City Desk

Swarm and Toss

There are many ways to get thrown out of a bar in Dewey Beach – I mean thrown out, egress via bouncer. Each bar in Dewey has a different philosophical approach to tossing their drunks. There’s a place where they show you the door, and there’s a place where they put you through it.

Last week, I treated myself to a gin & tonic at the Que Pasa Cantina. I took a seat at a nearly empty bar – the only other patrons were off-duty bouncers, large men in hooded sweatshirts. They sat in a row across from me, heads like bowling balls, talking to Chris, the bartender. Eavesdropping like only a bored local can, I gathered that the tall one on the right had just started bouncing at The Starboard. I asked how it was going for him.

He shrugged. The Starboard was a pretty sedate place, he explained, and so far, he’s only worked the VIP entrance, telling drunk girls that yes, their breasts were nice, but not as nice as a VIP card and would they please put them away, thank you. Anyway, The Starboard draws a different crowd than the Rusty Rudder. Eighty-sixing is normally just a matter of asking someone to leave. And if they don’t, there’s Reggie Branch, the former Redskins runningback who can pick up even the meatiest of fratboys and transport them to the door. Steven “Monty” Montgomery, a shrewd businessman, hires a private security firm to train his bouncers in self-defense and brief them on liability issues – Starboard bouncing is based more on the promise of violence than its application.

The Rudder is a different story, another bouncer said. Friday and Saturday nights can degenerate quickly, especially during the breezeless torpor of August. Packed dance floors, foul restrooms and mobbed bars add a dangerous element to an already combustible mix of testosterone, humidity and overpriced, cheap booze: rage. When punches fly, the Rudder bouncer’s MO is direct: swarm and toss.

I can’t take credit for the phrase – it belongs to Chris, a local who’s seen it happen dozens of times. Rudder redshirts spot the sudden open space created by fistfights and converge in threes and fours. The fighters are separated, sped to the entrance and tossed to the sidewalk like a bag of empty Miller cans. The cops show up soon thereafter, and unless the disoriented drunk makes themselves scare, they get cuffed and processed a few streets over at the station.

I saw someone get tossed a few months ago, covering the Delaware Music Festival on the Rudder’s opening weekend. I was snapping shots of a so-so cover band, and while the frontman was thrusting his hips at my lens, I saw a blur of red in my peripheral vision and felt the boards shake. I turned to see a redshirt grappling with a guy in a powder-blue polo. The pair seesawed back and forth, but the redshirt wasn’t gaining any ground, and taking a few tight hooks in his kidneys. When the swarm peeled off baby blue, I was surprised to see he wasn’t a hair over 5’ 6”, his close-set eyes panning wildly as the heels of his sneakers skipped across the boards. He was tossed down the last two stairs and landed, surprisingly, on his feet.

The Rusty Rudder management amicably refuses comment on its bouncers. But recently, a chatty doorman reframed swarm-and-toss as watch-each-other’s-back. Swarming promotes intimidation, he said with a surprising note of disdain. He said Rudder bouncers back up their coworkers, but prefer to avoid turning scraps into redshirt dogpiles.

I asked Chris if Que Pasa saw much action. He shook his head. It was kind of a dumb question – Que Pasa draw old people who want a quiet (but not too quiet) drink before turning in. Really, he said, it’s less action-packed than you think.

“You’re babysitting drunk people,” he said, sounding bored. “That’s it.”

A husky doorman said sometimes girls rubbed up against him to skip long lines.

“You know, they rub up against you,” he said, making a face and wiping his hands on his shirt. Chris watched him for what seemed like a long before he turned to me and said, “Last call.”

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