encounter

Disco Is Back

A night at the door with the legendary bouncer.

Outside Temple Bar, which reopened last month. Photo: Poupay Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
Outside Temple Bar, which reopened last month. Photo: Poupay Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
Outside Temple Bar, which reopened last month. Photo: Poupay Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet

It’s Friday night in Manhattan, and the weather has started to turn cold. A gaggle of 20-somethings round the corner of Bleecker and Lafayette, the group’s leader clad in black boots, high-waisted jeans, and a black crop top, her blonde hair styled in loose curls. They walk up to the door at Temple Bar — the newly reopened “downtown Bemelmans” that harkens back to the heyday of ’90s glam and oversize martinis — with a momentum that indicates they aren’t used to being stopped.

“Do you have a reservation?” asks Disco, the bar’s six-foot-seven doorman, hands tucked into his pockets.

“No,” says the crop-topped captain.

“You need a reservation,” Disco replies, calmly.

She asks how to make one, and he explains that she can call the bar. The woman then tries to find a number on Google, or a Resy link, or something, but she can’t figure it out, or successfully reserve a table at the press of a button, and grows frustrated. Disco reiterates that, unfortunately, without a reservation, she and her party cannot enter at this time.

“But you told me I could make a reservation,” she responds, testily.

The accusation, or maybe it’s the tone, doesn’t sit well with Disco: “I did not say that.”

Eventually, the group realizes they won’t win, and they stomp off, almost definitely unaware that they’ve just been granted access to a different kind of club: the thousands, or possibly even hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have been politely turned away at the door by Disco.

Anyone who’s anyone who went out in the late-’90s and early-2000s knows Disco when they see him. He’s worked the doors at various bars and nightclubs in New York for about 25 years, most notably at Bungalow 8, which he says still holds the honor of being “the hardest door in the city.” Carrie Bradshaw once described it on Sex and the City as a “completely pretentious, members-only, tiny, crowded club, that you need a key to get into.” The club’s founder, Amy Sacco, did give out membership cards to a select few regulars, but Disco helped handle the rest.

“He was really the best,” Sacco tells me of Disco’s Bungalow 8 days. “He just has a great sensibility and kindness.” She trusted him to be her eyes and ears, regulating the crowds outside — never too many dudes — while also sifting through them for the “right” people. “He was the one to look and see if someone, you know, appeared to fit into the picture that we tried to build,” she explains, in her own polite way.

Of course, that included the rich and famous. Bungalow 8 was known for being a safe space where VIPs like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton could let loose, unbothered. (“There’s a story that we turned Paris away, but we never turned her away,” Sacco clarifies. “I think she came once at 5 a.m. and we were closed.”) No phones were allowed inside, and unlike the megaclubs that eventually surrounded it, it had a limited capacity of around 125. Benicio Del Toro, a regular, once likened it to his “living room.”

Because the space was so small, every person who entered had to bring something special to the room. Good looks and money certainly helped, but even that wasn’t a guarantee. Sacco recalls vetoing billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban one night: “I’m sure he’s a lovely guy, but he brought 30 guys in golf outfits,” she says. “We couldn’t let him in.”

It was Disco who had the difficult and sometimes unpleasant job of telling these people: Not tonight. “Because of his size, he’s an intimidating picture to look at, if you don’t know him,” explains Sacco. “But people respect him because he’s a gentleman.”

In the daylight hours, Disco is a family man, originally from Brooklyn. Growing up, he wasn’t necessarily a club kid, “but I was always fascinated by the door guys,” he says. He remembers reading a Sunday magazine profile of a bouncer once — “some white guy from Long Island” — and realizing that they weren’t just “big guys who throw people out.”

His own first club job was at a place called Vibes on Flatbush Avenue. There, he met a man named Thian, who was so impressed by Disco’s strong handshake, he asked if he wanted to come work Sundays at Don Hill’s across the bridge. The biggest difference in Manhattan? “Over here, you’re dealing with knuckleheads with money, and you can’t tell them no,” Disco says. “They’re like, No? Do you know who I am??” They try to buy their way in. Most of the time, he’s able to shrug them off, but sometimes things escalate. He tells me one of the worst things anyone’s ever said to him after being denied entry was “I could buy you, sell you back, and buy you again if I wanted to.”

“You can’t be nice to everyone, because they’ll take advantage,” he says. “So that’s why you have to have a tough skin sometimes.”

After Don Hill’s, Disco worked the door at places like the COOP, Chameleon Lounge, and Life, which opened in the late-’90s in the West Village. It was there that he got his name, when the head of security at the time told him in passing, “You’re bigger than fucking disco.” The next week “Disco” was on his paycheck, and the name stuck.

While working at Chaos on East Houston, Disco met Armin Amiri, whom he calls “one of the greatest door guys in the city.” Amiri was in tune with the movers and shakers of the scene at the time, and Sacco hired him when she opened Bungalow 8 in 2002. Amiri brought Disco onboard and became something of a mentor to him.

“When I got to Bungalow, Armin said, ‘Do your homework,’” Disco recalls. Before his shifts, he would watch shows like Entertainment Tonight and study famous faces. (He won’t dish on celebrity run-ins, but when I bring up George Clooney, he replies, “Georgie!” with a grin, which perhaps says it all.)

Recognizing celebrities is the “easy” part of the job, Sacco says. The real challenge is knowing the regulars, the people on the list, and those who potentially could be. “That’s how a great place works,” she explains. “Knowing the balance of the energy of the room, and when you can make an exception for someone, and when you can’t.”

Disco’s bullshit detector is innately fine-tuned, but he’s also got a keen eye for style. “You know what I do? I look at someone, and I look at the clothing they’re wearing,” he says of his vetting process. “That’s how I know.”

On the night we meet outside Temple, Disco is dressed not in the expected bouncer uniform — “I wore black for so long, I hate it,” he says — but instead in head-to-toe Polo, with a quilted Ralph Lauren hunting coat on top. He’s an avid sneaker collector and points out his pristine, white Pharrell Human Race Stan Smiths, which pop with pink laces.

At every place he’s worked, Disco tries to enforce an unspoken dress code. “I don’t believe in shorts,” he states. “Don’t come to me looking like you just came from a bonfire.” Fashion has relaxed over the years, but it’s always been a struggle. “I mean, you had some celebs — I’m not going to mention any names — but they would come to Bungalow with pajamas on, like they just got out of bed.” He shakes his head. “They’d be like, ‘Disco! What’s up?’ And I’d be like, ‘Just go in, man. You’re good.’ But oh, Lord.”

Those who have been given Disco’s blessing over the years remember him fondly. “Guys will come up to me now and say, ‘Thank you! Because of you, I met my wife,’” he says with a laugh. (Disco also met his wife at Bungalow.)

But, of course, the people who don’t make the cut still try to negotiate their way in; Disco’s heard it all. In the old days, people would flash a business card to prove their worth. Then it was “Google me!” Now, it’s all about followers. “You have very young, rich knuckleheads now, because everyone’s an Instagram millionaire,” Disco sighs. “I was working at a place and one of the bouncers asked this girl for her ID, and she was like, ‘Excuse me? I have a million followers on Instagram,’” he recalls. “We get a lot of that. Everybody is an Instagram celeb. But it’s like, You’re not a celeb, you’re on Instagram. A bunch of nerds who sit in front of computers look at you. You’re not a celeb. I’m sorry.”

Temple Bar, which reopened last month under new ownership, is an attempt to bring back the discretion and intimacy of the original. Other than the signature chameleon skeleton, there’s no sign outside, and the lights are kept low so anyone who dares to pick up their phone instantly sticks out. When one of the bar’s partners reached out to Sacco to ask who might help set the tone at the door, she knew there was no one better than Disco. “Immediately, it puts the golden seal on your club to have him outside,” she says. “If I ever come back, he’s coming back with me, so they better enjoy him while they have him.”

For his part, Disco says he’s enjoying Temple Bar’s more “adult” clientele, some of whom are Bungalow 8 veterans, and his hours are a little earlier than they were at 1Oak, where he worked security before the pandemic. His job now includes checking vaccination cards, but his attitude hasn’t changed. “The way you approach that door — that’s the whole thing,” he explains. “I don’t want to hear who you are, how much money you make, or who your family is.” Ultimately, his job is to be an arbiter of good energy, and he takes this responsibility as seriously as ever. “Just come to the door like you have common sense,” is his advice to the newcomers. “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”

A Night at the Door With New York’s Most Legendary Bouncer