More than muscle

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 1/30/2013

Two veteran doormen talk tactics from the bar industry's front lines.

Ron Upton, Mortimer's "jack-of-all-trades" bouncer.

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.

His downtown comrade-in-arms Hunter Christiance, a bouncer at the Seville near Target Center, also has a strong preference for nonviolence.

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 de-escalates situations before they boil over. In his 35 years in the service industry, 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."

Seville Club's Christiance has 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 drubbing 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 when addressing 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."