Getting in the Door

Just how selective are some of the hottest clubs in NYC? In the last week or so, two reports came out detailing the adventures — and misadventures — of people vying for a spot beyond the velvet rope.

In “Sizing Up the Nightlife: A study of status distinction” by sociologist Lauren Rivera, the Northwestern University professor went undercover at an unnamed but “nearly impossible to enter” nightclub in the Big Apple as the “coat check girl.” She studied the bouncers manning the entrance to the club, and once she gained their trust, she interviewed them to get the dish. Among her findings:

In seconds, bouncers run through a hierarchical list of qualities to figure out who will — or will not — enhance the club’s image and spend lots of dough. The list includes: social networks (not necessarily social class), gender (females over males), dress, race and nationality. “For example, a young woman in jeans stood a higher chance of entrance than a well-dressed man. And an elegantly dressed black man stood little chance of getting in unless he knew someone special,” the study says.

The issue of race, she notes, relates to perceptions of safety. Although many of the bouncers interviewed are black or Latino, they said letting black or Latino Americans in could jeopardize the club’s safety, so bouncers reported that they often turn them away. A dress code at the club, which forbids loose clothes associated with hip-hop culture, furthered this bias against blacks and Latinos, Rivera says.

Additionally, the report says: “White men with no connections were often allowed in if they came draped with a few good-looking women. And, Rivera noted, that one aggressive drunk was routinely permitted entrance because he was a well-connected customer.”

Interestingly enough, though wealth is a high indicator of social status, bouncers looked down upon those offering money to gain access but that doesn’t mean they don’t require guests to incur minimum bar tabs once inside, as the second study showed.

The New York Post hired six models fulfilling varying stereotypes: a “Jersey Shore”-esque girl, a nerdy male and female, a suburban dad, a shirtless Italian-American male and an older, single woman, known in some circles as a “cougar.” The study hit up some of the city’s hottest clubs: Tenjune, Marquee, Boom Boom Room, 1Oak, Avenue and Griffin.

The hardest club to get into? The 18th-story spot at the Standard Hotel, the Boom Boom Room, a star-heavy hotspot frequented by Madonna and Marc Jacobs; none of the six models gained entrance. The easiest? Marquee, which let all six in — even the shirtless “guido,” provided he buy a $375 bottle of liquor, the bouncer demanded.

The overwhelming message behind the Post study showed many bouncers will let guests in beyond the “typical” beautiful NYC partier — for a price, of course, requiring bar tabs, table reservations and bottle service. That is, unless the person is just too much of a character — even the most beautiful woman wearing pink Converse high-tops and a “Little House on the Prairie”-style dress is too risky a venture at some of the clubs, and no matter how hip it is to be nerdy nowadays, masking-taped glasses cross the line.

So how do you distinguish who gets into your club? Do your bouncers have criteria to follow? Do you have rules against setting minimums for bar tabs or encourage it? It's an interesting topic, especially given today's economy when not everyone can drop hundreds on a bottle of vodka. So how do you keep guests coming in your doors?


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