Not tonight: the mysteries of night club door policies

From Studio 54 in New York to Berghain in Berlin, clubs have always had a door policy, and some can seem arbitrary. The aim is to get the right mix, says Berghain’s head doorman Sven Marquardt

As long as there have been clubs, there have been door policies. Overseen and implemented by various guardians of the gate, these arbitrary and seemingly pointless rules about who gets to go in and who doesn’t have stood between clubbers and a good night out for years.

Every nightclub, regardless of its size or stature, has some take on these edicts. The meat market discos with a dislike for pricey runners; the allegedly upscale clubs with their regulars-only or members-only fob-offs; the hipper venues with the clipboard-wielding snarky snides: door policies may differ from venue to venue, but they exist in one shape or another wherever you go.

Some policies just revolve around politely saying no to those who’ve obviously had too much to drink on the night. They’re about making sure any potential troublemakers stay on the street side of the door.

Such polite refusals may often cause offence and hence the need for bouncers to usually resemble beefy rugby players after a feast of steroids. As this writer remembers vividly from DJing in some dodgy Dublin dockside clubs over the years, you may often get some of the disgruntled refusals ganging together and rushing the door in order to get in.


What door policies aim to do is ensure that the club gets the right mix of people inside and leaves everyone else outside. Everyone else can then go somewhere else and quote Groucho Marx’s maxim about not wanting to belong to any club who’d have him as a member.

Perfect salad

What “right mix” a club is after can be impossible to work out. Back in the heyday of New York’s Studio 54, club owner

Steve Rubell

wanted the clientele to be “a perfect salad”.

Marc Benecke

was the teenager on the front door who had to make sense of that order and ensure the people who got in resembled a tableaux of rocket, baby leaves and other assorted greens.

It was a task you couldn't apply any logic or algorithm to because it came down to Benecke and Rubell and their whims and predilections. You might be the right person on Thursday, but the wrong person when you returned on Saturday seeking admission. The club and the doormen might remain the same, but the mix may change. As Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards famously found out, fame was also no passport for admission. At least they got Le Freak out of the experience.

But you don't have to look to 1970s New York and a club that allowed Bianca Jagger to ride a horse across the dancefloor on her birthday for an example of strange door policies at work. There's no end of Irish clubs that have engaged similar measures, though most to our knowledge have insisted that patrons leave their horses outside.

During its heyday in the 1990s, Dublin’s Pod was the club that elevated door policies in the capital city to such new heights that it could advertise the presence of its head bouncer on flyers and posters. You may have made the long trek up Harcourt Street for a range of superstar DJs playing house music, but you still had to wait for the nod of “Denis on the door” to get to pay for your ticket. While the door policies changed significantly in the venue’s later years, many still associated the space with exclusivity and notorious door policies because of those early years.

The Berghain mix

In 2014, though, the club that commands all the attention when it comes to door policies is Berghain in Berlin. There are websites and posts devoted to working out what it takes to get into the club, which is located in a disused power plant in the eastern part of the city. The advice columns list what to do (“go alone”) and not to do (“don’t speak English in the queue under any circumstances”) in order to get past the front door. Naturally, there is also an app to help you gauge your chances of getting in.

It’s clear why people would want to go there. An amazing sound system, a fantastic mix of people and a space designed with clubbing in mind are what have made the venue a serious proposition since it opened in 2004. There may be other clubs that attract attention because of size, spectacle or celebrity cachet, but those who want to go to a club for great music rate Berghain ahead of everywhere else.

But while the club may be where the world's finest techno DJs come to play and test that sound system, its door policies mean head doorman Sven Marquardt is probably as well known as anyone who spins at the club or the Panorama Bar upstairs.

Such is Marquardt's fame (or infamy) that he published his memoirs Die Nacht ist Leben in Germany a few months back to great critical acclaim. He has also designed a clothing line for Hugo Boss and receives a lot of attention for his photography work.

When Marquardt talks about the club’s door policy in his book, you’re reminded of Steve Rubell at Studio 54 and his quest for the perfect salad. The aim at Berghain is also to get the right mix, which means, says Marquardt, “the odd lawyer in a double-breasted suit with his Gucci-Prada wife”, “guys in masks and kilts”, “Pamela Anderson blondes in run-of-the-mill high-street outfits”, and “bearded blokes licking the sweat off each others’ armpits”.

It also means room for old, balding Irishmen like this writer who simply turned up, queued and got nodded into the club without any fuss a few Sundays ago. For all I know, Marquardt and his colleagues may operate an hourly quota for old, balding Irish lads (especially those with hands covered in oil because the chain came off their bike on the journey across Berlin to Friedrichshain) and I ticked that box that afternoon.

If you were to park a camera over the club and look at who was let in and who was politely turned away that afternoon, you’d probably be a mite confused. Why are all those smart younger clubbers getting a shake of the head from the bouncer? How come anyone in a group of more than two or three is getting turned away?

But it makes complete sense when you step inside. The club’s door policy is as unpredictable, indefinable and unfathomable as the people who walk up the stairs towards the main dancefloor. It would be as futile to fill Berghain with just bright young things as it would be to only admit those who can remember the city when it had a wall running through it. Mix the ages, genders and sexual orientations, however, and you’ve a much more colourful experience all round.

That, after all, is what the best clubs are all about, that coming-together of so many different people with different backgrounds all in search of a good time. Naturally, those on the inside will nod vigorously in agreement with this assessment, while those outside will fume and moan – or head off to make an app.