When I typically think of bouncers, an image of a burly, frowning guy in a tight shirt holding an exclusive list comes to mind. They’re slow to let you into the bar and quick to throw you out of it.
Rick Buterbaugh, head of security for Portabella’s Sports Bar and Grille, disagrees. “We’re not there to be the big rough guys in the movies,” he said in a phone interview. “Bouncers—especially here— we’re here to help people when situations arise.”
In contrast to bouncers in the movies, Buterbaugh’s role is less like a thoughtless thug and more like a fun facilitator. “People have fun here,” Buterbaugh said, “We like to help them have fun.”
Lady Gaga may have been one of those people who’s had fun at Port’s, in Middletown, after her temporary move to Lancaster. Buterbaugh expressed his doubts, however: “I don’t know. I’m not able to verify that. I think it’s just a rumor that got out of hand.” He continued, explaining, “There would be pictures all over Facebook.”
Though Gaga may have never visited Port’s, that hasn’t stopped the multitude of college students who frequent the bar every week.
Thursdays are College Nights, and that’s when the typical Port’s work week starts. It’s their busiest night of the week, with upwards of 150 to 200 or so bar-goers coming to have a good time.
The bouncers spend most of their time checking IDs and preventing those who are too intoxicated from entering the bar. Fake IDs are typically not a problem at Port’s, though drunken stupidity can be.
“We’ve caught a few [fake IDs],” Buterbaugh admitted.
Generally it’s people trying to “outsmart” the bouncers that pose a problem. “Some people, once they get in, try to pass their card over the fence to someone standing in line who looks like them. We’ll notice you just came in here 20 minutes ago!” He claimed that sometimes people try to get into the bar with only a year left until they’re 21. “It can ruin your life,” Buterbaugh said sadly. “If we turn in a fake ID…I think the police can make life pretty miserable for you.”
Buterbaugh believes that as bouncers gain more experience with the job, they get to be a better judge of character. “You’ll start recognizing what people will be the problems. You’ll know who’ll be the happy drunks, the sad drunks and who’ll be aggressive drunks that’ll pose a problem,” he said.
Unfortunately, aggressive drunks are a fact of life, and something the bouncers have to deal with from time to time. “Sometimes guys drink too much alcohol,” Buterbaugh admitted, “and there’ll be parking lot instances.”
Buterbaugh dislikes having to deal with such problems. As a bouncer, he must maintain the fun atmosphere of the bar and not inflame the problem. Bouncers have to get the problematic drunks out before everyone else’s good time is interrupted. “My least favorite thing is when people don’t respect us. We try to keep people safe, but they don’t perceive it that way … I don’t like telling people they have to leave,” he said.
Fortunately for Buterbaugh, times at Port’s are usually pretty good. “You meet plenty of strange people…” he trailed off. “I don’t want to make fun of them! Let’s put it this way—happy drunks laugh with you. I like the happy drunks.”
It’s more than just happy drunks that Buterbaugh enjoys interacting with. “I like the regulars—I don’t have to worry about them.” Buterbaugh emphasizes trust, respect and comfort in terms of his relationship with the regulars. He said that if there’s an issue in the bar with a regular involved, it’s easier to determine who’s at fault.
Thankfully for Buterbaugh and the other bouncers, they spend less of their time breaking up fights, and more of their time helping people.
“Alcohol can cause you to make bad decisions. We’ll let you drink some water, get you to eat some chips. We’ve even paid for a taxi to get you home, from time to time,” he said.
Buterbaugh’s willingness to help others have a good time tends to be outside the realm of normal caring. “I’ve even driven people home in my car at the end of the night,” he admitted.
From Buterbaugh’s perspective, bars aren’t just the places where fights occur in the movies, and bouncers aren’t just the people who throw you out.
“We want you to come back,” he explained.
So, the next time you go to Port’s, you’re sure to be greeted with good humor, a good time, and you might even score a ride home with Rick.