Small Hours: The doorman as therapist


LOS ANGELES TIMES

April 30, 2006

By James Verini

IN a business populated by whack-a-mole operators, Andrew Brin has stood steady as a totem at the thresholds of L.A.’s “It” clubs and parties (Guy’s, Spider Club, Monday nights at Les Deux, Tropicana Bar) for the better part of a decade now. He is the gentle Charon of the night, list in hand, chary smile on his face.

Now he’s being rewarded for his patience. He’s been put in charge of the door at the Bridge, the new, shiny Las Vegas-style sort-of-Italian restaurant that is in the process of a cautious “soft opening” on La Cienega. He’ll be overseeing the door and the guest list for parties in the restaurant’s cavernous lounge six nights a week.

Brin has been hired because he knows how to curate a crowd. The owners of Bridge — led by Nick Haque, coming from the wildly successful Koi across the street and its twin in New York — want to avoid the six-month, hip-to-joke half-life that is the fate of so many L.A. spots these days. (As Jay-Z put it: “Grand opening, grand closing.”) That fate comes with too much front-loaded buzz and the wrong kind of fickle crowd. And Bridge has the elements of a burnout: It’s too big, it’s too cold, it’s sure to get written about too much. But Brin, Haque hopes, can help him bypass the BMW short-term-lease set and establish a genuine following.

Why? Because a following is what Brin has built up as a perennial beloved of the L.A. night. It is an unlikely role for him. He is not young, he is not gorgeous, he is not particularly upbeat. (On the contrary, he sometimes has a palpable melancholy about him.) Nor is he greedy or bumptious. Brin has no ambitions to own a place of his own or to promote.

Indeed, what makes Brin fascinating is that he recognizes and represents a truth about this city and its nightlife demimonde: that beneath the coruscating surface is an ingenious paradigm-setting metropolis. (That’s lost on the Hilton chroniclers at US Weekly and other media functionaries in New York.)

At 46, Brin is a big, balding man with a handlebar mustache who recently lost 50 pounds. In a profession sought out by actors hoping to be seen, he looks more like a rectified Hells Angel or someone you might meet at a professional wrestling match (he’d be holding a large popcorn in one hand and be scribbling in a diary with the other). His limbs motor with a patient, lumbering rhythm. He laughs quickly and softly.

Predictably, all of this is what makes him popular among the young and gorgeous and upbeat. That, in turn, is partly what makes him good at his job. Not for nothing does Brin read the kind of French poststructuralist theorists (Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Gilles Deleuze) who see more than most Americans do in American-brand shallowness.

“I get a lot of love,” he said. “These people usually don’t really know me, but I still get a lot of love. And if you know that’s what it is, so what? It still feels good. L.A. is based on that kind of interaction.”

“I’m not having any less fun than they are,” he said of the people who get inside the establishments he guards. “I’m as much a part of the party as they are.”

And he says the “threshold conversations” that make up most of his nights have, like the scene itself, more substance than it may seem.

“There are some people in this town who I see 200 nights a year,” he said, though he admits that only a handful of the thousands of people he’s let into doors have become close friends (we can assume that none of the thousands he’s had to turn away have done so).

One might almost say that Brin lives in the L.A. night but is not of it. Except that he’s also lived out certain of our most cherished canards about the city. He is a refugee of the underbelly who came to L.A., like so many in that shopworn narrative, to escape and recover.

He arrived in Palm Springs in 1998 to live in a rehab clinic, after a promising, creative youth (he has a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design) followed by nearly 20 years of drug addiction and alcoholism. He did a stint in prison for dealing heroin in Minnesota, where he also had a part-time career as a performance artist.

A foot in the door

BRIN is a memory bank of the “planned obsolescence,” as he puts it, of his chosen profession and of L.A. His resume reads like a litany of recently extinguished nightlife fads.

While in a recovery program in 1999, he met the owner of Les Colonial, the once-hot, no-longer-extant restaurant-bar. He tried to be a DJ and then took over the door. He met a lot of celebrities and assorted mavens and soon was assembling guest lists for parties.

“All of a sudden it was one of those scenes,” he said. “It was me and a clipboard and five bouncers with headsets. I was like a made man. As soon as I did that, people started calling, wanting me to do their clubs and parties. It’s not like I had a plan, like ‘I’m going to become the door guy.”

But soon enough Brin did become the door guy. After Les Colonial he moved to the club Guys, owned at the time by the enigmatic promoter who goes by Hartwell. For a brief, shining moment it was the hardest place to get into in L.A. That’s when Guys was good. Then there was the Hollywood club Deluxxx (now defunct), and one of the most interesting weekly parties of recent memory, Cachet, which took place at the restaurant Les Deux (le done, too) on Monday nights. Then there was Spider Club (when it was good), and then Amanda Scheer Demme’s Tropicana Bar at the Roosevelt. No need to rehash its fate.

Brin says that unlike almost every door guy who’s ever lived, he refuses to take money from patrons. (“It feels skanky — like being a hooker. It’s theft, essentially.”) He says he also refuses to take a cut of the bar receipts, as many promoters and list-guys do, because he doesn’t want his job to be dependent on how much people drink.

But Brin is best known for how he turns people away from doors. A part-time therapist (he has a master’s in psychology) and a former counselor at Promises treatment center in Malibu, he takes a clinical approach.

“My philosophy was that nobody who can’t get in should leave pissed off or humiliated,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to take out this parental-anger thing on me. If I know they’re not getting in, I’m calm, I give them attention, I talk to them.”

Soothing as he is, however, Brin still is a Babylonian messenger. He’s the face of acceptance to some and of rejection to many.

“This is a 24-hour job,” he said. “I’ll get a call while I’m in the middle of lunch. It will be some guy. ‘Hey, man, why didn’t you let me into the club last night?’ “