Bouncers don't get any respect, says Courtland Steele. At 6 feet 4 and 265 pounds, who's going to argue with him?
Oh, and don't call him a bouncer.
"I can't stand that word," he said. "A bouncer is someone who is a big guy who just wants to fight. In this day and age you need to be more professional. It's about being able to talk to people."
Point taken. After 17 years in the business, Steele knows what he's talking about. In the scene, he's well liked and recognized as someone who's paid his dues. Now he thinks he's found a way to get his fellow security professionals (as he likes to call them) the credit they deserve.
The first-ever "Security Ball" takes place Wednesday night at Envy nightclub, where more than 200 of these muscle-bound behemoths will enjoy a night dedicated solely to them. To cap it off, Steele will present awards to two security veterans who have literally put their lives on the line.
I've seen bartender balls and DJ awards, but this the first time I've heard about a night given over to celebrating the guys who keep the peace amid all the drunkenness.
"Courtland is the right person to bring them together," said Augie's Cabaret co-owner Brian Michael. "Everyone knows him. He shakes hands like the mayor."
From 'no rules' to no fighting
Steele, 35, a Minneapolis native, got his start in the early 1990s at the old TNT nightclub, where banging heads was fairly routine. "There weren't really any rules back then," he said. "It's a lot different now." Steele said he got caught up in the riff-raff early on, resulting in some trouble with the law and even jail time in 1998.
"It opened my eyes to the lifestyle that I was living," he said. "It was life-changing."
Today, he's helping raise his 5-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son (a straight-A student who's "not following in my footsteps," Steele said).
Steele has worked security at many of the scene's more popular bars, including Spin, Drink, Karma, Stargate, Augie's and the Lodge (now closed). He's been called every name in the book by drunken, unruly customers and even suffered a concussion from to a blow to the head.
Last year, Steele began thinking about where this job was taking him. In November, he started his own private security company, which provides escorts and security for bachelorette parties, VIPs and ballplayers who want to traverse the club scene without incident. He calls it Steele Curtain Security.
"I didn't think I'd be doing security this long, but here I am," he said. "I'm 35 and I still love it."
Nightlife's Purple Heart
At Wednesday's event, Steele will present two of his fellow security professionals with something he's calling the Award of Valor, a heavy-duty 8-inch piece of glass with the words: "For your courage in the face of danger."
One of them is Gblay (Gus) Sailee, head of security at Augie's. In 2007, Sailee was off duty and hanging out at Stand Up Frank's when a patron he had banned from Augie's shot him in the abdomen. He recovered and was back at work five weeks later. Sailee said he was surprised when Steele said he wanted to give him an award.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought it was a joke."
The other award will be given to Spin's Daniel (Stanley) Parenteau, known as one of the best ID checkers in the business.
Many downtown clubs are encouraging their security staff to attend the ball. With so many bouncers, er, security professionals in one place, could this be the safest party of the year? Steele thinks so:
"I don't anticipate any problems. At all."