For the last two years on the Saturday of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Stephen Bedalow has followed a routine that does not stray far from that of the athlete on game day: He wakes up after a long sleep, eats a protein-packed breakfast and pours himself a large glass of orange juice — all in preparation for a 17-hour day of wrangling a glassy-eyed, giddy sea of green-clad revelers.

It’s a great weekend for binge drinkers, bartenders and wait staff, who can count on one of the heftiest paydays of the year, and bar owners, who are offered much-needed relief from the winter sales slump.

But for many bouncers like Bedalow, who works at Cactus Bar & Grill, St. Patrick’s Day proves to be one of the craziest challenges of the year, a 17- to 24-hour stone-sober day on their feet while trying to handle a good-time crowd of merry drunks.

“Last year was particularly insane because the North Side and South Side parade and the holiday all fell on the same weekend. There must have been at least 10,000 more people on Division Street than usual,” said Mother’s door staff manager Glen Holland. “At one point I was up straight for 26 hours.”

Removes temptation

Bouncers begin early in the day to prepare for a crowd that rivals a herd of flank-strapped bulls. “Anything that someone could throw, we eliminate,” Holland said.

By the time bars open — usually by 10 a.m. — lines have formed with people who are often already drunk. Translated: The bouncers have to deal with a line of once-responsible adults who have regressed to 8-year-olds.

From that point on, the bouncer is on his feet and constantly busy for the rest of the day, said Butch McGuire’s bouncer Vlad Dogopolov. The crowds can swell to three to five times the size of a normal Saturday night.

Bedalow approaches the day’s greatest task with zenlike wisdom. He finds the term “bouncer” to be inappropriate for the work he does. “First and foremost we are ‘hosts’ for a venue,” Bedalow said.

“The challenge presented by St. Patrick’s Day involves not ruffianism or pugilism. Rather, the goodwill, volume and slight intoxication enjoyed by a merry band of Chicagoans is awesomely massive,” Bedalow said. “Even a good-natured herd of people is unwieldy. With free will and high spirits, the kinetic energy must be channeled as well as controlled with attention.”

Large crowds can sometimes lead to some not-so-nice incidents. Butch McGuire’s manager Justin Cortes said that the harassment of waitresses is a problem.

“Usually a waitress will come to me and say, ‘I told this guy to stop bothering me.’ And that’s when it’s time to go,” Cortes said.

Cloak of civility

The size of the crowd mixed with the libido-enhancing effects of alcohol sometimes leads to consensual — but still prohibited — interactions between the day’s celebrators. While many bars would probably prefer the patrons to “make love, not war,” bar bouncers have to draw the line when nudity is involved.

“People have had sex in the back room. It’s one of those ‘anything goes’ types of nights,’ ” said Cortes.

The “anything goes” part of the night does provide some comic relief for the weary bouncers. Bedalow said his favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory involves eight revelers who were dressed up in “NYPD Blue” uniforms, and were able to score free drinks from crowd that was favorable to Irish policeman. But the scene soon turned sour.

“One of these gentlemen tried to convey his rank to a Chicago police officer who proceeded to detain him for impersonating an officer of the law,” Bedalow said.

But when the fun-loving get physical and the happy turn sloppy, bouncers have to figure out the most effective way to show “those who’ve turned” the door.

“A lot of our job is not really even muscle. You would be surprised, the more you can talk someone out, the better off you are,” Cortes said. “As soon as you touch someone and try to throw them out, it gets rowdy and it snowballs.”


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