NIU’s bars serve up more than just drinks

By Gretchyn Lenger

It’s 9 p.m. on a Friday and most NIU students of legal age are just beginning to get ready for a night out at DeKalb’s bars. Some are still at happy hour.

Yet there are other students, already at the bars, getting ready to check the IDs, serve the drinks, spin the albums and maintain some sense of order in the places where the rest of us go to abandon daily responsibilities.

For the most part, these moonlighting students have two things in common. Like most of us, they need the money. And even in the midst of so much intoxicated madness, most enjoy their jobs and share a special comradery with their fellow employees.

Mike Schwartz has been at NIU for roughly five years. He calls himself a career student. Schwartz has been working as a bouncer at Otto’s for about 1 1/2 years.

“I needed the money and I wanted to do something I enjoy. I figure I’m in the bar anyway so I might as well work there,” Schwartz said.

Although his job requires that he spend his weekends and occasional weekdays monitoring rather than being part of the bar crowds, Schwartz said his social life certainly hasn’t suffered.

“You meet a lot more people. Working there is like your social life …I have the tendency to flirt a little,” he said, not entirely in jest.

Things are a little different for McCabe’s disc jockey John Holiday who spends his working hours behind a turntable.

A full-time student at NIU, Holiday spends most of his weekends making sure McCabe’s patrons have something to dance to. Holiday said working in the bar gives him the opportunity to meet a lot of people, yet he can’t exactly leave the DJ booth.

For American Exchange employees Tom Langehaug and Mike Farris, woking hours are different altogether. There is no dance floor at AmEx, no loud dance music and no bouncers.

Instead, there are video games, pool tables and an abundance of drink specials which Langehaug said is what most customers come there for.

Farris agreed, saying, “We get the crowd from about 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Then they go somewhere else to dance.”

Langehaug and Farris, both NIU juniors, have worked at AmEx for nine months and have seen little damage done to their social lives by their jobs.

“It frees up our days …You get to know everyone and his brother. You get to know every female there is to know,” Farris said.

At this point it would seem that working in a bar is the ideal job for a college student. After all, these people are getting paid to be in places where the rest of us often have to wait in line to get into.

But don’t be misled. There’s a dark side to working in these social havens which sometimes, by their very nature, can invite unruly behavior.

Angela Pontikes has been a waitress in DeKalb for about three years. She spent 15 months working at McCabe’s and has been employed at Otto’s for the past 19 months.

During that time, she’s been witness to a few incidents that might tempt any less understanding person to drop her tray and run.

“(Harrassment) doesn’t happen as much at Otto’s because the crowd is different. The only people who seem to do that are dorky people who have never been to bars before and don’t know how to act,” Pontikes said.

She said the bouncers act as the waitresses’ and female bartenders’ bodyguards and the employees “all stick up for each other.”

“Last week I got a bottle thrown at my head off the balcony. That guy got kicked out in a second. The guy who threw the bottle may have thought it was funny, but when I heard that blow past my ear I knew it wouldn’t have felt very nice. I could have gotten a concussion or worse,” she said.

In her time, Pontikes has seen people start fights, break glasses and bottles intentionally, jump off the balcony and confuse the tabletops with the dance floor, yet she takes it all very well.

“People just don’t think sometimes …No one thinks until after it happens and then they wonder why the bouncers are after them to throw them out. There just needs to be a little more consideration among the students,” she said.

So what about the bouncers? These people have to be of a different breed, so to speak, to subject themselves to such potential hatred. After all, what is a bouncer responsible for but the weeding out of minors and the tossing out of the ignorant?

According to Schwartz, the most common irritation to all bouncers is when they “take a second to look at someone’s ID and they say ‘It’s me!’ I mean, do I look that stupid?”

“When someone is like that, I take longer to look at their ID just to aggravate them,” he said.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of a run-in with Schwartz has since learned that size can be deceiving. “I get in probably the most fights because I’m the smallest one there (Otto’s) and people think they can start something with me …It’s a benefit to me because I get to take all my school aggressions out,” he laughs.

Schwartz said, “One time I asked this guy to stop twirling the umbrella because that’s part of my job. He was a pretty big guy and I just walked up and said, ‘Hey, would you stop doing that?’ Well two minutes later he was twirling it again. I said, ‘I thought I asked you to stop that.’ He asked me what I was going to do about it. I ended up having to tackle him.”

With graduation apparently only one class away for Schwartz, he now commutes to NIU and holds an additional job at Hangge Uppes on Elm Street near Rush and Division, Chicago’s hottest bar strip.

The main difference between Otto’s and Hangge Uppes, Schwartz said, is the crowd at Hangge Uppes is different every night, whereas at Otto’s it’s “usually the same people every night.”

“Personally, I think we’re more lenient at Hangge Uppes about IDs, but more strict about not letting drunk people in,” he said. I think there are less fights at Otto’s because people know they’ll get their (butts) kicked by the bouncers as opposed to at other bars.”

Farris must agree, saying if AmEx customers want to start a fight, “we send them down to Otto’s.”

One night a week, Holiday parts ways with the albums and takes his turn bouncing at McCabes. He said most of the problems there occur at the door.

“One guy gave me a fake driver’s license and I asked him for something else with his name on it. He pulled out another fake driver’s license. I told him he should just leave but he didn’t, and we called the cops and he was arrested,” Holiday said.

Both Schwartz and Holiday said fake or tampered IDs are taken away and posted on a wall by the bars’ owners. “If I don’t know a person and I think his ID is fake, I’ll just take it …besides, my boss needs more wallpaper,” Schwartz said.

When it comes to being students, each of these people seems to have his own outlook on just how study time should be met.

Schwartz apparently has a more relaxed outlook on school commitments. “I swear, I haven’t had homework in five years! It’s (working) also my excuse for missing class. I tell my teachers I was working late and they say, ‘Yeah, but Mike, you’ve been saying that every day.'”

In contrast, Pontikes said the late hours can be a problem, especially if she can’t schedule her classes later in the morning.

“You also tend to drink a lot more than a normal person—at least I do,” she added.

Although he works four days a week, Holiday doesn’t find that his job interferes with school. “I usually find time to go to the library during the day.”

And inevitably, it comes down to last call. The swaggering crowds are pushed out, the floors swept, the glasses washed and everything made ready for the next night.