On the corner of Chrystie and Rivington at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday, a crowd heavily featuring trucker hats and tattoos blocked the sidewalk, blowing cigarette smoke up into the air while they tightly clutched Modelos. It might have looked like a block party, but if you got close enough, drawn in by clouds of marijuana and contagious laughter, you would have seen bright eyes staring at a single man. It's not A$AP Rocky, who stood on the curb eating a slice of cheese pizza. Instead, the attention was centered around Randy Robinson, wearing a black bomber jacket with two diamond studs and holding a walkie-talkie in his hand. He’s known to regulars of Ray’s Bar as Door Daddy Randy.
One could assume that the long line of patrons were gathered to gain entrance to the bar, but the people out front were having a party all their own. While Dua Lipa sat in the back booth with her friends and Christopher Mintz-Plasse—more widely known as his Superbad alter ego, McLovin—mixed drinks behind the bar, some guests chose to stay outside near the man they came to see.
The therapist who overcharges you does not stand a chance against a 20-minute conversation with Robinson. Whether you need to rant about your boyfriend troubles, get feedback on your upcoming clothing line, or you just need someone to talk to, you’ve always got an ear on the Lower East Side. Like a friend you’ve known all your life, Robinson keeps it real—doling out advice that addresses the good and the bad, the sour and the sweet, whether you’re ready to hear it or not.
A month ago, a Ray’s regular came up to the bar in a red floral dress in hopes of receiving Robinson’s blessing on the boy that she had started dating. She pulled him aside before her date arrived and said, “Give me a thumbs up if you approve.” Although Robinson thought the guy was a little too preppy for her and needed to be more laid back, the date’s warmth and manners eventually earned Robinson’s seal of approval.
Robinson is aware of his cult following, as he recently told VICE. Among his regulars, he noted that he has become a father figure to some—that person, he said, who is always ready to “pull up a chair, an ice-cold beer, and shoot the shit.”
That kindness has not gone unnoticed. While enjoying breakfast at a Bond Street restaurant on 4/20, a group of his devoted fans spotted him and tossed him a couple joints. At a Knicks game in Madison Square Garden, regulars approached him and asked for a picture. While Robinson’s eyes fixed on Allen Houston, his favorite player, customers who have felt heard on a Friday night out focused their attention on him. Locals have even been known to stop by the bar to introduce Robinson to their parents.
“I don’t care if you have $10K of clothes on or if you are pulling up to Ray’s with a stained ‘I Heart NY’ t-shirt,” Robinson said. “When I talk to you, I want you to feel comfortable, and like you are being invited home.”
For those who happen to journey inside Ray’s, the decor exudes the opposite of glamor: With cheap paneled walls and old Budweiser posters, it looks more like a high school friend’s basement from the 80s than a chandelier cocktail bar. An average night features regulars engaged in an intense pool tournament, while a doorway, tucked in the corner across the entrance, leads to an underground speakeasy where the bar held basement parties after COVID-19 restrictions began to loosen last summer.
This shabbiness is precisely part of the bar’s appeal. Opened in 2019, Ray’s owners include filmmaker Justin Theroux and actor Nicholas Braun, the latter of whom is known for his role as Cousin Greg in the HBO drama Succession. Over the past few years, the bar has developed a reputation as a nightlife hotspot.
Robinson started working at Ray's in early May 2021, after his previous role as the bouncer at the long-running off-Broadway show Sleep No More ended. The pandemic resulted in a stressful few years for New York nightlife, but when Robinson realized that the world was reopening, he made a phone call to his employer at the security company Allstar Security and Consulting, Inc. They asked him if he wanted to be a bouncer at one of their clients, Ray’s.
Although his commute from The Bronx takes about an hour, Robinson was quickly drawn to the staff and the artists, chefs, and singers that frequented Ray’s for a daily game of pool. Word about the bar got out on social media last summer, Robinson said, and the bar quickly started exceeding capacity.
The bar is elbow-to-elbow on Friday and Saturday nights, when getting a drink at the bar requires stern dedication. On a Saturday evening outside the bar, nearly six hours into Robinson’s nine-hour shift, a gaggle of girls approached him and asked sheepishly: “Is Cousin Greg inside?” These types of patrons—women in their early 20s who just moved to the city—aren’t representative of the people who frequent Ray’s, and Robinson doesn’t extend them his trademark warmth. “People who are just coming into the bar to meet Nick can wait outside,” he said coolly.
The character of Ray’s clientele has changed somewhat as Braun’s star has risen. The New York Post declared the 34-year-old “NYC’s hottest bachelor” in an October 2021 profile, owing in part to his perceived accessibility. One admirer described him to the Post as “not totally untouchable.” “If you met him on the street, he would probably be nice,” a neighbor of Braun’s told the publication.
But while Braun may draw in first-timers, it’s Robinson that keeps people coming back. Even other celebrities seem more interested in their favorite bouncer than the other famous people crowded inside the bar. One evening, Robinson walked Channing Tatum and his girlfriend, Zoë Kravitz, into their black SUV as Tatum gave him a familiar hug. Robinson is often misread by those who glance at his firm face towering over the door of the bar. “You have the most amazing voice,” the 42-year-old actor said. “Your soft voice does not match how you look.”
“I don’t care if you have $10K of clothes on or if you are pulling up to Ray’s with a stained ‘I Heart NY’ t-shirt. When I talk to you, I want you to feel comfortable, and like you are being invited home,” Robinson said.
One of Ray’s regulars, Aphrodite Takos, an assistant menswear buyer for a luxury brand, has lived above the bar for about a year now. One evening last September, Takos was carrying some food to eat after a long day at work when she stopped to pay Robinson a brief visit. When she asked him for his Instagram handle and learned that Robinson didn’t have one, she marched up three flights of stairs and made a page for him. After brainstorming different ideas for what the account would be called, she came up with Door Daddy Randy, and the name stuck.
Takos ran the account on Robinson’s behalf for four months, and a typical early post features Robinson sitting in a chair with a bear head on, accompanied by the caption “Big Daddy Bear.” Since he took it over on September 18 last year, the page currently counts a modest 1,100 followers at publication time. When asked what makes Robinson’s guests so devoted to him that they’re willing to work as his unpaid social media manager, Takos described him as “open and wholesome,” with a different air about him than typical bar bouncers.
“I find that with many men who work doors, especially in the city, there's always something a little domineering about them,” she told VICE. “Versus Randy, who is there to be friendly and open and to make sure that everybody is having a good time. There is this excitement to say hi to him every day when I’m going home from work.”
Robinson doesn’t mean to toot his own horn, but he knows that many of the customers he sees every day are coming to the bar just to see him. Weekdays around 6 p.m. are among his busiest hours. Huddled outside with the multitude of regulars looking for a post-workday debrief, one unhappy man stuck in finance told Robinson that he can’t wait to leave his job. A girl in a blazer and trousers walked up to Robinson, sighed, and said, “I’m not coming in, but I’ve had a really long day. I really need a hug.”
Ray’s employees admit that they don’t quite know what they did to deserve him. Earlier this year, Robinson released a limited-edition T-shirt in honor of his growing fanbase: The front reads “Door Daddy est. 1990,” and the back says “All My Friends Are Inside,” the latter a phrase Robinson said he hears at the door “every 10 seconds.”
“I'm just a guy at a bar, but I've developed some kind of following, so I was like, ‘Why don’t we just make T-shirts and see if people buy them?’” he recalled. The launch was successful, and the Door Daddy Randy collection is expanding soon. Even so, he said the T-shirt does not guarantee entry, and his trademark fatherly warmth dropped just long enough to be a reminder that he’s a man with a job to do.
“Seriously, don’t make trouble in this house,” he said, “or Dad's going to have to open a can of whoop-ass.”
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