Three Des Moines bouncers unleash memories of life protecting the door. The best moments. The worst situations. And the laugh-out-loud incidents.
The Des Moines area is home to nearly 300 bars. Not all have security personnel in place, but when it comes to the busier entertainment districts, bouncers can almost always be found at the door and roaming the floor. Whether it’s private, uniformed detail or in-house plainclothes security, they are there keeping a watchful eye on the flock and ready to lend a helping hand. CITYVIEW spoke to three such men and learned about their entertaining stories.
Some bar owners hire outside private security from firms like Midwest Security Patrol and Investigations. The local company was founded in 2015 by Jerry Murphy, who saw a need for more professional security downtown.
“From there, we’ve expanded and have multiple divisions underneath us from armed security, unarmed security to plainclothes, uniformed officers — as well as a private investigation division, an exterior training division and then a patrol car division,” Andrew Cooper, director of training and public relations for the company, says. “We’re really just trying to be the best private public safety we can.”
In the company’s early years, 100 percent of its business was nightclub security. As the company expanded, Cooper says it is now 30-35 percent. Currently Midwest Security Patrol provides nightclub security for 15 accounts in the Des Moines area, with many of those being bars in the Court Avenue district. Cooper says he can’t discuss specifics for privacy reasons, but his team is easy to spot by the large, silver letters “MWSP” emblazoned on the back of their shirts. About 70 part-time and full-time officers are employed by the company, and about a dozen of them are female.
His team consists of “highly trained professionals.” All are I-PACT certified through the State of Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, a program that trains to look for fake IDs and minors attempting to enter bars. Midwest Security Patrol also has its own security training program that teaches verbal compliance techniques and defensive tactics. The company employs several former National Guardsmen and former police officers.
“Most of my officers are not small people. We have some very large men. I’m 6 foot, 5 inches. When I have to go and work in the field, it’s not very difficult, but the drunks make it a little bit more interesting,” Cooper says.
Hailing from east Texas, Cooper has the slightest of drawls and a no-nonsense tone. Off-duty, he wears cowboy boots. He’s been working security for nine years and has made it his full-time profession.
“I started security when I was 19. I didn’t have any background in it, and I’ve worked my way up to where it is now. So I like taking the young kids that have nothing when it comes to this and being able to help train them and teach them and show them it’s a viable career,” Cooper says.
Naturally, one the of biggest issues for bar security is patrons trying to enter with fake IDs, and this is where bouncing begins.
“Your first level of security at any night club/bar security is your door guy,” Cooper says. “Some of the funny stuff is you’ll have people come in with somebody’s ID that’s clearly not them. So you’ll have a little white girl come in with a black man’s ID. That’s personally happened to me. I’ve seen it where girls will go into a separate pocket for their fake ID while you clearly see their real ID sitting there in the front of their wallet.”
Cooper says IDs are confiscated nightly.
“We’ll have bars that will pull countless IDs every night,” he says, stating that the most he remembers is 25. If the IDs are determined to be of a real person, they are turned in to police. If they are determined to be fake, police say to destroy them.
Fights are another common scenario for security. For Cooper, in particular, the problem is with drunk patrons wanting to fight him.
“It’s ‘big bad man’ wanting to showcase that he can’t be kicked out of the bar by somebody else. That’s our big issue for me personally — unfortunately,” Cooper laughs. “I’ve been doing this for nine years, and most of my interactions have been because somebody’s smaller than me, and they’re like ‘Well I’m going to show that I’m tougher than you.’
Cooper says he prefers to avoid the fights.
“No, we’re not going to play this game,” he says. “There’s really never any winners in fights. Doesn’t matter if you do it the proper way or not. You’ll always hurt something, damage something, you’ll come out sore.”
Cooper, who plays rugby on the weekends, says that’s how you know when you’re done working in the field.
“For my experience, last month (January) I put 16 people in jail and I had three times where I had to get looked at. That was my busiest month I’ve had in almost all my career. It was a very sore month.”
He notes that he and his officers have never sustained major injuries, then knocks on wood.
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, Cooper and his team are preparing and have been since January, as it’s one of their biggest, along with New Year’s Eve. For those two notorious drinking holidays, Cooper says they choose to over-staff.
“One of our accounts doubles the amount of officers they have (for St. Patrick’s Day), so I think we’ll be rocking probably close to 30 officers at one account,” he says.
South of Court Avenue is a bar named 300 Craft and Rooftop. The establishment employs its own in-house security. Xavier Dupree is the former head of security for the bar. He began his bouncing journey in 2012 while attending the University of Iowa.
“I worked at Blue Moose,” he says. “It was kind of by chance. I was doing some summer school things, and a buddy of mine’s cousin had just quit at this bar. I thought it said Blue Lagoon at first,” Dupree laughs.
“I’m thinking it’s like a shop or something, and it’s actually a bar with shows and whatnot,” he says. “They needed a bouncer; they had a show that night. He just kind of stopped showing up, and I was like, ‘Yeah it’s fine. I have free time right now.’ It fit me. I’m outgoing anyway, and a bigger guy.”
At 6 foot 4 inches tall, Dupree was seemingly built to bounce. He also works in marketing and as a personal trainer.
“I like the environment,” he says. “I meet a lot of people. People think working at a bar is partying and whatnot, which it is, but (it is also) a lot of networking, meeting a lot of people. I’ve made a lot of close friends, business associates. Bunch of things.”
He even met the future mother of his now almost 2-year-old son while working at the Blue Moose.
“I’ve met a lot of people that were up and coming at the time that are now famous. Like Wiz Khalifa, Yelawolf, Machine Gun Kelly, Hopsin.”
Sometimes after the shows, he would be invited to hang out with artists on their tour buses.
“A lot of fun times,” he smiles.
After Iowa City, Dupree moved to Des Moines and has been living here on and off for the last four and a half years.
Since making the move, he’s worked security detail at 300, Tipsy Crow, Wooly’s, Up Down (where he primarily works now) and Joker’s. (Joker’s closed in February 2018 and reopened in March 2018 as Shags).
While at Joker’s, Dupree was often assigned to the VIP area and recounts when UFC fighter Nate Diaz stopped by.
“This was after he fought Conor McGregor, so it was a big deal at the time. He beat him, too. That was cool. He’s a pretty chill dude, pretty down to Earth. He was worried about his girlfriend finding out about all the different girls he had in VIP, so he was like ‘My girl’s gonna kill me, bro!’ That was fun,” he says.
Unfortunately, the VIP area at Joker’s wasn’t always so jovial.
“A lot of people were drinking, they’re having a good time, they’re throwing money and stuff, but their egos clash. You try to separate people almost fighting, and the groups of friends fighting, which would end up being like 20 people fighting. People get into fights, and they roll pretty deeply. It’s 10 people in groups, and they’re not small people. It’s decent sized guys,” Dupree says.
Interestingly, he sees more fights among women than men.
“Girls get in fights over stupid stuff, like ‘She bumped into me!’ ”
He described an incident at Tipsy Crow over the summer that started as a misunderstanding and then trickled.
“One group was trying to be cool, like ‘Hey, chill out, it’s not that big of a deal,’ and the other group was like, ‘Oh chill out? You wanna chill out?’ And one girl fights, then another girl fights, and their friends jump in — and it chills out, it stops. You’re like OK, we’re good, and then somebody throws a water out of nowhere and it hits this girl, and you would’ve thought it was a freaking hammer or something.
“She just went off. It was crazy. A girl’s husband tried to break it up, and he gets hit in the face on accident. He pushes a girl off him, and it’s someone’s girlfriend, and he (her boyfriend) sees red and says, ‘Did you touch my girl?’ And he says ‘No, I’m trying to separate,’ and then he hits the guy in the face. I’m just trying to pull girls off.”
Is one altercation enough to get banned from a bar for life? Dupree says not usually, but someone who is a habitual offender certainly will.
“I know five people who are banned, just from stupid stuff,” he says.
A few incidents of assault or harassment will rightly do the trick. Dupree knows of people getting banned from 300, Tipsy Crow, Beechwood Lounge, Hero’s, Voodoo Lounge and Locust Tap. He says they are frequently one of the “psycho exes” of one of the bar’s staff members.
Non-psycho exes appear, too, and Dupree has had it cause strife in his relationships.
“It takes a special person to deal with somebody who works at a bar because there’s a lot of temptation, there’s a lot of people hitting on you,” he says. “Not to sound cocky, but I’m kind of used to it now.”
Fake IDs are less of a concern for Dupree. He doesn’t work the door as much anymore and instead is inside roaming around. He commonly works to de-escalate situations before they turn violent and only gets physical with patrons as a last resort. But exactly how often has he had to get physical?
“A least a good dozen times. Especially at concerts,” he says.
Cooper describes how people would jump on the stage, get rowdy and start fighting quite often but rarely escalating to anything serious.
“In my experience, I can just say, ‘Hey, get out.’ Or tell somebody, ‘Hey, take care of that person’ or give them a little death stare and they’re like ‘OK, my fault, man,’ ” he says.
“Two nights ago, this guy was in the women’s bathroom just really drunk. There was a show at Wooly’s, and he would not get out. Other guys were kind of intimidated by him, and I was like ‘Bro, you gotta get out.’ I don’t think he knew where he was at. He was kind of being difficult, and then he turned around and saw me and said, ‘OK I’ll just get out.’ I was like, ‘You should probably just leave the venue.’ ”
Similar to other bouncers and security, Dupree’s physical presence is sometimes all it takes to end a sketchy situation.
“There are some guys that aren’t as big that won’t be as intimidating looking. Having size and height helps out, or just run with a pack of good people. Most of the time if a situation becomes bigger, we tend to have two or three guys in one situation so it makes people second guess.
“If you fight me, you’re not just fighting me; you’re fighting the whole bar,” he says, mentioning an incident at Joker’s when a patron took a swing at a smaller bartender, and then immediately had seven security members on him.
It seems drunk bar-goers wanting to fight the physically imposing bar security is a common occurrence. Just like Andrew Cooper and Xavier Dupree, current 300 bouncer Reshard Simmons is often challenged to fight.
Standing 6 foot, 5 inches tall, the 28-year-old from Brighton, Florida, began working at 300 two years ago. He also works with children and tries to give back when he can. When he’s not doing that, he works as a personal trainer. A defensive lineman for the Iowa Barnstormers, Simmons went to 300 to meet up with other Barnstormers who were working security there Upon walking in, he was immediately offered a security job by the manager.
“I’d never bounced/done security in my life,” Simmons says. “I was like ‘I’m down.’ ’’
In the beginning, there was an adjustment period.
“This year has been pretty good,” he says. “First year, probably got in four or five fights. I think probably because I know more of the crowd now, they know me. I’m chill until something happens. That’s when I’ve got to do my job.”
He’s learned a thing or two since then.
“It’s how you make it. You have some people that want to be Billy Bad Ass all the time, and it’s not even about that. At the end of the day, you’ve got to give respect to earn it. The crowd will respect you if you respect the crowd. You don’t want to start fights, because that’ll cause problems with you,” he continues. “Every security is different. You got your hard ass, you got your bad ass, and your one who is bad ass but doesn’t need to be a bad ass 24/7. I think I’m in-between. You ask anyone that knows me up there, and they’ll tell you the same. I don’t get that mad unless my buttons are pushed.”
An all-too-common on-the-job-occurrence for Simmons?
“Not even trying to brag, I don’t know what is, I’m always getting hit on. And I get asked the weirdest questions. A lady last night, she was drunk, she asked me in front of everybody ‘Can I make out with you?’ I’m like ‘No!’ ”
A less fun common occurrence?
“Some people get really drunk, and they can’t control themselves, and they pass out. Nine times of 10, they’re with a group. Sometimes the group can’t even do anything.”
Simmons says he always asks if he can help out those in need, noting that most people have been where they are before at some point in their lives.
“I’ll probably carry them downstairs and tell them to call an Uber,” he says. “Twice I called an Uber for someone. It was literally like down the street, so $5 or $10. It was nothing. At the end of the day, you don’t want to see anyone leave here and try to drive. My boss does the same thing,” he says.
“We’re not here to hurt anyone or judge anyone, we’re here to help you. Anything that happens, we’re the first ones there. I look at it as another helping hand in the area. We’re not the bad guys,” Simmons says with a smile. ♦
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*info from www.nydailnews.com and www.imdb.com ♦