High heels click on the pavement. Groups of as many as 10 people walk up and down one of the hottest bar-hopping spots in Bloomington, just a block away from the IU campus.
It’s 9 p.m. on a Friday night, and the air has a certain crisp edge to it — not too cool and not too hot.
Doug Sparks, a bouncer at Nick’s English Hut, expects tonight to be busy.
Sparks, 29, came prepared, wearing a uniform that barely resembles those of the other seven bouncers who are gatekeepers of the Hoosier Room entrance at Nick’s.
Other than the required Nick’s T-shirt, atop Sparks’ shaved head is a pair of fuzzy polar bear ears a group of Ursus Vodka promoters gave to him about a year ago. He owns two pairs.
Completing the ensemble are a pair of flashing Bud Light caps pinned over each nipple. Two G-Shock watches, one that purposefully reads the wrong time, complete the ensemble along with a Motorola walkie talkie slung onto his jeans.
Tonight, Sparks is sore. When not working four days a week, about 30 hours total, he trains for national competitions in mixed martial arts.
“Training’s my number one focus,” he says. “This is very secondary.”
His primary focus helped him get the job more than two years ago. Although Sparks says he has been in only two altercations at Nick’s, no one has ever been a physical threat to him.
And no wonder. His deadpan stare, as he closely examines the IDs to match the patron’s faces to their pictures, is intimidating. But then an unexpected smile spreads across his face as he hands back their IDs.
“You’re awesome,” he says. “Have a great night.”
People — especially women — are just as complimentary to Sparks. Five women in the middle of a bachelorette party, each wearing a masquerade ball mask, step up to the entrance. Sparks leans against the rail while taking his time reading their IDs.
One of the women excitedly pulls out her camera and tells the bride she has to take a picture with the bouncer.
The woman lifts her leg over Sparks and the camera flashes.
“Bachelorette parties are the most irritating thing for someone in a bad mood,” Sparks said. He added that, thankfully, he’s not in a bad mood tonight.
Despite Sparks’ intimidating stare, he never loses his patience. Except on game days. On game days, Sparks spends most of his time answering the same two questions.
Patrons often ask if they can cut ahead in line to meet their friends or if they can bring a friend in without an ID.
“I’ll answer these questions upwards of 40 to 50 times on a game day,” he said. “It just gets old. I feel like I’m running out of saliva to keep talking.”
Fake IDs are another story.
Right now, Sparks has a collection of 14 fake IDs, along with others he keeps at his desk at home. The only way people get their fake IDs back is if bouncers call the police.
“We try to give them every chance we can,” he said.
At 10:40 p.m., Sparks’ walkie talkie sounds.
Not long after, one of the other bouncers hands Sparks a fake Florida ID.
Clues to a fake ID include poorly designed holograms, bold fonts and strange textures. Sparks retrieves the bar’s “I.D. Checking Guide 2012”, a manual set to expire after February 2013.
Around midnight, a car alarm goes off.
“Nice ears, man,” said a guy in a group of three. “Nice titt-tays,” adds his friend, wearing a black V-neck T-shirt.
It’s not even 1 a.m., which probably means the rest of Sparks’ shift at Nick’s won’t be as busy as he thought.
And yet the sidewalks are still littered with people shouting, yelling and laughing.
Even Sparks can’t deny Bloomington is still alive. The night is young.