In an effort to better understand an overlooked yet integral cog in the restaurant industry machine, I sit down with Joe Kang -- a longtime, some might say “beloved” doorman and bouncer at Shockoe Slip bar Cha Cha’s Cantina.
Jack: Your first question to me when I asked you whether I could profile you was, “Will a profile in Style Weekly get me laid?” Is that correct?
Joe: Yes it is.
The answer is maybe, although judging by my personal experience writing for Style during the past three years, I’m leaning heavily toward no. So we’ve hung out many times but I know very little about you. All I know is that you’re Asian, you lift weights, and you love University of Virginia athletics. Tell me a bit about your background.
I’m 35 years old, born in South Korea and raised all over. Military brat. Played every sport growing up. Got a scholarship to Catawba College (in Salisbury, N.C.) for golf.
What do you do during the daytime?
I own a Laundromat in Petersburg. I’m there almost six days a week.
Seriously? A Laundromat?
Don’t say it.
I’m not gonna touch that one. So if you spend so much time running your own business, why even bounce? Crappy pay and a constant stream of entitled, drunk jackasses don’t seem that appealing.
Initially I did it for money. Had just bought a house and needed bill money. Now it’s more about the social aspect. It gets me out without having to get drunk, without spending money. I enjoy constantly meeting new people. Although it does make me feel old sometimes.
Don’t worry, you’ve aged well, buddy. I want to know, Is it fun using someone’s head to open a door? I got to do it once -- with the assistance of one of my bouncers -- and I gotta say, it was exactly like what I would imagine a heroin rush would be like. I’ve been jonesin’ for another hit ever since.
We try not to do it anymore because we kept having to replace the door after it broke off the hinges.
Speaking of door-breaky, awesome bouncer montages, now I want to get deep on you. “Road House” is a cinematic masterpiece, a true classic of the ’80s bouncer-movie genre. Would you agree?
One of the greatest.
Do you watch “Road House” every evening before venturing out to work in an effort to channel your inner Dalton? I know I would.
No, I’m not that psycho. Do love the part when he gets the stitches without a local anesthetic though.
Pain don’t hurt.
That statement is false.
You seem to have a very Zen-like, Daltonesqe thing going on when bouncing.
I’m an outside guy. I calm them down after they leave.
So you’re the cooler?
That’s so Dalton of you. I like to watch the classic ’80s bartender-genre movie “Cocktail” before every bar shift. That’s not a question per se, but I felt that you should know that about me.
You’re a fantastic interviewer [sarcasm].
Has your job as a bouncer directly resulted in you getting laid -- by a female?
Do you want to elaborate?
Strong silent type. Again, very Dalton of you. So during an average night, how often would you say that you abuse your power as a doorman to get free stuff such as phone numbers, money, food, booby flashes, etc?
It happens nightly. I definitely have seen some boobs.
Me too. They’re pretty great huh?
You’re a loser.
OK, completely theoretical question: Let’s say that I walk up and there’s a huge line to get in the bar. What is the minimum dollar amount that I can slide you in order to skip the line and walk in?
What’s the best way to “slide” said amount?
Handshake and the “side-bro hug.”
What if I just shoved it down your pants? Has that happened?
Yes. It was a “he” also. Next question.
Gross. What’s the most anyone’s ever given you to gain entrance or skip a line?
An older couple gave me 100 dollars the other day. They were definitely allowed to walk right in.
What if I came up and slid you a really top-of-the-line, expensive, muscle-blaster protein bar? Would that get me in? I find that most bouncers are really into protein.
They are, but I like cash.
Biggest asshole that you’ve ever encountered while working the door … and go!
One recent guy that pops in my mind was too drunk to come in. I turned him down. So he stood there and talked shit, which happens all the time, then he said, “What’s it like being 35 and a bouncer?” That one stung.
Again, you look great. Asians age extremely well. I can say that, right?
Yeah and that’s true. I tend to get a lot of people that drop racist Asian comments too. … You can’t let that stuff get to you. Plus, they’re outside the bar so I can’t legally touch them. I’ve become close friends with all the cops that hang around outside and they just laugh. They take bets on how many times a night I’ll hear some drunk drop an Asian joke. Some people are ignorant idiots. I’ve accepted this.
The best bartender that you’ve ever had the honor of bouncing for? And please remember who decides what words will or will not go in this column.
Of course, Jack Lauterback.
Good answer, tough guy. I was about to go all Brad Wesley on you if you’d said Dane Acton.
No, but seriously, I really enjoyed working with Sammie Leary when she was at Europa. Audrey Ney is also one of my all-time favorites.
Advice for an aspiring bouncer?
It’s easier to just be cool-headed instead of trying to fight everybody. If you just talk to them, most people are willing to just leave. Doesn’t have to be a knock-down, drag-out fight every night. Although it’s fair game if they decide to put their hands on me. I’m usually pretty good at defusing the situation.
With the recent emergence of the New York Knicks Asian-American sensation Jeremy Lin, do you now feel that you -- a 5-foot-6 Asian male with limited athletic ability -- can succeed at pro sports (excluding martial arts)?
I am the greatest Korean athlete of all time. Doesn’t matter the sport. Basketball, golf, pencil fighting. I can go to South Korea right now and qualify for multiple Olympic teams.
Name one famous Korean athlete who the average American would know.
So you’re saying that golf is a sport?
Golf is a sport. You should know this -- because you suck at it.
But I could dominate you on the basketball court because you’re 5-foot-6 and I’m 6-foot-4. This can’t be argued.
Anytime you want it, big guy. I’ll destroy you, radio boy.
Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback also contributes to Mixology magazine in Germany and co-hosts with Melissa Chase weekdays from 6-9 on 103.7 The River’s “River Mornings with Melissa and Jack.” On Twitter @Jackgoesforth and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.