I first met Julio Montero in February of 2013, though I’d already heard his name many times before – by then, the man was already an (in)famous nightlife character for people in the know. It was NYFW, and I was freezing outside of Le Baron, the downtown sceney club with a door so notorious that entire articles have been written about how to get in. My cousin – who can finesse her way into anything – was in town from LA, and she was my ticket to breezing past Julio’s ropes like a regular. But really, luck was on my side: I saw homeboy reject at least seven other people while I was by the door, including women (who, in my experience, usually have an easier time getting into clubs than us men).
Later, when I stepped out to try and grab another friend from the line, I observed a certain vibe about Julio – something in his attitude and facial expressions told me he was a fellow Quisqueyano. That, plus his chill demeanor, made me want to get to know him better. After all, although we Dominicans are everywhere, it’s not every day you see one dictating downtown cool. For the past ten years, 31 year-old Montero has been shaping some of the city’s most coveted nightlife spots – from the renowned Beatrice Inn (RIP) to hot spots like Happy Ending, Gilded Lily, and, of course, Le Baron (both in NYC and in Miami during Art Basel). At this point, having him at the door is a stamp of quality; a sign that the room that lies beyond him will be filled with interesting, creative, stylish people with great energy. That is, if you can get past him.
I caught up with Julio to learn more about how he became “A Gatekeeper of New York’s Nightlife” (so-dubbed by none other than the NY Times), his security agency Montro Protection (a squad of suave security men you may have seen at fashion and art events), and just how to get past his velvet ropes.
Who is Julio Montero?
Julio Montero is a simple family kid from the South Bronx that found his way downtown. I’m just a simple guy, man.
What do you do for a living?
I work in the hospitality industry, nightlife. Small, cool, downtown trendy/artsy bars. I also own a security company that provides security for fashion and art events, we strictly focus on that.
How long have you been doing this for?
I’ve been in the security industry for at least 10 years, as has my partner Justin Galifi. I started my career as a security guard/bouncer in the outer boroughs, then I got the opportunity to work at Beatrice Inn. There, I was a security guard under Angelo Bianchi, who is my mentor and who taught me everything I know. I was very interested in doing the door and creating the vibe and being part of the art of running an establishment. I started paying attention and I learned, I was a quick learner.
Your doorman should act as the creative director.
What is the role of the doorman?
A doorman’s responsibility is overseeing everything – making sure the music is on point, that the management are doing their thing, controlling who comes in, but also reading what kind of music these people want to hear. That’s what I got from working with Angelo. When you hire a doorman, he’s gotta have the most experience in the whole place, because he’s the first person people see [when they arrive]. He makes the most connections, meets the most people – no one meets as many people and shakes as many hands as a doorman. Not even the General Manager has the kind of interactions with the customer that the doorman has. If you don’t have a creative director at your place, your doorman should act as the creative director.
What’s the difference between a doorman and a bouncer?
There’s a big difference. The bouncer is there to check IDs and make sure the place is safe: someone loses their bag, someone’s about to get in a fight…whatever it is, the bouncer is there to protect and help the customer. The doorman has more responsibility. He has to make sure that the right people are in the place, that the vibe is going well, that all the right personalities are meeting – because nightlife isn’t just about going out to have a drink, it’s also about making connections. You’re only as good as the people you have in your place.
Tell me a little about the name of your security agency Montro Protection.
Well, I’m Dominican. And it’s a word thrown around a lot in Dominican culture, it’s almost like ‘brother’. I wanted to find a cool word that was natural to me, and it actually goes with my last name, Montero. When a Dominican hears [that word], we know what it is.
What makes you different or better than the rest of people working the door in nightlife?
I don’t necessarily think this makes Montro a better company, but we focus on something specific: fashion and art, which I’m really good at. Security companies are not normally owned by a kid that comes from the Bronx, who started working in nightlife. They’re usually owned by retired cops, older Italian police force. We took a cooler angle, looking at security as hospitality. Most security companies don’t think of themselves as hospitality, they want big guys, tough guys. Their guys are at the gym all day, muscle heads. We wanted a cooler bouncer, a guy that could defend people or stop a situation but could also socialize and understand the needs of our clientele. We don’t normally have fights at gallery openings, but if one does happen, my guys know how to handle it in the correct way, which isn’t with violence. You can always talk yourself out of situations. We interview guys on their vibe, it’s not only on their security chops.
Nightlife isn’t just about going out to have a drink, it’s also about making connections.
How do you select the people you wanna let in?
I’m very good at reading vibes and personalities, and I’ve been doing it for so many years, it’s become easier and easier. There’s also a certain style that Happy Endings and Kenmare and Le Baron have. Our kind of clientele is a fashionable, artsy pool. But I’m willing to kind of overlook the clothes and dig more into personality and try to get to know people as fast as I can in a short amount of time. If you come across as being a great human being and having a great personality, and you vibe with the rest of the people I have in the room, I’ll take care of you.
How many celebrities have you turned away?
I’ve seen a lot of them get denied, I’ve seen Paris Hilton get denied.
Yeah, at Le Baron.
How did she react to it?
[Celebrities] probably take it better, because they can’t make a scene.
I heard you’ve gotten spit at in the face before by someone who you turned away. How do you stay cool-headed when that kind of stuff happens?
I’ve learned over the years to see it as a uniform. You get to work, you put your uniform on and when you leave, you take it off. At the end of the day a lot of people do get pissed off, you’re taking away something that they want and it’s human nature for people to get really pissed. Especially when other people around them are getting in, and they really don’t understand why they aren’t. Most of the people who react that way don’t get what I’m doing. I get the “I’ll get you fired” threats all the time, but I make it very clear that when I take a job that it’s my door, and that I’m gonna do my thing and the reason the place is gonna pop is because of my door. If we don’t keep a tight door then we’re just another place. I make that clear to everyone before I even take a job. And they understand. I’m not just the door guy, I’m the guy that brings business as well, and you don’t fire business.
I’ve seen a lot of celebrities get denied [at the door]. I’ve seen Paris Hilton get denied.
Who is the most polite/nice celebrity you’ve encountered?
My man Maxwell, the singer. You know he speaks fluent Spanish? Arroz con pollo. I’ve met a lot of celebrities but when it comes to kindness, and not being pretentious, it’s Maxwell. He’s the best, it’s like hanging out with your best friend.
How does your mom feel about what you’re doing?
She can’t believe it, she thought I made it up. She’s got that old school mentality, we came from nothing in DR to the South Bronx. So for me to get written up in one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world [the NY Times] –I showed her that and she thought somehow I made it up. Now, whenever I come over, all the neighbors know about it.
Do you think you’ll ever try to bring the essence of downtown to your people uptown?
Maybe at some point eventually I’d bring that vibe to the Heights. They need it. You know now they have all these bougie lounge scenes. But imagine bringing that downtown scene uptown, only the coolest of the cool, the kids that are doing something uptown, the artists, the skateboarders. We have that in our community. There’s a lot of that, but they go downtown. There’s so many fashionable people up there, there’s so much going on. If we could focus on bringing the creatives together, and to do it uptown, that’s probably one of my goals down the line. Dominicans are everywhere, you walk into Fendi’s offices and you’ll find a Dominican. We have the artsy creative types in our circle, so eventually it’ll be a move to bring that uptown.