Confessions from the Velvet Ropes: The Glamorous, Grueling Life of Thomas Onorato, New York's Top Club Doorman

Confessions from the Velvet Ropes: The Glamorous, Grueling Life of Thomas Onorato, New York's Top Club Doorman

by Thomas Onorato, Glenn Belverio

New York's top doorman, Thomas Onorato, raises the ropes and gives readers a sneak peak into some of the world's most exclusive parties.

"If you are not on the guest list or if I don't know you or if I don't like you, you are NOT GETTING INTO THIS PARTY!"
The doorman. The gatekeeper of the night. These silent observers see it all and yet say nothing. Until

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New York's top doorman, Thomas Onorato, raises the ropes and gives readers a sneak peak into some of the world's most exclusive parties.

"If you are not on the guest list or if I don't know you or if I don't like you, you are NOT GETTING INTO THIS PARTY!"
The doorman. The gatekeeper of the night. These silent observers see it all and yet say nothing. Until now. In Confessions from the Velvet Ropes, New York's top club doorman, Thomas Onorato, lifts the ropes and lets ordinary readers into this exciting world. The book is an entertaining and hilarious collection of tales from the worlds of nightlife, fashion shows and celebrity parties. Highlights include: The night Madonna DJed at an intimate downtown club, Courtney Love's surprise concert that ended in her arrest, the crazed stalker who attacked Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, the aerial attack on Adrien Brody's birthday party, Diddy's surprise appearance at an electro-punk event and more. Onorato was always on hand and brings his insider info and nightlife wisdom to readers of Confessions from the Velvet Ropes. Combining elements of juicy gossip columns, rock star fan memoirs and nightlife social studies, Confessions from the Velvet Ropes is a tell-all with style, including humorous side-bars and tips on how readers might make it past the velvet ropes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Belverio follows Thomas Onorato, a Manhattan club doorman, night after night, event after event, punctuated only here and there with glimpses of his personal life. Journalist Belverio put in considerable time gathering his material, interviewing and apparently hanging out with his subject because the narrative has an immediate vividness. The deluge of up-to-the-minute detail (in this context meaning proper names, from designers to mashup bands to celebrities whom most haven't yet heard of) matches the gossip-column commotion a doorman is trying to create, or avoid. The focus occasionally shifts to other doormen around New York, and the book includes sidebars on subjects like "Bad Party People" (the promoter and the disgruntled reject) and "Myths of Studio 54" ("Marc Benecke didn't let Cher into Studio") The result is the literary equivalent of a Bravo reality show or a dinner composed entirely of chocolate: gimmicky yet entertaining; irresistible yet containing little nutritional value. Though this chronicle becomes tiresome at points, it could become a quirky hit, along the lines of The Original Preppy Handbook. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Chapter One
I got a date with the night.

--Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Hi." This is a message for Thomas Onorato. My name is Sarah Goreman and I'm the fashion editor for Irish Márie Claire magazine." The shrill, nasally voice that is being emitted from Thomas's answering machine has the aural appeal of a car alarm. Thomas rolls his eyes as he applies a layer of Shu Uemura pancake foundation. There's no such thing as an Irish Marie Claire, he says to himself. "And I'm calling to find out if I can get on the list tonight for the Cirque du Soleil party at The Roxy. I'd like to bring the photo editor from Ocean Drive magazine, his two assistants, Omarosa's stylist--" Thomas throws his makeup sponge down in disgust at the mention of the C-list celebrity name. He stomps over to the phone and picks it up.

"Hi, this is Thomas and I'm very sorry, but the guest list is closed for the night." He tries to sound sweet, but after dealing with dozens of calls like this tonight, he's more than a bit exasperated--and late for a meeting with the club's staff. "And just so you know--it's not a party for Cirque du Soleil, it's Motherfucker's fifth anniversary. The party has a circus theme." He hangs up and punches in the number for his car service, hoping that the ten minutes it will take the car to get there will be enough time for him to apply his eye makeup--just a dab to complete his rocker chic look--and get dressed.

Thomas arrives at The Roxy thirty minutes late, which, in club time, is about an hour early. Maura, an assistant to one of the party's organizers, is standing by the coat check counter opening up boxes that contain CD samplers and copies of Paper magazine, which will be distributed to the party's attendees. She is dressed in a vintage 'fifties black swimsuit and a yellow bolero jacket. "Hi Maura," Thomas says. "Love the look." He begins organizing the various guest lists for the evening. "Are the midget, er, 'vertically challenged' go-go dancers here yet?" he asks.

"I think I saw a mini Alice Cooper over by the ice machine a few minutes ago, but I'm not positive," she tells him. "I was up late last night working on a paper, so sometimes I imagine things when I'm overtired." Maura is studying "feminist geography" at the New School and is working on a thesis about the "gender and geography of dance floors." At one point she sets down a stack of CDs, whips out a notepad, and reads a passage from her thesis. "Motherfucker has always appeared to me to be inclusive to all things feminine. At any given moment I could look around the room and see many bodies parading around in short skirts, high heels, and fabulous wigs--yet this scene never seems defined by biology in the decision of who 'gets to wear the pants.' "

"That's fab, doll!" Thomas enthuses. "It puts me in mind of the time Susan Sontag showed up at Jackie 60. Apparently Betty Page and bondage were on her menu that week."

Tonight is the fifth anniversary of Motherfucker, a very successful, multisexual party held at changing venues, that blends timeless rock 'n' roll attitude, androgyny, retro cheekiness, and the music trends of the moment. It is often described as a "rock 'n' roll Studio 54," except there are no quaaludes in evidence and there isn't exactly a twenty-first-century equivalent of Andy Warhol or Truman Capote on the guest list--even though there are probably a few who would lay claim to that stratosphere. Aside from that, though, there are enough similarities to justify the comparison. Which brings us to the scene at the door.

Like Studio 54 and later clubs of that caliber, Motherfucker is a dictatorship at the door and a democracy on the dance floor. So, once you get past the doorman's discerning eye, you end up dancing among an eclectic gathering that includes celebrities, glam gays, neo new wave girls, goth rock transsexuals, and ambiguously bisexual boys from the boroughs. For the four years that Thomas has been in charge of dictating the club's ropes, he has earned a roster of not-exactly-flattering nicknames. "Door Bitch" is the most famous--and the one that's stuck--but there's also "Door Whore," "Velvet Ropes Nazi," "Glam-osaurus Rex," "Buzzkill Bitch," or simply "That Stupid Queen"--that last one is usually uttered by an underage, Staten Island homophobe who never gets in.

Whenever a camera or a reporter's tape recorder is thrust in Thomas's direction--which is often--he enthusiastically rises to his own defense.

"People think I'm an elitist asshole, but I'm actually not. I don't want to ruin anyone's night," he will say earnestly, again and again. "If you want to get into a club where I'm at the door, you need to think ahead. Pick a look and work it: Bowie, Bauhaus, or Blondie--but not Limp Bizkit." Like Steve Rubell--the manager of Studio 54 who also acted as one of the club's doormen--Thomas believes in creating great parties by "curating" the right mix of people. The job is a dictatorship, nonetheless--and there will always be some pissed-off party-hoppers who won't make the grade and will be sent straight to the nightlife gulag. If only they had invested in that vintage Deborah Harry garbage bag dress instead of a beige Anne Klein suit.

Before the Roxy opens for the night, Thomas and Maura busy themselves with scattering copies of Paper and promo CDs around the club. A crew of workers are hanging multicolored balloons and freak show murals around the dance floor and plugging in popcorn and cotton candy machines. The organizers of Motherfucker have chosen a circus theme that not only channels the literal idea of the big top, but also Circus, a hard-rock magazine from the 'seventies. As far as New York nightlife is concerned, the circus has always been a reliable theme, from the roller boogie clowns at Studio 54 to the cross-dressed trapeze artists at the darkly decadent Disco 2000--an early 'nineties club that was hosted by Michael Alig, a club kid who was later sent to jail for murdering a drug dealer.

"Okay, everyone," Thomas addresses the gathering of bouncers, assistant door people, and promoters who are standing in a circle near the coat check area. "There's going to be two lines tonight: general admission and will-call will line up against the side of the building and guest list guests will form a parallel line. Max and Phil will be in charge of the guest list, while I'll handle the VIPs. Also press and industry people who need to get in right away." Clearly, Thomas is the ringleader of tonight's door scene circus. Patrick, one of the evening's bouncers, looks slightly bored. Even though the Motherfucker crowd is known to love their cocktails in excess, it's rare that fights break out that would require revelers to be forcefully evicted. This isn't the sort of party that attracts a significant number of déclassé rogues, like the people who flock to scores of other clubs around the city. Still, Patrick will be there to back up Thomas's swift door judgments--in the event that a ruthlessly rejected clubgoer gets out of hand, he'll be there to keep things in line.

Thomas, Max, Phil, and Patrick file out to the front of the club where a pair of workers are installing an arch made from silver foil, letter-shaped balloons that spell out "Motherfucker." The door staff takes their positions around "the box"--the busiest area within the velvet ropes, where guests are admitted, their IDs checked, and their hands stamped before they are hastily shuttled into the venue. Of course, things don't always move as smoothly as the door staff wishes: without fail, there are plenty of people with tall tales of why they don't have their IDs ("It's in my gold lamé jeans, but I decided to change into this chartreuse tube skirt and forgot about it."), the zoned-out girls who wait till the last minute to start rifling through their cluttered handbags in search of their driver's license, and the chatty Cathys who linger around the doorman so they can fill him in on such topics as the eight different products they put in their hair that night.

"That's very nice, darling," Thomas will inform them in a tone that adeptly blends diplomacy with a spritz of impatience, throwing his head back for a burst of stagey laughter when need be. But the gales of laughter can instantly shift to torrential downpours of tongue-lashings if things get chaotic--a high-volume burst of disciplinary vitriol that would make a dominatrix blush.

"I don't want to see ANYONE standing IN FRONT OF THE BARRICADES! If you are not on the list you need to LINE UP AGAINST THE WALL and have your IDs OUT and IN. YOUR. HAND!"

Or, if a venue is nearly full to capacity, Thomas will turn to the waiting crowd and in a booming voice announce, "If you are NOT a regular or you are NOT on the guest list or if I DON'T KNOW YOU, or if I DON'T LIKE YOU then you are NOT GETTING INTO THIS PARTY!"

Often, about five seconds after this doomy proclamation, some frothy little drag queen--some whisper of a geisha--ensconced in nineteen yards of mauve tulle and five layers of delicate white face powder, will float haughtily past the long line over to Thomas, who welcomes her with open arms and a shower of drink tickets. The two hundred people stranded outside, who now have zero hope of the hedonistic evening they've anticipated, will want to surge forward like ravenous ghouls and devour the entrails of the geisha and the doorman in one fell swoop. But they won't dare. They may groan and beg--more than a few will even burst into tears--but they will not jeopardize their chances of getting into the club on their next visit. No one wants to be permanently branded a party pariah by the Door Bitch.

Tonight's rock'n'roll circus is hosted by a club that is large enough to accommodate all who are eligible for admission (i.e., they are at least eighteen years old, are "working a look," or have some kind of inner glamour--like, say, writing for The New York Post). As guests begin to arrive and obediently file into one of the two lines, as per Thomas's constant haranguing, gaggles of clowns on stilts begin juggling bowling pins and flaming batons in the street in front of the Roxy. In between juggling bouts, a few bitch-slap each other with their outsized clown-gloved hands. A clown with Marilyn Manson-influenced stage makeup--who seems to have indulged in some "powdering" earlier in the evening--hops back and forth, from one stilt leg to another, in front of Thomas.

"Didyouseemecatchthatflamingbatonwithmymouth?" he asks Thomas with teeth-grinding excitement. "That's great," Thomas says dryly as he navigates around him to catch the attention of a tall young woman with a black bob haircut who is wearing a circus-influenced couture gown by designer John Galliano. "Darling! You look amazing!" he gushes as he places his body between her and the hyper clown. He kisses both cheeks and places some drink tickets in her black-lace-gloved hand. "Loved your story on chinoiserie and celebrity homes," Thomas gushes.

"Thank you!" the woman smiles warmly. "I saw your pals, the Gastineaus, last night at the Avenue mag party." Thomas, who also wears the hat of publicist, recently worked on some public relations for the Gastineau Girls reality show. "That's quite a fashion competition those two have going on," the woman remarks as she tucks the drink tickets into her Dior handbag.

"Oh, those gals," Thomas says, as his eyes begin to look past the woman's ruffled shoulder, making sure there are no flaming batons careening toward her. "I'm just glad my mother doesn't compete with me like that. She just wouldn't look right working a Vivienne Westwood cummerbund and face glitter." Thomas lifts the rope for her and she sweeps through, gliding past the bouncers. A young man sporting a Lords of the New Church T-shirt and a Robert Smith hairdo seems transfixed by the fishtail hem of the woman's gown as it disappears into the darkness of the club. Thomas surveys the crowd of people who are waiting in front of the ropes. The two lines stretch past the length of the club and around the corner where Eighteenth Street meets the West Side Highway. The gathering resembles a casting call for a Tim Burton remake of Vampire Circus--acid rock clowns, transsexual lion tamers, sado-masochistic Siegfrieds and Roys, KISS doppelgangers, rockabilly cat girls, shirtless lean boys in black leather pants with ringleader top hats, kabuki white-faced dominatrices, metallic, silver-faced Pierrots, lipsticked and bewigged male Satanists, Chucky the killer clown, Bowie-meets-Bozos, Ozzy Osbournes on a Barnum and Bailey bender. Even a few blasé boys in Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden T-shirts have taken the time to lipstick red clown mouths on and around their lips. The clowns in the street have graduated from flaming baton juggling to full-on fire breathing. A cliché of New York nightlife--"Fellini-esque"--applies.

"HAVE YOUR IDs OUT AND HAVE THEM IN YOUR HANDS!" Thomas thunders again and again. A girl in a sequined trapeze artist leotard covered with rock band buttons--the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blondie, Berlin--opens her purse, but pulls out a compact mirror instead of her ID. Thomas shoots her a disapproving glare. Suddenly, the sea of clowns in the street parts for a long limousine that is pulling up to the front of the club. The door opens and a thin, androgynous man clad in a white Yves Saint Laurent-like woman's suit and flowing white silk scarf emerges. Mirrored sunglasses, Rocky Horror red lips, the hauteur of a young Faye Dunaway . . . every head in the long line turns in this thin, white duke's direction and all conversation is put on pause. Michael T., the reigning DJ and founder of Motherfucker, has arrived. Thomas is already holding the ropes open to ensure Michael's diva march from limo door to club door maintains its fashion runway smoothness. Michael gives Thomas a quick air kiss, ignoring a few shouts of "Michael T.!" that erupt from the crowd.

Copyright © 2006 by Glenn Belverio. All rights reserved.

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