Can I Come In, Please?

Harvard’s storied nightlife in a portrait and sketches.

Daniel M. Lynch and Stephen M. Shelton

The first thing Vigo M. Conte does when he arrives at the Pudding is ask how everyone is doing. The second thing he does is ask for the list.

For 17 years, Vigo has been working the door at the Hasty Pudding house, The Harvard Crimson, an assortment of final clubs, and The Harvard Lampoon. He wears a tuxedo when he works, and he looks you square in the eye when he’s talking with you. He’s a father, a husband, and a proud employee of the U.S. postal service.

It was Vigo’s brother-in-law, Michael J. Canley, who got him into the trade. Canley used to work the bar at the Lampoon and found that they always struggled to manage the crowd that showed up for parties with special guests. He suggested that Vigo might be able to help. “He’s very cordial and he can handle people,” Canley says. “He does it very professionally.”

From his first gig back in 1995, Vigo has become the go-to doorman for the clubs and organizations in Harvard Square. His reputation has spread through word of mouth—“a pretty decent job and no complaints,” according to Vigo. If Vigo loves his job, and he says he does, then the regular club crowd loves him more. “Anyone can call him at the last minute and he’ll come do it,” Canley explains.

Tonight Vigo’s working at Two Garden Street. His station wagon pulls up at 11:25 p.m., when there are already crowds out. He pokes his head in the door to say hello. “Viiigooo!” He’s greeted like an old friend, and within minutes he has a list, a chair, and a Diet Coke. (Vigo says he never drinks on the job.) He sits on the left-hand side of the door, so when he opens it for people, he isn’t blocking the entrance. But no one opens the door but him. 11:29 p.m. It’s time for the party.

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Can I come in, please? (Spread)

Can I come in, please? (Spread)

Guests begin to arrive in twos and threes. Vigo welcomes them like a host, checks off their names, and wishes them a good evening. His smile is warm and avuncular; he presses his lips together like a frown, but from the rest of his face it’s somehow obvious that he’s smiling.

“Hi, guys,” Vigo says, with the rise and fall of someone receiving a long-awaited guest. And then: “Can I have your first and last names please?” He checks his list fastidiously, except when he knows that somebody’s a member—then it’s a greeting by name and a handshake, sometimes a quick chat as well, and they’re on their way in. “Have a great evening, folks.”

AS A RULE

Vigo is strict on the rules. No one gets in without being on the list—unless the president himself gives them the OK. “Thanks, come on in,” Vigo says, and learns a few new names along the way. When he rejects someone, he does so with the maximum respect. “I’m sorry, you’re not on the list, and those are the rules of the club.”

Two girls arrive; one is on the list and the other isn’t. They hug their good-byes, wish each other a lovely night, and go their separate ways. The one that gets in rolls her eyes at the half-empty dance-floor and wanders into the kitchen.

Vigo is a gentleman. He attributes his style to Joe Hickey, who was the Steward of the Lampoon when Vigo started working at Harvard. “My buddy, Joe Hickey, he trained us well,” Vigo says. “It’s a real simple thing—I’m going to treat you the way you’re going to treat me, with that kind of dignity and respect.”

And it works in 99 percent of cases, according to Vigo. “You are going to get that person who thinks he or she is better than you, that you are just a doorman and who the hell do you think you are,” he says. “At that point you set the person straight and say these are the rules of club—you have to be firm. But I try to be a gentleman about everything.”

Vigo’s brother-in-law goes one step further in his summation. “Literally, he’s like a teddy-bear,” Canley says. “I stand at the door with Vigo and he’ll say to all the girls, ‘Honey, do me a favor and be careful tonight.’ He’s genuinely concerned about people and that’s what makes him efficient.”

Tonight Vigo chats about Rupert Murdoch and the evils of divisive mass media. He checks that a girl isn’t walking home alone, and then he refuses a skinny sophomore who says, “I know that guy” and points at nobody in particular. He sits for a good 20 minutes with one austere young man, a final club president.

One of Vigo’s favorite things is seeing students graduate from the College, and then seeing them come back again for grad events. Another is meeting the younger siblings of people he befriended many years ago. He tells the story of one club member who had talked with him at length one night about Ted Kennedy ’54-’56—“I’m a liberal and I’m a Democrat, very much so”—and that started a conversation over three or four years. When Kennedy passed away, this club member came back and gave Vigo a book on the late senator. Inside the front cover, the member “wrote some really nice things,” Vigo says. “It touched me, but it touched my wife too in a really big way.”

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