Thursday, April 7, 2016

The (Door) Man Of The Hour: Legendary Nightlife Door People

Markus Kelle, right, working outside Marquee in January, is among the most visible guardians of the door in New York. CreditRamsay de Give for The New York Times

The (Door) Man of the Hour

It’s hard to miss Markus Kelle, 24, at the door of Westgay, the scruffy Tuesday night party at Westway on Clarkson Street in the West Village. At midnight on a recent Tuesday, he wore a black snood, clip-on earrings made of old celluloid, blood-red lipstick and a pavement-length silver fox coat.
“It’s vintage,” he said. “I’m not into killing animals; it’s more like adopting a pet.”
But Mr. Kelle’s most important accessory was his clipboard, which held 16 separate guest lists courtesy of the party’s staffers. As the 20-something patrons poured in, he managed to check the lists and keep things moving, while working some campy banter into every transaction.
“You’re walking so quickly; what are you, trying to start a forest fire?” he asked one approaching guy in a faux snakeskin jacket. “You’re already flaming!” (This led to Mr. Kelle singing, “This girl is on fire,” before granting the guy a comp.)
Markus Kelle studied Shakespearean acting, then fashion merchandising. Door work came by accident, he said, “like falling down the rabbit hole.” CreditRamsay de Give for The New York Times
When a chicly grungy-looking group arrived, Mr. Kelle air-kissed one of its members hello, but the guy didn’t “mwah” on both cheeks, so Mr. Kelle feigned indignity and refused to greet his posse. “I feel like Drew Barrymore in ‘Never Been Kissed,’ ” he quipped, making the guy dutifully complete the air kiss before they were allowed in for $10 each.

Along came a slender, pasty young Brit in a hoodie, politely asking for a ticket. “Do you have friends?” Mr. Kelle asked, sincerely. “I’m here to make friends,” the Brit replied. The doorman hugged the bloke — a rare New York sight, for sure — and granted him entree, after which Mr. Kelle went back to his Bette Davis stories and Anne Frank jokes.

Mr. Kelle also works the door at the monthly Catwalk party at Marquee, making him among the most visible guardians of the door in New York, especially since he is always bedecked in hats, jewels and other eye-popping finery. As his Twitter bio puts it, he represents “old Hollywood glamour meets new New York” — and he knows simply everyone.

While most doorkeepers today are sweatshirt-types who stress crowd control over facial contouring, Mr. Kelle enjoys being a splashy part of the spectacle. “I’ve been to clubs where the doorman just stands there and opens the rope and says, ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ ” he said. “I think it’s so much more fun to create a show outside. I have a dialogue with everyone that walks in. Your experience starts with me and ends with me on the way out.”

Mr. Kelle, who shortened his surname, Kelleman, to avoid being contacted by what he considered annoying people from his past, was born in East Brunswick, N.J., to an optometrist father and teacher mother. He was, shall we say, a flamboyant child. “I wasn’t just Catwoman for preschool Halloween,” he said. “I was Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. So there were signs. I came out when I was 13. I don’t think anyone was shocked.”

He studied Shakespearean acting at the American Globe Theater in New York, then felt the pressure to go more commercial, studying fashion merchandising at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising in Manhattan. Door work came by accident, he said, “like falling down the rabbit hole.”

“I was 19 and I was struggling, working a lot of retail hours,” he said. “I went out once a week, and people liked the way I dressed. And there wasn’t that sort of gay doorperson then.”
He had go-go danced once at the Chelsea gay club Splash, “but a guy got fresh with me and I kicked him in the face,” he said. “That didn’t work out.” Still, the club owners appreciated his attitude, and hired him to stand outside and get people’s information for their mailing list, which gave him valuable door-related experience.

Brandon Voss, a promoter of gay parties, was impressed by Mr. Kelle’s moxie, so he and his partner at the time, Tony Fornabaio, tapped him to perform similar work outside their Rockit Friday parties at the club Amalia in 2009. The glittery party givers Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny (who pioneered the flashy, witty door-god persona at Limelight in the 1990s) then hired Mr. Kelle to be the doorman at Greenhouse, before Mr. Voss graduated him to the same position.
“People would actually be curious as to what hat Markus would wear each week,” Mr. Voss said.
His risqué outfits and dramatic looks offer a frisky taste of what’s inside. Mr. Kelle said he bases his makeup on Tamara de Lempicka paintings and his ensembles on the androgynous aesthetic of Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich. He also cites the heiress and writer Nancy Cunard, who was known for her arm bangles, as an inspiration.

The result is often like Mildred Pierce on the Starship Enterprise.
Mr. Kelle’s door attitude may be sardonically funny, but his mission is quite serious. “Ideally,” he said, “I’d like to let everybody in because it’s all about money. But I can’t, so I pick and choose.” For Mr. Voss’s parties, he said, “we’re looking for the crème de la femme of Hell’s Kitchen, peppered with the right drag queens.” For Van Dam, he said: “It’s always these phenomenal 21-, 22-, and 23-year-olds who just came to New York and reinvented themselves, mixed with these legends that pop by. We want the oddball — please come painted green or with different hats on. It’s like a Dr. Seuss book come to life.”

Markus Kelle, right, working the door outside Le Baron in Chinatown. He said he bases his makeup on Tamara de Lempicka paintings and his ensembles on the androgynous aesthetic of Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich. Ramsay de Give for The New York TimesCredit

Most people pay to get in, except those who are on the guest lists or are “season regulars and industry people,” Mr. Kelle said. “And if I have discretionary comps,” he added, “I can do it based on looks.” What if you don’t make the cut? “Don’t blame me,” he said. “I’m just the messenger.”

Interestingly, Mr. Kelle says he makes a decent living from this, though he laments the loss of the days when door work was off the books. “I used to love those envelopes full of cash,” he said, laughing.

He certainly earns his money, not only because he dolls himself up afresh every night, but also because he has to deal with the inevitable party animal who won’t take no for an answer.

“There’s a certain point where somebody crosses a line and the respect goes out the window like a Kardashian marriage,” Mr. Kelle said. “There’s only so long you can bite your tongue, especially when you’re a Leo.” A few months ago, he shouted down a hostile drag queen repeatedly trying to get into Van Dam (currently on a monthlong hiatus). It’s not always hugs, as the occasional nocturnal miscreant learns.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kelle’s lighter banter could prove to be training for the showbiz career he craves. He has filmed a web show about New York 20-somethings called Gays: The Series. And in December, he performed standup at Bowlmor in Times Square, serving politically incorrect humor that he describes as “a verbal hit and run.”

“All these friends in a closed space; I thought it was going to be an intervention,” he said onstage, adopting a Joan Rivers-type delivery as he strutted around. Those who laughed may enjoy future comps at the door. — Michael Musto | The New York Times

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