years ago, he moved to Seven, which is owned by former Bellanotte partner David Koch.
Webster “projects authority,” said Chuck Gilbert, Seven’s chief operating officer. “He doesn’t wear a name tag or badge, but most people can tell he is the person in charge.”
Of course, club security is hardly roses and Champagne. Webster is the bad-news bearer when someone is too intoxicated to get in or not compliant with the flashy nightspot’s business-casual dress code.
Adopts ‘principal mode’
His secret weapon? “Principal mode” — when that Isaac Hayes-deep voice, which scores him occasional voice-over work, goes from jovial to stern when someone’s out of line.
“My voice helps me at the door. It’s like how I deal with my kids — ‘What did I tell you?’ ” the father of four says, dropping an octave and raising his left eyebrow. “If you get past my voice, you’re a bad man.”
Though his children are now adults, the 56-year-old balanced being a “soccer dad” while working weekend nights. Between his two jobs, Webster currently works six days a week, returning to his Burnsville home around 3:30 a.m. after his shifts at Seven. His wife, Tanya, doesn’t like his schedule. But the dapper doorman says it keeps him young, even if it hampers his social life.
“I have probably missed so many events working weekends,” Webster said. “But I don’t mind it. If I wasn’t doing this I’d probably be out blowing $400 or $500 a weekend.”
From his Hennepin Avenue station, the party-time peacekeeper has a front-row seat to downtown’s late-night circus.
“I witness a lot of stuff out here,” he said, turning reticent (as security staffers often do) when pressed for the crazier specifics. The best-dressed guy on the block surveys the street for potential problem-causers, noting inebriation is the first thing he looks for.
When he suspects someone of having one too many, he lingers over their ID while striking up a 30-second conversation. Those who can barely stand are invited back the next night, while ratty-sneakered bros can skip the line if they return wearing fresh loafers.
“You get your irate [people] sometimes, but we deal with that,” Webster said. “It’s all about how you talk to people.”
Something Mr. Downtown has no trouble with.
Michael Rietmulder, of Minneapolis, writes about nightlife.