A night in the life of a Club 301 doorman

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Noah Wright , Contributor

Stepping into Club 301, you are met with the bright lights of neon signs, the faint sound of billiard balls being hit into each other and fighting not to be overpowered by the music blasting from the dance floor and the sight of a crowded bar as patrons wait patiently for their next drink.  

While popular culture often emphasizes the exploits of the bartenders in bar scenes like this one, there’s another pivotal role in a bar that is often overlooked.

“I’m the first and last person they see, so I set the tone for their night,” David (Dave) Hartless, says as he stands by the front door. Hartless is a political science and public relations major and bouncer at Club 301, and has written previously for The Observer.

As security at Club 301, a popular club on the corner of Pearl and Third in downtown Ellensburg, Hartless sits as a silent enforcer ensuring that patrons are legally entering the establishment and everyone is acting properly while inside. 

“I come from a long line of bar people,” Hartless says. “My whole life I watched family working at bars, my grandfather even ran a political campaign out of a bar.”

The Observer shadowed Hartless on Saturday, Nov. 20, from around 9:30 p.m. until the bar closed to see what a night of bouncing looks like from the inside.

The Night Begins – 9:30 p.m.

“You have to make sure everything lines up,” Hartless says as he begins checking the licenses of patrons as they enter. “Is it still valid? Do people just hand a [vertical] I.D. and say they are 21?” 

In between checking people, Hartless tells me that he was born in Mountain View, California but his family moved to Seattle in 1988, when he was six, to live with his grandmother. 

The same reason for coming to Seattle “brought us out to Ellensburg [in 1990]. My mom’s best friend at the time told us to move out here because it was cheaper and it gave her an opportunity to get us out of the city.” 

A bouncer by night, by day Hartless is also an athletic tutor and study hall monitor in the library. He says that in these roles, he feels his responsibility is to help guide students down the right path towards success. 

“There’s talking the talk and walking the walk. I hear people say, ‘You motivated me to do this.’ I don’t live to hear that. I just prefer to lead by example without the need for acknowledgment,” Hartless says.

The Masses Arrive – 11 p.m. 

A couple of hours in, there is a visible change in the level of intoxication. Hartless has seen 227 licenses and due to shouting and screaming, you can hardly make out any sound.  

“I’m always scanning, but around this time I get a feel for how the night is going to play out,” Hartless says. “I start looking and noting how people are acting.”

Around this time, Hartless and Bar Manager Nate Horton shut down the pool tables that sit in the front area of the bar. The two exchange no words, just hand signs. “Nate and I have gotten so good at non-verbal communication,” Hartless says.

With over 15 years working together, as Horton explains, this relationship is not surprising. 

“He’s been doing it for 20 years. I’ve been doing it for 20 years. There isn’t much that he and I combined can’t handle,” Horton says. 

Describing a night when a fight broke out, Horton had to scrap with someone who was 6 foot 3 inches, but he was not worried because he knew Dave had his back.

Hartless explains later that fighting is something that’s both common and uncommon in bouncing. He says he doesn’t ever want to get physical, but if the situation becomes hostile then he has to act accordingly. 

“If a fight breaks out, how do I handle the hostile situation?” Hartless says. “If I make a mistake, I could potentially hurt everyone at the bar and everyone I work with. And I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

Many of his coworkers mention Hartless’s protectiveness throughout the night. 

“He cares about everyone that comes in here,” Horton says. “There was a reason he was a groomsman at my wedding.” 

Bartender Joseph Yoro agreed, “He’s softer than he looks.” 

After Midnight 

The night was mostly uneventful, until 12:30 a.m. when Hartless assists in removing a patron for an unexplained reason.

At this point in the night, the doors to Club 301 start becoming very crowded as people come in and out with regularity.

“I can read a fight about to happen because of how the crowd moves,” Hartless says. “If I see everyone moving in one direction at the same time then I know it’s time to go into action.”

Following this incident, Hartless tells me one of his most memorable nights working. 

“One night, we cut off somebody but his friend got him a drink … The guy who tried to buy the drink argued with us, but we cut him off as well,” Hartless says. “He did not like me and started threatening my life.”

According to Hartless, while this was happening, one of the regulars came in with a present for a bartender and saw the altercation. 

“He put on dinosaur slippers, which were the present, and thought the best way to help the situation was to make dinosaur noises with the slippers,” Hartless says. “Here I am trying not to laugh while this guy is literally threatening my life.”

During the night, Hartless demonstrates his carefree and laid back demeanor, which may be a result of how he maintains a healthy work and life balance. 

“Be good to yourself, be good to others, live with empathy and passion and most importantly take an hour a day for yourself,” Hartless says. “I take an hour a day and don’t do anything I don’t want to do … but it has to be healthy stuff.”

Hartless explains that due to the late hours he works and the early time he gets up, he doesn’t have a lot of time for recreation; however, he finds time to unwind.

“I love to walk, even if it’s just to class, I love playing video games and I love reading,” Hartless says. 

During this conversation, most of the bar patrons leave and Horton comes out holding up two fingers and pointing to his ear. Hartless tells me this means there are two songs left. 

Closing Time 

As last call nears, so does “the most dangerous part of the night.”

Hartless explains that this time of the night is so dangerous because if anyone creates problems during the night, this is when they will try to fight. But tonight, nothing happens, as people trickle out slowly. 

“This point in the night is like raking leaves. You can’t get them all at once, you can only get a big clump at a time,” Hartless says. 

With everyone gone, his job is not over just because there is no one left to monitor. Along with the rest of the bar staff, Hartless spends an hour and a half cleaning surfaces, sanitizing the bathroom and taking out the trash. 

According to bar back/DJ Kelsi Mayson and bartender Miranda Hannula, clean-up is one of the moments that they cherish the most about working with Dave. 

Mayson explains that even if the night doesn’t go great, Hartless brings a positivity to the clean-up that can completely turn everyone’s energy. 

“When we do the trash at the end of the night, we do a therapy session and talk to each other,” Hannula says. “This goes on every night.”

Hartless has verified more than 300 licenses this night, a relatively common number for him. 

As he walks out of the building, Hartless says, “Driving home, I listen to talk shows on the radio because after sitting here all night, the last thing I want to do is listen to more music.”

With the place clean and the doors shut, another successful night of safety and fun is complete without any serious problems thanks in no small part to the work of Dave Hartless.