Aleksey Kernes of Hotel Chantelle: How does a club doorman work? A Working podcast transcript.

How Is Being a Doorman Like Being a Lifeguard?

How Is Being a Doorman Like Being a Lifeguard?

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July 28 2015 6:08 PM
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How Does a Club Doorman Work?

Read what Slate culture writer Aisha Harris asked a New York City front of house manager about nightlife, table service, guest lists, and celebrity clientele.

Aleksey Kernes.
Aleksey Kernes of Hotel Chantelle.

Photo illustration by Juliana Jiménez. Photo courtesy J. Bobé Photography.

We’re posting transcripts of Working, Slate’s podcast about what people do all day, exclusively for Slate Plus members. What follows is the transcript for Season 3, Episode 3, in which Slate culture writer Aisha Harris talks to Aleksey Kernes, a front of house manager at Hotel Chantelle, a nightclub on the Lower East Side in New York City. In this podcast, Kernes talks about nightlife, skipping lines, table service, and how being a doorman is a lot like being a lifeguard. Plus—Kernes gives advice on how to get a bartender’s attention should you find yourself in a crowded bar. To learn more about Working, click here.

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate culture writer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.

 

We’re a little delayed in posting this episode’s transcript—apologies. This is a lightly edited transcript and may differ slightly from the edited podcast.

Aisha Harris: Welcome to Working, Slate’s podcast about what people do all day. I’m Aisha Harris, a culture writer at Slate. Today, we talk to a front of house manager, someone who keeps everything running smoothly in the chaotic world of New York nightlife. What’s your name and what do you do?

Aleksey Kernes: My name is Aleksey Kernes. I do events and run the door at Hotel Chantelle, among other nightlife-related projects.

Harris: And Hotel Chantelle. Can you describe exactly like what the venue is?

Kernes: So, this location is not an actual hotel. We’re actually sitting in the ballroom. It’s a private dining room. It seats 35 guests. Hotel Chantelle was opened four years ago. It’s a three-floor location with a rooftop designed to look like a Persian park. Retractable roof. Main floor lobby has speakeasy design techniques. And downstairs, Bonbonniere, it’s a club level.

The most electrifying floor that we have here, and most nightlife relatable.

Harris: Can you describe a typical day for you in juggling all of those different aspects of the venue?

Kernes: I love coffee. As you can see, I have a cup of coffee in front of me. So, it starts with making a cup of coffee at home. And in front of my computer. And answering to a number of emails. Emails ranging from inquiries doing dinner reservations for large groups, smalls groups, and table reservations.

And finding new ways of growing our business. You know, we just finished earlier today a management meeting. And we talk about what ways to improve the business. Everything from adding fresh juices to bottle service. And just figuring out ways to really make your experience at Chantelle different from any other venue.

Harris: And how many people are you in charge of?

Kernes: So, I hold two separate positions. As of daytime, our office has four or five people daily, including reservationists and other event planners to assist. And then, late night being the doorman, front of the house manager. We have four security as well as four other ladies and gentleman that help me run the door with a VIP bottle host and reservationist.

People checking people in. So, I guess about nine, 10 people throughout my job that I manage.

Harris: So, today. It’s close to 5 o’clock. You open at 5. Now, how does the day work, from transitioning from day to nighttime?

Kernes: Today is a Tuesday, so there’s no—I’m not required to be at the door. I’m on the door Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And occasional Sundays, and any other special events.

Harris: So, what does your clientele look like, in terms of who you’re dealing with on a customer basis?

Kernes: Personally, I tend to focus on a certain group of individuals that we as a business feel are valuable. And people that have showed in the past the capacity to do a number of events with us. So, a lot of times it’s CEOs of companies. We just had on Saturday some friends coming from Dior.

And their reservation was for a CEO. As well as publicists that are reaching out for their celebrity guests to come in and be welcomed in immediately, and making sure that the progress is really smooth. As late night, they want to avoid publicity as much as possible, and just come in for a good night and avoid running into guests who might get too excited and bombard them with questions and pictures.

Harris: What kind of important people or celebrities do you generally attract here?

Kernes: A number of the clientele come here and expect to be—It’s probably best if we don’t talk about the shy ones. I think an easy example is, Selena Gomez was here two weeks ago. And every single publication wrote about it. So, I can openly talk about it. She was here two weeks ago. Just came here for a Monday brunch that we host with her new man.

So, that’s an easy one. Definitely a number of movie stars come here.

Harris: Why is it important for you, in your position, that you don’t reveal the names of these more private celebrities?

Kernes: Well, that’s exactly it. They like their privacy. They’re good people, just like you and I. And they are here to come in and do the same thing that everyone else is doing.

Just having fun. Back to privacy. They just don’t everyone else knowing that—what they were drinking. A lot of times, publication scrutinize the information. And they focus on drinking and the negative effects of it. They’re just here to have a good time. So.

Harris: Is there anything that might happen to you if something were to get out, that they were here? Is there any sort of repercussions that you might get?

Kernes: Me revealing celebrities names, it mainly comes down to trust. If they know that this is their safe playground and they can come here and enjoy themselves, they’ll continue to do so. And us, as a business, we look to grow our celebrity outreach and the clientele that we have here. And that goes for not just the celebrities. It goes for just about everyone that comes in. Whether you have a 9 to 5 and you got your paycheck, and you want to come here for bottle service and just have a good time, and you want that experience.

Or you know, just released a multimillion dollar movie and everyone knows your face.

Harris: How many people do you have working the door on a typical Friday or Saturday night? And what do you—How do you train them, or what do you tell them to do for protocol at the front of the house?

Kernes: So, we have—In terms of security, we have four security. They—part of the training with them is—I believe that everyone is a lady and a gentleman. There’s a lot of opportunity to—everyone is well dressed. And there’s no need to behave like we’re in a zoo. Everyone—you know, given it’s a male-heavy industry and there’s a lot of pretty women, I want to make sure that the security treats everyone properly. And, yeah. Just because it’s a good-looking group doesn’t mean they should be acknowledging it verbally in ways that show disrespect to the client.

So, that’s a big one. And the other job for them is directing the clientele base. So, on an average night we probably go through a thousand people, in and out throughout the building. We have three floors. So, making sure that guests who are supposed to be in the guest line, and the table line, and the VP line. They get there and get in quick. And just giving general information to guest who come up.

Harris: Say I wanted to come to Hotel Chantelle. And I see this really long line. And I haven’t—you know, I haven’t done the VIP thing, but I don’t want to wait in line. Is there a way for me to get to the front without having to wait in line? Or do I have to wait in line?

Kernes: Well, Aisha, you know me now. So, you don’t have to wait in line. You have my information. You can come any time. It’s high-fives and hugs all around. Upfront, no. I’m sorry. Part of our structure is two lines. And we have the general admission line and the VIP line.

Even though I mainly focus on general admission a lot, the regular clients come to me because they have an existing relationship with me. So, a lot of times, the guest list has a relationship with the venue, with the people that run it. I act, in a way, as a maître d’, directing people to the right location and the quickest way for entry. So, if you were coming up to me and you know someone that’s part of our business, we obviously take care of the guests at—the easy way to get inside.

And obviously, making a reservation. And lots of easily available tools. Everything from our website and our number, and just giving us a call. And we’ll tell you what you need to do to come inside. Generally, just passing by and you saw a line. It looked like a fun place. At that point, you should be prepared to spend money, I guess. Normally, it’s a difference between bar tab and tables. We believe that we’re well priced.

Our bottle charge is $250, which is not expensive for the club industry. And bar tabs on Friday and Saturday night, we usually will request guests to spend about $50 to $60 per person. Which is, again, average for late night in New York City.

Harris: Can you just break down table service? What exactly does that mean, when you enter a bar?

Kernes: So, table service became popular maybe 10, 20 years ago when celebrities who did not want to wait for a drink to be served.

Same way you have a dinner reservation, you have a late night reservation. And you just—the product that you serve is bottle service. And you sold 1-liter bottles to magnums. And usually, the client is prepared to spend, on average, more than someone who’s just waiting in line. So, for that reason, they become more valuable.

Harris: What happens when a customer is unhappy?

And say someone complains about either not being able to get in, or they get kicked out. What happens then?

Kernes: If the person is getting kicked out and they’re already inside, that’s mainly a security thing. My eyes are out up front. Part of my job and—when I started in the industry it was as a doorman. I looked at it as a lot like being a lifeguard. When I was a lifeguard I was taught that you’re not really there to—

You’re there to observe. You’re there to see the ripples in the water. And my job at the door is to see the interactions with people and respond accordingly. So, if someone is getting kicked out and I didn’t see it, usually it’s a security thing. We do insure that part of this, having a large staff of security inside, is to make sure that people who are having a good time are having it in a safe environment. So, if we observe that someone’s had too much drink and they’ve been cut off, and they—

Sometimes alcohol affects people differently. Some take—understand that they had too much and they leave on their own accord. And some need to be brought out for the safety of others. When security brings someone out they always give their reason why. And sometimes, if someone—it’s really probably the biggest case of guests being brought out. The security will say—will advise the front of the house whether the person who is coming in has to get some fresh air and some water, and display that they can sober up and not be a liability inside.

And then, we can let them back inside. Or if they’re completely 86’d. Which is an industry term of, you know, being cut off and not being able to come inside. So, that’s that one. Other instances—it’s a busy club. Sometimes people get into arguments for unknown reasons. You know. Couples, guys hitting on other couples, and things that we cannot control.

Same thing. Security brings out individuals that we believe is a liability inside. This industry is not being impersonal. Security, as much as they are up front, we train them to be—you know, talk to everyone. You know, everyone is a lady and a gentleman. And they’re good people. And same thing as inside. Not taking anything personal. Sometimes individuals definitely take it personal. Which comes to the next point of, you know, what happens when people are denied entry at the door.

I’m happy to say that the clientele base that comes here is a great one. It’s a lot of happy customers. And that’s why we always have a line down the block. We do a substantial amount of marketing. But a lot of it is just people always coming back for our product. And we are located in the Lower East. This area is prominent for its nightlife. You know, just opening doors will attract a certain clientele base. But we go beyond that. You know, it’s—having three floors and every floor is a different environment.

Rooftop will play more house. The lobby will more hip-hop. Downstairs is more open format. So, whoever you are, you’re going to like something. And that’s why people come back. We keep trying to find ways to add value to our brand, to show the clients that we care and we want to give them a good time. So, lots of happy people coming in. The unhappy ones are the ones who are—don’t understand the rules of engagement. They don’t understand that when it’s a busy venue and there’s requirements that we have at the door with the reservations.

And you know, certain spends, and you’re not ready to commit to it. I really can’t do anything about them, you know, being negative about it. They were given an option to come inside. For their own abilities, they’re not ready to fulfill that. Or their choice. And sometimes they act out. Which we definitely have lots of fun stories of people not being able to get inside and act out.

Harris: Can you describe one of those fun stories? Something maybe recent, that just happened recently?

Kernes: Yeah, absolutely. Every weekend there’s a new story. That’s part of the reason why I love this industry so much. Even though it’s the same club and we work at the same business, it’s always different. There’s always something that comes up that changes the story. And I can come back home and, over breakfast, tell my wife about something that happened. Last week, we had a group of gentlemen that were coming in. They came in late at night. They were clearly drunk.

That’s one of the reasons why we do not let people inside. We like to be the first option. And if you’re coming in and you’re sloppy and you’re drunk—the guy—they actually had a falafel sandwich from down the block. They were drunk and had their falafel sandwich. They got denied. He chose to throw his sandwich at me. I thought that was an interesting way of showing that you want to be a guest of ours. A month ago, we had a private event. It was actually a similar case.

The private event was for a prominent skateboarding company. It was a launch of their new shoes. So, it was a prearranged booking. And all we had to do is check off people that are coming off. I didn’t really have to decide who’s coming in. The company did that for us. And it was a group of skateboarders that were passing by. They actually had a case of Modelo with them, drinking on the street. Which is, you know, illegal. So, again, for that reason they were denied entry. Fifteen, 20 minutes of arguing and me trying to rephrase and explain to them why they’re not coming in.

I mean, it was, you know, the same reason. You’re doing illegal stuff outside, which means we cannot trust you inside. You’re going to have more alcohol. You’re going to have, you know, a more uncontrolled environment. And we cannot trust you inside. I was outside insuring the people come inside. He actually chose to hit me with his skateboard. There’s actually a warrant out for his arrest. I have nice video for it.

Luckily, I didn’t get hurt, the way the skateboard hit my head. But there’s a warrant out for his arrest. By the time I realized what happened—you know, I got hit. I started chasing him. He was already far away. But that’s one of a kind. It hasn’t happened before. There’s definitely a number of people who just plain get angry at me. Even though it’s not personal, for some reason they take it out on me, because they feel like it’s—it is partly up to me. You know, I make the decisions. But they think that no one else is paying and they are.

And when that comes, they’re thinking that I just—because I, for some reason, don’t like them. And I try and find ways to explain that it’s not personal, and that it’s because we’re busy. And because they don’t have a reservation. But sometimes that’s not enough. And, yeah. They’re angry at me.

Harris: Yeah. You seem to handle that very well. Just let it roll off your back. Did it ever bother you? Or has it—have you always just been like, whatever?

Kernes: You know, it comes with the territory. There’s plenty of people who are super happy. And they come here all the time. And they’re welcomed in right away. And it goes back to why we have such long lines. It’s a lot of happy customers. It just comes with the territory. There’s plenty of people who love me. And then, there are some who just think I’m an asshole because of the limited interaction they had with me. It happens.

Harris: What do your days look like?

Kernes: Today. If you’re looking at my day, between the emails daytime, to a developer meeting for my new app project.

Riding to that meeting, riding downtown. Running back later to Hell’s Kitchen where I live. And then, having dinner with my co-founder at Queen of Night. I don’t know if you guys have been to the show. It’s a fun show in New York City. It’s dinner and a show on Broadway at the Paramount Hotel. And it’s supposed to be a kinky experience.

Harris: You’re here mostly weekend nights as well as during the week. How do you maintain a social life?

Kernes: Actually, that’s part of the job. Having a very interesting social life. And I guess a lot of times, with the position of being the doorman, in that territory of knowing the guests, you have to be somewhat of a socialite, I guess.

I’m a married man. So, between my wife, who works in the hotel industry, we have a lot of friends who work in the industry. I run restaurants and other establishments. So, while I work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the rest of the week at night leaves us open for going out and experiencing new cocktails bars. And a lot of times, I’ll invite clients and friends who I’m looking to get closer, and I am getting closer, and people that I enjoy spending time with.

Some of my friends have bikes, and we ride to the beach on Friday, in the afternoon. Discovered that Jacob Riis has horrible service. Not going back there. Whereas Jones Beach West End, empty beach. Really nice, quiet. And it has great service on the phone. So, I can do my emails while I’m tanning. Or you know, hang out with friends on the beach. So, I think the social life is interesting combination of always being active. And that’s part of the industry personal mantra.

And if you’re not always visible and doing something interesting and cool, people lose interest in yourself. It’s not a regular nine to five job. It’s a nine to five at night. And like I said, the variables are always different, even though it’s the same location.

Harris: It’s five minutes to five now. And the doors are going to open soon. What’s the first thing you’re going to do, right after this interview is over?

Kernes: So, personally, because I’m not in charge of the operations of the venue, I don’t have to be on site at essentially any given point.

I can do my emails from a coffee shop, or meeting anywhere I’d like. So, after this, I actually have a meeting scheduled with a clothing jeans company. They just need to alter my jeans. Part of the job I think is an appearance thing. So, when I’m front, if I’m telling guests that they need to come in and dress accordingly, I have to that myself. You know.

Nirvana had a right song. You know, monkey see, monkey do. And I can’t tell someone that they’re not properly dressed if I’m not doing it myself. Then dinner meeting with the cofounder of my app. We’ve just successfully raised a good amount of money to grow the business. And in between it all, I’ll still be on my phone, and my emails, and my computer. Any time someone gives me a call, I try to become available. My wife definitely hates when I answer phones when we’re having dinner.

But depending who it’s coming from, I’ll definitely try and answer. It’s an eventful day. And my day does not stop at 5 o’clock. Nor does it start. It’s a continuous flow throughout the day. As soon as you wake up, you know. A popular term in New York City, I think, is hustle. And it’s another key word for the industry. Just lots of hustle. Always giving—always moving forward.

Harris: Thanks for listening to this episode of Working. You can find out more about Aleksey Kernes and Hotel Chantelle at hotelchantelle.com.

And when he’s not busy running around all over the place and being front of house manager, Aleksey also has what he calls a membership cocktail rewards program, which is called, wait for it, Hooch App. And you can find the app at hoochapp.com. Join me next week when we’ll find out, “How does a debate moderator work?” I’ll talk with John Donvan, the longtime ABC News correspondent, who also hosts the debate series Intelligence Squared U.S.

Send us your feedback about the show to working@slate.com. And there’s lots more where this came from. Explore our first two seasons at slate.com/working. This episode was produced by Matt Collette. Joel Meyer is out managing producer. And our executive producer is Andy Bowers. I’m Aisha Harris. See you next time on Working.

This podcast extra is part of your Slate Plus membership.

Harris: If I’m at Hotel Chantelle and I want to get a drink at the bar, and it’s like 1 a.m., like prime time, everyone’s there, what’s the best way for me to get a drink without any hassle, but not be an asshole about it?

Kernes: Eye contact and have cash in your hand. Just keep in mind that the bartender is there doing a job. And he’s trying to do the best job he can and service everyone promptly. Having eye contact. And a lot of times, bartenders will give you an indication that you’re next.

They’ll wave at you. And having cash in your hand, they’ll respond to that quite well as well. That means, you know, they make money. And cash tips are definitely a good value for them. So, I guess those two things.