He is Ice Man, the same guy you've seen for years at the doors of some of Buffalo's most popular bars. County corrections officer by day, bouncer by night, Vincent Santa Maria Jr., 50, knows people. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 265 pounds, this guy was born to bounce. Right now, he's guarding the doors at Elmwood Avenue's Mister Goodbar and Chippewa's Subzero. Check out his fingerless gloves.
PT: How did you get your name?
IM: I was a bartender/bouncer at the old Sinbad's in Cheektowaga, and we were only open a week or so when eight to 10 bikers pulled up on their bikes and started a huge brawl. We all ended up getting involved, and it was just terrible: six police cars, ambulances. It was horrendous, but one owner told me I had ice water in my veins. From that day, everybody called me the Ice Man. I am calm.
PT: How does one become a bouncer?
IM: I was laid off from the Chevy plant and playing softball at Barnaby's two or three times a week. If people in the bar would cause trouble, me and my teammates would throw them out. The owner finally asked me if I wanted a job at the door, and he made it worth my while. They made me bouncer.
PT: As bouncer, what do you look for?
IM: Sudden movements, anybody getting loud or stupid. I love being a bouncer.
PT: What's the strangest sight you've seen in all your years?
IM: Probably Dominik Hasek leaving the bar and coming back 20 minutes later with his pants inside out. Completely on and zipped up, pockets hanging. How did he do that? So I call Rob Ray and a couple of the boys over and told them. They went hysterical, but walked him into the john. That was probably the most amazing thing I ever saw. It was at Rayzor's at Elmwood and Bidwell.
PT:What has bouncing taught you about people?
IM: Pretty much that you can't trust anybody. People come in nice and normal. Three hours later they go out the door, and it's hard for me to actually trust anyone. It has to do with alcohol and drugs.
PT: Do Buffalo bars differ from bars in other parts of the country?
IM: Buffalo is the party capital. People are amazed we are open to 4 in the morning. People are amazed we don't have more problems. You've got hip-hop places, rock 'n' roll places, dance places, Latino places, and with all that mixture of people - we're talking thousands - there's not that many problems. That's because of the bouncers.
PT: What's the favorite excuse for someone trying to get in?
IM: Somebody's pregnant or there's a major injury and they have to get to someone. It doesn't work. I don't care who it is or what it is, unless the owner tells me to let them in, I won't.
PT: What about you makes being a bouncer a perfect fit?
IM: I'm personable. I'm a nice person. I'm not a mean person who wants to go and fight. Bouncing does not mean fighting. I talk to you and treat you like how I want to be treated. I don't grab you.
PT: What are you known for?
IM: I wear fingerless gloves all the time. People think I wear them to be a tough guy, and I'm not. I wear them so I don't get cuts on my hands, so when I go to my real job at the correctional facility, I don't get infected.
PT: How has Buffalo's bar scene changed?
IM: DWI. When I was young, the cops would pull you over, take your keys and tell you to go home. Nowadays it will cost you $5,000.
PT: Are you an emotional guy?
IM: I am. I'm very sensitive. I cried when they shot Old Yeller. I cried when one of the bouncers around here shot himself.
PT: You must know a lot of people.
IM: I know a stupid amount of people.
PT: Have you been injured?
IM: I dislocated my index finger on a Marine's head one night.
PT: What is the biggest thrill?
IM: Just being recognized by everybody and their brother. And having people come up out of respect and shake my hand. They feel safe. When they come in, they see me; they know it's OK to go there.
PT: What is key to being a good bouncer?
IM: Listening to people.
PT: Are women who fight more difficult than men?
IM: Without a doubt because I don't want to lay hands on a woman. They try to bite me. They try to scratch me. They start kicking me. They're brutal. They're the absolute worst. They're trying to kill me.