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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Keeping the door and keeping the peace at the Griffin

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Former pro wrestler Alex Tauoa is a bouncer you definitely want on your side.
Photo: Steve Marcus

As the first person met by potential customers, the bouncer might be a bar’s most important employee. There are bad ones—too-tough-for-their-own-good wannabe MMA fighters—and good ones, those who possess a deft touch and ability to put out a fire without chest pounding.

The Griffin in Downtown Las Vegas has consistently hired the latter kind.

In 2007, during the height of the Vegas building boom, a local newspaper editor and I watched bouncer Jevon, a personal trainer and former track star, walk behind a young man carrying a framed print at the Downtown bar. The kid had taken it off the Griffin’s wall and tried to walk out with it. The bouncer stopped him and made him put it back. No police call. No beating or roughing up. End of story.

Speed ahead to last Saturday night. We’re four people, two guys and two girls, sitting at one of the two Griffin fire pits. We’re talking “millennials” and everything Downtown was and hopes to be.

Suddenly, a bemuscled 20-something sits next to us. He’s focusing on the girls; he’s drunk; and we’d seen him dry-humping a support beam minutes earlier. The girls tell him to leave. He stays.

But he seems harmless. The girls ignore him, and he’s sitting by me, so I ask about life working at Nellis Air Force Base. He and his pals are celebrating a birthday. They are four guys and two women; he wants us—meaning the girls—to party with them.

I try to get his mind on something else. I tell him I once flew in an F-15 for a story. If he is being deployed to the Middle East, I mention how interesting it would be if he wrote about it to give people an uncensored view of military life. He looks at me quizzically, then asks what my “GS” is. I tell him I don’t know what he’s talking about.

He stands suddenly, and one of the girls stands, faces him squarely and starts yelling at him to go away, that we didn’t invite him there, that he’s insulting us. I’m sitting; he’s standing, his fists inches from my face. If I stand up, it’s on.

The guy is shell-shocked by her reaction. He sputters that I was “making fun” of him. I’m bracing to get punched and trying to figure out how I’d wrestle the guy to the ground, when one of the bouncers, Alex Tauoa, a massive Samoan and former professional wrestler, quietly sits down next to me. Another bouncer sits on his haunches beside him.

“How’s it going?” he says. “Everything all right?”

Now, I’m expecting things to escalate in the usual fashion: security grabs the drunk; drunk’s buddies get involved; a bar-clearing brawl ensues. But Alex—who is listed as 6-foot, 473 pounds on the Online World of Wrestling Website where he’s also known as King Dabada and Da Butcha and whose finishing move is “Death From Above”—keeps his cool.

One of the girls tells Alex that the military guy was giving me the “stink eye.” Alex raises his eyebrows in surprise. He looks at the military guy and nods in affirmation. Then a moment of recognition hits him. He leans back to get a better look at me.

“Hey, you’re Joe Downtown, right?” He turns to the other bouncer. “Hey, we read you all the time!”

He says it loud enough that the arguers hear, and they stop what they’re doing to look at him.

That disruption is all it takes. The military guy slinks away. One of his friends apologizes on his behalf, then his group leaves. Alex goes back to his station at the door.

And my loyalty to the Griffin grows.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
Tags: Culture, Opinion
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Joe Schoenmann

A native Wisconsinite, Joe earned a journalism degree to get out of college early but wanted none of the craft ...

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