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Guarding the Playground : Eric Huerta Decides Who Gets In With Hollywood Elite at Roxbury

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jan Plouman has been standing outside the Roxbury for 2 1/2 hours. The 27-year-old salesman tries all the angles: The nonchalant look. The bored sigh. An occasional plea.

Lighting cigarette after cigarette, the Holland native loiters in front of the happening West Hollywood club’s roped-off entrance one Saturday, patiently awaiting the moment when the doorman, Eric Huerta, motions him forward and allows him the privileged opportunity of getting in.

But as hundreds of other visitors steadily stream into the Sunset Strip club at Huerta’s beckoning, Plouman, whose ill-fitting suit and dated spiked hair make him stand out in the Hollywood crowd, simply keeps waiting. “I promised a friend in Holland I would visit the Roxbury and tell him if he should come here,” he says. But as another few minutes tick by, he sighs, "(Holland’s) looser. Not that creepy like L.A.”

Welcome to Survival of the Fittest, L.A. style.

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With Huerta at the helm of this mutated take on the Darwinian Theory, hundreds of hungry eyes turn to him like a beacon of hope. They want to get in, and only Huerta separates them from this nighttime playground that may allow them a brief chance to rub shoulders with some of Hollywood’s elite.

Standing outside the venue, dozens of people willingly endure the scrutiny--the agony of being judged on what you look like, how you dress and whom you’re with. Like a high school gym teacher presiding over incoming freshmen, Huerta sizes them up with his bright blue eyes, making determinations that seem so random to the folks on the outside.

Although standing on his side of the rope is clearly more enviable than being part of the gathering throng, a night in the life of a doorman is no picnic. In the five-hour span that the 30-year-old Santa Monica resident stands sentry in the evening cold, he listens to hundreds of pleas and more than a few tall tales, and he gets into fisticuffs with a couple of roughnecks.

Tonight, Huerta’s job is even more difficult than usual because the club’s capacity has been temporarily cut nearly in half--from 650 to 350--as interior renovations keep an entire room off limits. He takes a quick inventory of the crowd, and shakes his head. “This is the bad part of the job,” he says. “On a night like tonight, I can’t let everybody in. We’ll have to be even more selective about who we let in.”

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Nearby, groans are heard as those still angling to get inside take in the grim news.

“Doormen have a reputation of being (jerks),” says Huerta, who has worked the Roxbury’s door on weekends for the past 2 1/2 years. “I make it a point of trying to be honest. I’ll tell you from the start if we’re very busy and there’s no chance of getting in. Why make (people) wait four hours?”

Although Huerta says it’s part of his job description to adhere to the club’s strict door policy--which maintains that regulars, VIPs and anyone on the guest list have immediate access and others must wait--this rule has exceptions.

Those who are low on the connections’ barometer but high in the gene pool clearly have an advantage.

“Are we gonna have to wait?” whispers a midriff-baring blond in Huerta’s ear. With a swift nod of his head, the blond and her pal are in--sans wait.

“One of the perks of the job,” explains Huerta, as the girl reaches over and gives him a kiss of gratitude. “But actually, we try to have an equal balance of men and women.”

Equal opportunity speeches aside, club protocol dictates that good-looking women are always at a premium and both Huerta and Wayne E, the entrance way security guard who often plays bad cop to Huerta’s good cop, are fully aware of this.

As attractive women exit the club en route to the Gate, another hot L.A. club, Wayne slips them free passes for next weekend and Huerta encourages them to come back inside.

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Open shows of kindness to well-heeled strangers has its disadvantages, however. Shortly after a few more women are allowed in, four frustrated youths decide to invite themselves by hopping over the rope. Huerta and Wayne--both of whom stand an imposing 6 foot 5 inches--muscle them back over the rope and shoo them out into the parking lot.

“I got the hardest job in L.A.,” says Huerta, making certain that the four men won’t be coming back. “If everybody did that, we’d be in trouble. They aren’t the kind of people we want in the club.”

As Huerta returns to tending to less troublesome guest-list traffic, three young men from Iran who have been waiting for 45 minutes, practice American accents in an attempt to downplay their ethnicity.

“Just say you’re a dentist from Jersey,” one says to the other, preparing for the moment when the doorman turns their way. But when another half-hour passes without any motioning by Huerta, the threesome reluctantly disappear into the night, in search of another venue with a different policy of natural selection.

“I do feel bad,” says Huerta, after turning them and other late arrivers away. “A lot of people think that all doormen are jerks and don’t have any feelings--and some of them don’t--but I really do feel bad.

“If it was up to me, I’d just open all the rope up and let everybody in. But we don’t have the room to let everybody in.”

Throughout the evening, Huerta--who has been perfecting his craft for seven years at various L.A. venues--continues to turn people away until word gets out that the Roxbury is full and the crowd begins to level off.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he says, as he eyes the few holdouts. “I wouldn’t endure it. If I can’t get into a club in 10 or 15 minutes, I’m out of there.”

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Huerta scans the stubborn holdouts, and about 1 a.m., the rope, for no apparent reason, goes up for Jan Plouman, who quickly scurries in to pay his $10 before the last call.

Within 15 minutes the visitor from Holland rushes back out into the night. “I tell you right now, my friend don’t take that crap here,” says Plouman. “You pay 10 bucks to get in, and stand in line again.”

“I tell (my friend) to go to Papas in Mexico City,” he shouts within earshot of Huerta.

But the doorman’s not even fazed. “I’ve had practice. When I first started doing this, it was harder. Now, there could be 500 angry people out here, and I’m still gonna be calm.”


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