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At Nightspots, They Keep the Peace

Bouncers Form Big Barrier for Troublemakers

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2004; Page DZ08

A 5-foot-7 guy saunters into the Third Edition, a popular Georgetown bistro brimming with beer-swigging, wine-sipping college students and office workers.

He is acting erratic. He gets booted by the bouncers. He protests. He stands on the sidewalk and strips down to his black Speedo underwear.

Gary Tomlin watches a side entrance during a quiet night at the Third Edition, a popular Georgetown bar where Tomlin has worked for eight years. Tomlin met his wife while working as a bouncer. (Photos Ryan Anson For The Washington Post)

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The patron gets dressed. He barges back inside. He gets booted again. He punches out a small window, the size of a book, in the front of the building. A very big bouncer with a buzz cut and more than ample girth pounces on the guy, detaining him on the sidewalk until three cops come rolling up.

"I wanted to make sure he didn't run before he paid for our window," said the pouncing bouncer, Gary Tomlin, 33.

All in a night's work.

In a town where power is often equated with publicity and prominence, the power of bouncers often goes unrecognized. Nevertheless, in their universe, their rule is almost unchallenged and extends to Washington's best-known and most powerful figures.

Muscular and fearless, hundreds lord over the bars from Georgetown to Adams Morgan to New York Avenue on busy nights, and particularly on special ones like New Year's Eve. They can be Mr. Nice Guy, yukking it up with customers and exchanging niceties. Some have been known to go home with a patron, or even marry one.

But cross them -- throw a punch, ignore their directive to leave or, worse yet, say you have a gun -- and watch them quickly transform into Bubba Ray Dudley of the World Wrestling Federation.

"No one should have any reason to be intimidated by me. I'm really nice," says 6-foot-7 Eric Bjerke, 37, the humorous chief bouncer at Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan.

"But if there's a dangerous situation at hand . . . if you don't leave, I can remove you with reasonable force depending on how you resist me," says Bjerke, a full-time bouncer who said he has a fourth-degree black belt in karate. "If you try hurting me, you better watch out."

For many bouncers, their bar jobs are part time. Working in a party atmosphere is a big draw, a sharp contrast from their day jobs. Some are engineers, computer programmers, students or businessmen who moonlight for extra cash, usually from $8 to $20 an hour.

"I love the atmosphere, I meet new people, I get to kick drunk [fools] out," says bouncer Scott Saling, 19, a Montgomery County Community college student who works at the Third Edition. "The girls who come in here are amazing. And they think you're special 'cause you work here."

For some, the job is a perfect fit. They played football in high school or college, they lift weights, they know martial arts, they like the action. Then there are bouncers like Brent Shelton, 20, a former high school rugby player who has experience in the art of confrontation.

"I was like the teachers' worst nightmare," says Shelton, 20, who hopes to become a massage therapist. "I used to fight a lot. I got kicked out of three schools."

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