The first time Hank Williams kicked someone out of the club, the club happened to be his house.
A decade ago, Williams hosted punk and metal shows at The Thrashitorium, a squat little ranch house he rented on Wake Forest Road. Before one concert, while the opening band was away eating dinner, a kid got behind the drums and started causing chaos. He refused to stop until the band member who had stuck around started pounding him from above. Williams rushed into the room, put them both in headlocks, and ejected them both before kicking the band off the bill.
“That was the first vivid time I could remember handling something,” says Williams, obscured partially by shadows cast by the late-afternoon sun that creeps through the blinds of his ground-floor apartment near downtown Raleigh. “That hit home with me.”
In the years since, Williams has handled a lot more. Behind the scenes, he still books some of the best heavy shows in the Triangle. But in his more public role, Williams, a thirty-three-year-old born in Rex Hospital in 1982, has served as the doorman and bouncer for a long list of Raleigh restaurants, bars, and clubs. These days, he sits in the alcoves of the new dive bar Ruby Deluxe and near the elevated threshold of Capital Club 16, checking IDs and sometimes checking attitudes.
If you’ve been to a bar in downtown Raleigh, you’ve probably seen Williams, tattoos peeking from beneath a black T-shirt and a heavy-metal patch jacket. As he scowls from behind glasses and a mess of bushy brown hair and a beard that aims downward like an arrow, maybe you’ve been intimidated by him.
But Williams isn’t so scary. A lover of professional wrestling with a laugh that practically cackles, he prides himself on being a mild-mannered, patient professional who’s quicker to slap someone on the back and call them “bud” than kick them out.
Apparently, I used to say, “Why does Daddy go to work with a boomstick?”
When Jake Wolf from Capital Club 16, my boss, met my dad, the first thing he said to him was that they sleep easy on the weekends when they know I’m there. Before I got to Capital Club, people were trashing that place, ripping shit off the walls. People weren’t treating the space with respect. I feel like my vibe is, if somebody is messing up, someone will say, “Hey, man, if Hank sees you doing that, you’re gonna be in trouble.” It has worked. That’s awesome: I don’t even have to get up.
A lot of it is hereditary. My dad was a bouncer at the Foxy Lady for twenty years. He wasn’t the door guy; he was the owner’s bodyguard. At that point, he was working as a mechanic during the day, a bouncer there at night, and a carpenter on the weekend. All he knew was bad-motherfucker status. I remember one of his friends telling me they were scared to death of him. Why? “Because he could beat all of us up, and he’s read more books than all of us combined.”
That’s why I’m laid back, and I’ll deal with people’s shit. I vividly remember growing up and being like, “It has to suck to get that mad all the time.” It wasn’t that weird for my dad to have to go to court when I was about seven. He usually got out of it.
I rode around with him yesterday, and, even after a heart attack and being in his sixties, he’s still just screaming at people in traffic. He’s not wrong; he’s just wound tight.
My mom, on the other hand, was a biker-bar/motel bartender for twenty-five years. I got a lot of my personality and the ability to deal with other people from her. Also, I wanna throw the party! I got that from her. One of those things I learned from my mom is that if you can go with the flow of any party, you can make a lot of money.
A lot of people who see me but don’t know me just know I’m the door guy. They probably perceive me as not being as laid back as I actually am. My approach is don’t let anyone get under your skin. Be cool. Convince these people that they’re dealing with the coolest guy they ever could. That goes a long way when someone is messing up and all of a sudden you’re like, “Hey, cut that out.” It counts because you’re not like that off the bat. It’s like the cool-mom scenario; if the cool mom gets mad, it counts.
I’m not gonna not let somebody in because they’re buzzed, but I’m definitely not gonna let somebody in if they don’t even know how to carry themselves enough to pull their ID out. I’m pretty lax, but I’m there to keep people out if it looks like they’re going to do something. There have been times when people have been smoking weed in front of Capital Club. “Get that outta here!” They look at me and are like, “You’re gonna tell us to stop smoking weed?” I say, “Look, I’m not gonna tell you to not smoke weed. I’m gonna tell you to not smoke weed right there. You’re gonna get the restaurant in trouble, and then nobody can come here.” They get that. It works.
I’ve always said that I’m pretty good at knowing the fine line between fun and fucked up. If somebody wants to rip an inanimate object that’s not a part of the building up and go nuts, for your average person, they’d say, “Get that guy out of here. He’s going crazy.” I’d laugh, say I guess he’s not really hurting anything, and let it play out before I react. It crosses the line when it’s real property destruction or affecting the vibe of other people. There doesn’t have to be rules if you know what’s going on, if we all have the common sense we should have by the time we’re ten. There’s also the fine line between someone just blowing off steam and someone bringing their problems into the public.
I know it seems like I’m just standing there not doing anything, but, really, I’m soaking everything in. There are probably fifty people around Raleigh that I wouldn’t even know existed if it wasn’t for my job. I know their quirks. I know who they hang out with. I know if a couple is about to break up two weeks before they do, because I know their body language. I know more about them than I should, because my job is just about observing the situation. With that Capital Club job, you never know who’s wandering around.
There was one night, for example, when me and some friends from Valient Thorr went to a wrestling match. We had a blast. Later, Herbie from Valient Thorr was schmoozing with Jeff Hardy, the wrestler, and some others at another bar. I go to work, and this creep shows up. He’s somebody that used to come to my house shows, and back then I had a lot of women come up to me and say, “That guy sends me really creepy sexual messages on MySpace.”I didn’t kick him out. I just gave him a dose of his own medicine and made him feel really uncomfortable. He left.
Fast-forward a week before the night at Capital Club. The guy walks by me and goes, “Fuck you, you motherfucker,” and he growls. It happened so fast, and it was so many years after the fact, it took a minute for everything to sink in. It was so random.
Post-wrestling, I’m at work. I’m away from the door for two seconds, and I feel like he was around, just waiting for me not to be at the door. I go back to my spot. He walks out, and he’s got a drink in his hand. I’m like, “Hey man, what’s up? Do we need to talk about something?” He said, “What are you talking about?”
So, this is how we are gonna do this?
I said, “So you’re gonna act like you didn’t walk by, flip me off, and curse at me a week ago?” He said, again, “What are you talking about?” I said, “All right, man, well you’re not treating the employees right here. You gotta go.”
I yank the drink out of his hand, and I put my hand on his shoulder: “Dude, you need to start walking that way.” He goes to punch me. I lock him up, and he’s just squirming. Ten minutes go by, and as this is happening, Jeff Hardy goes by. They’re hanging out, yucking it up. The cops come and they’re basically yelling at me. He finally left. After that, when I put my glasses back on, Jeff Hardy said, “That was a sick front face-lock, bro.” They came in the restaurant and hung out. It ended up being a really crazy night.
Fights like that haven’t happened a lot, maybe a half-dozen times in four years. They’ll get to me every now and then, but, for the most part, I know how to talk to people in a civil way that makes them realize they’re messing up. I’ve learned that calling people a bunch of names isn’t going to help you.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Mild-Mannered Mettle”