Weekend at Johnny’s

I traveled across America walking in Johnny Manziel’s shoes, sitting in his bar seats and passing through his velvet ropes. What I discovered, from College Station to West Hollywood and back again, is a wanderer with no place to call home.

By Michael J. Mooney

Illustration by Matt Rota

September 14, 2016

Behind the bar is a tall man with a bleach-blond mohawk, stretched earlobes and a black replica basketball jersey from the movie Space Jam. He’s wearing a turquoise wristwatch and his cutoff jean shorts are rolled up above his knees. There’s an elephant-shape disco ball hanging overhead and dozens of beers on draft, all with uniform wooden taps. By late afternoon, the only open seat is near the end of the bar. To the left, a young man sipping a Bud Light appears to be studying for some sort of pilot’s exam. To the right, two men in their early 30s are sharing a pitcher of “Kentucky Mule”—like a Moscow Mule, but with bourbon instead of vodka—and discussing their respective weightlifting regimens.

This is Bodega, a popular gastropub about a mile from the Ohio State University campus. It’s the bar where Johnny Manziel was famously photographed Thursday, April 28, the night of the first round of the 2016 NFL draft.

That night, a sports radio reporter in Cleveland named Will Burge tweeted the picture of Manziel sitting at the end of the bar, wearing a gray hoodie and a white headband. Which looked kind of pathetic, especially if you believed the accompanying caption: “2 yrs ago he was a 1st rd pick...now hes unemployed watching it at a bar in Columbus b4 the Bieber concert #Manziel"

The image, that juxtaposition, seemed like something straight out of a cliche-ridden Hollywood movie: a 23-year-old born with every advantage in the world, having squandered so many opportunities, gazing blankly upon a new class of players full of promise and potential. By that night, Manziel had already been cut by the Cleveland Browns, the team that drafted him. He’d been fired by two different agents. Nike had terminated his endorsement deal. He had been indicted by a Dallas County grand jury on a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly throwing his ex-girlfriend against a car window and hitting her in the ear so hard she lost her hearing. His father had told a reporter that he feared his son wasn’t going to live to 24. And now Manziel was out, watching the draft at a bar.

Of course the image quickly spread on Twitter, and across the internet. That this moment would occur in public, in a town full of football fans, was remarkable. But it seemed in kind with so much of Manziel’s highly publicized, cartoonishly predictable downfall.

Obviously the events that made Johnny Football a nicknamed celebrity happened in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans. At Kyle Field, he was cheered like a god by Texas A&M fans, and on the road in the SEC, he was booed like a villain. He was able to thrive on both. And if he never plays another down of professional football, he’ll still have millions of dollars from his family’s oil fortune; he could easily party in private anytime he wants. (And he has!)

But as his world appeared to crumble, so much of Manziel's troubled behavior—the seemingly harmless partying, the worrisome red flags, the truly destructive criminal conduct—rather bizarrely occurred in public, in bars or nightclubs or casinos across America. Even after it was readily apparent that he almost certainly had a drinking problem, that his public stint in rehab didn’t work, the man was still pounding shots and buying rounds and getting in fights and being served legal documents while surrounded by strangers who were often holding cameras. Manziel has, simply, preferred to go out. To the swank lounges of West Hollywood. To the sweaty nightclubs of Las Vegas. To expensive hotels in Dallas. And to places like Bodega, in Columbus, Ohio.

Call it morbid curiosity, but I wanted to see these places for myself. I wanted to see the physical locations where this young man’s life has so publicly unraveled, where he’s gone to forget his troubles—only to accumulate more. I wanted to go where he went, drink what he drank and see what he saw. Not with the goal of running into him, exactly, but to talk to the everyday people who’ve witnessed Johnny Manziel in what seems to be his most natural element: amid the strobing lights and thunderous beats and SHOTS shots shots-shots-shots. (Everybody!) I wanted to know what Manziel would have been thinking as his troubles were stacking up but he was out, thumping through the night to the still-mysterious rhythms of his own mind.

Tonight, like most nights, the place is packed, and there’s a small crowd waiting for seats. The air smells like wing sauce. On the wall, in two-foot mirrored letters, is the word BODEGA, except the D and the A have been switched, so it says BOAEGD. One TV is showing Olympic volleyball, and another is showing a rugby game. Outside, a homeless man walks by in a No. 2 Browns jersey that says MANZIEL.



The bartender with the blond mohawk introduces himself as Govan. He says he was working the night Manziel came in. He also says that, despite what Burge reported, the quarterback didn’t watch the draft here at all. “He was already gone by then,” Govan tells me. Burge, the reporter, says he sent out a friend’s photo. Like so many of the details we choose to ignore in favor of an outrageous and outrageously simple thing to share on social media, I would learn this was not the only Manziel tabloid story that was instantly exaggerated.

Later that night, Manziel bought a round of 300 shots at another bar, and he tweeted the next day: “You guys act like what I'm doing is something new. I've been the same person, doing the same things since it all started.” Then, six minutes later: “Made plenty of mistakes along the way, and have a lot I'd do differently. To all my family and real friends who have stuck by me...THANK YOU”. Then, three minutes after that, he tweeted at Burge, calling him a “pussy.” In the rant, though, Manziel never denied he watched the draft at Bodega.

At the time, news stories focused on the invective, on the admission that Manziel has made mistakes. But it’s that first part—his pride in refusing to change his behavior, even as the consequences grew more disastrous—that I found most interesting. In the mind of Johnny Football, he was merely doing what he’s always done: He’s just a young man having fun, and the world is changing around him.

Govan says Manziel came in early in the evening. “He was pregaming for the Bieber concert,” the bartender explains. He says he recognized the Heisman Trophy winner immediately and watched as he had four or five “Vegas bomb” shots—Crown Royal, schnapps and Red Bull—and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. Govan says Manziel didn’t interact much with anyone, except strangers sending him shots—which he dutifully consumed. He says Manziel was here for 30 minutes or so and left long before the TV crews showed up later that night. He can’t remember anyone else asking him about it since then, either.

“Nobody gives a shit about Johnny Football here,” the bartender tells me. “Nobody even talked to him. People may care about him in Cleveland or in Houston, but we all knew he was an idiot here. We’re on to the next guy.”


A goat’s head hanging on the wall of Chimy’s Cerveceria in College Station has a giant Shiner bottle in its mouth. A ram’s head hanging on a different wall is decorated with a wig. Next to it is a giant flip-flop with a Mike’s Hard Lemonade logo. A Creedence Clearwater Revival song is playing, and a Dallas Cowboys preseason game is on TV. To people who don’t know better, the kitsch details probably seem unique. But there are other branches of Chimy’s near Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas State. This Chimy’s, though, a few hundred feet from the dorms at Texas A&M, is the place people say is Manziel’s favorite bar. He’d come often when he lived here, and a week before he was drafted in 2014, he told Petro Robledo, the general manager, that he wanted to buy a round of Fireball and Miller Lite for the entire place that night—a tab on his credit card for $2,000, in honor of his jersey number.

Tonight, the Thursday before classes start, the bar is full and the crowd is bleeding onto the patio. A group of 12 women is celebrating something at a table in the middle of the room. Three grad students are talking about video games and sipping beer in the corner. Five young men, all wearing polo shirts and ball caps, grab a table near the bar. It appears they’ve been playing golf—something else Manziel loved to do when he was here—and they order a bucket of beers. Then another. I can’t help but think these guys might have been drinking buddies with Manziel if they’d been here three years ago.

They’re talking loudly about what a great fall they’re in for when “Highway to Hell” comes on. That’s when the biggest, loudest guy among them announces: “AC/DC up in here? Oh, fuck yeah! Set it off! Burn this motherfucker down!” He tries to sing along but messes up the lyrics. (When Steve Miller comes on next, the guy makes it clear he knows the words.)

None of the employees here really want to talk to me about Johnny Football. I see a few MANZIEL jerseys around, but a lot of people in College Station got sick of hearing about his antics. Most of the culture in this town values sameness and order and following the rules. But people here love winning football games, too. While he was still a student and player, Manziel needed security to get through the mobs of adoring fans on his way home. But he also famously tweeted during the summer of 2013: “Bullshit like tonight is a reason why I can’t wait to leave college station...whenever it may be.” He deleted the tweet and apologized, but his Mercedes was keyed that year. I’m curious to see how people react to him now that he’s taking classes at the school again. (The classes are "online for the most part," a spokesperson told B/R Mag, "but it's going fine—he's a smart kid. He's enrolled to graduate.")

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He used to come to Chimy’s, though, “pretty often—sometimes a couple times a week,” one of the employees says, and he always saw friendly faces. The night of the draft, while Manziel was in Radio City Music Hall, Chimy’s was packed, even before the announcement that Manziel was buying beers and shots from 1,400 miles away. Around 250 people watched as team after team passed him up, for nearly three hours. When the Cowboys were on the clock with pick No. 16, someone at the bar put on Kid Rock’s “Cowboy,” with the lyrics: “I wanna be a Cowboy, baby.” But alas, the Cowboys, somehow, didn’t take Johnny Football either.

As the preseason game continues to play on TV, a man in a tank top watching near the door mentions the Cowboys have another chance to get Manziel—“He’s a free agent, after all”—but the team has said unequivocally that Manziel won’t be invited for a tryout. The fan reminds me this is a franchise that has, in the last three years alone, employed both Greg Hardy, who was originally suspended 10 games after allegedly attacking his girlfriend and throwing her onto a couch full of guns (the suspension was shortened to four games), and Josh Brent, who served six months in jail after he killed a teammate in a drunken-driving accident. But Manziel, a native son of Texas, isn’t worth the drama.

A block from Chimy’s is the intersection where, in many ways, the public documentation of Manziel’s drinking exploits began. In June 2012, before he’d played a single down for the Aggies, he was arrested here, at the corner of Church Avenue and First Street. It only made news that week because he was expected to compete for the starting quarterback job that fall. He never missed a game because of the incident, but there were three charges: disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possession of a fake driver's license. In his mug shot, Manziel’s eyes are empty, his acne is active—and he is not wearing a shirt. He was 19 years old.

Tonight, the intersection is dark and mostly devoid of people. It’s next to a parking lot and near the dorms, close to rows and rows of bars. You can hear the echoes of the good times floating down the street.

According to an affidavit, early in the morning of June 29, 2012—just after the bars closed—a bicycle officer here came upon Manziel and a 47-year-old black man named Marvin McKinney “actively fighting each other” in the middle of the street. When the officer separated the men, Manziel smelled like alcohol and slurred his words. McKinney and an “independent witness” told police that as McKinney walked by, Manziel’s friend called him “nigger.” McKinney confronted the friend, and Manziel intervened to defend his friend, repeatedly punching the man and holding on in what the officer described as “mutual combat.”

When an officer asked Manziel for ID, he produced a fake Louisiana driver’s license with a date of birth in 1990. (Manziel was born in 1992.) An officer wrote in the affidavit that Manziel “appeared to be so intoxicated that he could not answer my questions about the incident except to tell me that he wanted a ride home and was sorry.”

The police report does not explain what happened to Manziel’s shirt.


You and I couldn’t get into most of the places where Manziel hangs out when he’s in Hollywood unless you reserved a table with bottle service beforehand, and that’s going to cost several hundred dollars at minimum. One of his favorite spots to party is The Nice Guy on North La Cienega Boulevard, a celebrity hotspot where on a typical night, if you can get a reservation, you might drink and dine next to Brooklyn Beckham or A$AP Rocky or an Albanian supermodel.

Manziel has been photographed coming in or out of Nice Guy so often that certain fashion blogs have begun breaking down what he wears there (often a hoodie). Sometimes he answers a question or two from the paparazzi gathered on the sidewalk; sometimes he ducks into the back of a car without saying a word. This is one of the three bars he came to the night after his first court appearance for the assault charge in Dallas. It’s where he was officially served papers for a lawsuit over damage done to a mansion he rented not far from here.

Over one weekend in April, the suit alleges, Manziel and his friends caused $32,000 in damages. Neighbors, including comedian Kathy Griffin, called the police to report noise complaints. The real estate broker who arranged the deal arrived at 2 p.m. the next day. He told “Page Six” he found suspicious cocaine on the kitchen table, booze and broken bottles in every direction and the quarterback passed out on the couch.

The Friday night I visit The Nice Guy, it’s closed for a private party, but after a lot of talking, a very kind, very confused employee is willing to let me peek inside if I promise not to name anyone I see. Which is fine, especially because I don’t recognize anyone at the private party, except a guy who looks like Jon Hamm but probably isn’t.

The restaurant itself, though, is incredible. From the low, wood-slat ceilings to the Goodfellas-inspired bar to the flower-pattern fabric in the booths to the fonts on the logo and the NO PHOTOS sign on the door, this place feels like a callback to something Hollywood used to be. When celebrities were protected and there was no TMZ. It seems like a place where Frank Sinatra would have hung out. There are chevron mirrors on the walls and a party-style photo booth facing a paisley drapery—to protect the privacy of other guests. The kitchen serves duck banh mi pizzas, $20 hamburgers, a bone-in veal chop and an eggplant cannelloni for vegans. (I’m told the warm cookies with spiked milk is popular.)

Outside, small groups of well-dressed, attractive people approach one after another and try the locked door, then stand around for a moment deciding what to do, right here on La Cienega, then vanish into the night.

Ten minutes away, on Sunset Boulevard, is Bootsy Bellows, another trendy spot Manziel frequents. It’s owned by the H.Wood Group, the same company that owns The Nice Guy. Bootsy Bellows doesn’t even open until 11:15 p.m., but a woman out front says there’s virtually no chance a single guy would get in tonight without having his name on the list.

Manziel has also partied at a strip club called Ace of Diamonds, but it’s only open on Mondays. A man who answers the phone says Manziel used to be a regular, “but we haven’t seen him around in a while.” One of Manziel’s cars was in an accident while parked in front of a different strip club, Seventh Veil on Sunset, but it’s not clear if he was driving—or even in Los Angeles—at the time. (At least three of his cars have been in accidents in the last five months.) A neon sign outside Seventh Veil flashes GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS. A manager here says he’s seen Manziel come in a few times, but I’m not sure I believe him. The manager says I should “ask one of the girls about it over a dance.” I decide this doesn’t seem like the kind of place a rich 23-year-old in designer jeans would come to make it rain.

When his life was imploding, when most of us would have called upon our families, he wandered West Hollywood. That’s what he does.

Deep in the Staples Center in downtown L.A. is Hyde Lounge. There are Hydes in Las Vegas and Miami, and in a few arenas, and its parent company owns dozens of other restaurants and nightclubs, too. (Manziel, it is safe to say, likes chains.) Outside this particular Hyde is a rope and a tall bouncer. He calls over a woman with a clipboard, and when I ask about Manziel, they both laugh. When I explain why I’m here—to go where he went, drink what he drank—the bouncer says “Are you serious?” three times before changing to, “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

The inside is cool and dim, with drinkers and diners seated on plush couches or in low leather booths. There’s noirish lighting and gorgeous dark wood on the floors and walls. The place goes on and on. Manziel has come here for dinner a few times—it’s another one of the places he was seen the day after his court appearance. When his life was imploding, when most of us would have called upon our families, he wandered West Hollywood. That’s what he does.

He also goes to places like Warwick, also on Sunset. He’s been spotted here after partying with Bieber, and he was photographed in May with what appeared to be a temporary diamond grill in his mouth. At the door, I’m told I should talk to Sevon. When I find him, Sevon is wearing a suit jacket. He’s got broad shoulders, a long beard and a bald head. He says Manziel comes here about once a month but adds, “We don’t disclose anything about our guests.” Sevon also says, “We don’t let in the general public. People pay a lot of money to be in here.”

As he’s talking, a young woman with blond hair in heels and a jean jacket comes over, and he stops mid-word. “Excuse me,” he snaps at her. “I’m having a conversation here.” As she slinks away, Sevon continues.

Manziel comes to places like this, the not-so-welcoming door guy says, so he can “have a good time without worrying about what people think.”

When he comes out, though, the real world is still right here, waiting for his next mistake.


Though he’s been out plenty of times in New York and Miami, there’s no place Manziel goes to party more than Las Vegas. When he’s here, he goes to 1 OAK, at The Mirage, and Hakkasan and the Wet Republic pool, both at the MGM Grand. He goes to Surrender, at Encore, and JEWEL, at ARIA. Each one of these places is the same but different. It’s the same people: the eternally confident men in their early 20s, the women in tight dresses and shoes that hurt their feet. It’s the same music: The Chainsmokers or Flume or DJ Snake. It’s the same $20 drinks, the same flashing strobes, the same feel-it-in-your-sternum beats no matter who’s in the DJ booth.

The dealers and pit bosses at the Hard Rock remember the day Manziel came in here. It was December 6, 2013, a week after the Aggies lost their final game of the regular season, to Missouri, and a few weeks before Manziel’s final college contest: a remarkable comeback win against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. And it was Manziel’s 21st birthday. He came in with an entourage of four or five. A blackjack dealer named Michael—he has long hair pulled into a ponytail and a nametag declaring that his favorite musician is Jimi Hendrix—says he dealt to Manziel that night. He remembers Manziel and his friends keeping the bets small, under $25.

“You want the inside scoop?” asks the dealer, who then delivers what is much more of a hot take than a scoop. “He’s a dick. He comes in and everything is about him. That’s how he treats people. When you do this long enough you can read people, and he just didn’t have that respect for other people. You got money for playing a game and you’re treating the people who buy those tickets like that?”

People have bad things to say about Manziel in a lot of places, actually. A bartender at Wet Republic, where he was photographed by the pool earlier this year looking very thin, talks about the crowd that seems to form around the quarterback anywhere he goes but also adds, unsolicited: “You know they hate him in his hometown, too, right?” A man checking IDs at The Mirage, where Manziel frequents 1 OAK, calls him “a shitty football player.” A bouncer near the VIP section of ARIA, where Manziel was recorded scuffling with a man during an impromptu Drake show—for reasons that are unclear, someone nearby is also waving a Canadian flag—says he thinks Manziel “looked like he was on a lot of something” that night. Then he calls him “a waste.”

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Diamond Images/Getty Images

I was excited to talk to the people at the Planet Hollywood casino, where Manziel was reportedly spotted playing blackjack in a blond wig, fake mustache and glasses during the last week of the 2015 season, in January. He was sitting out of practice with what the Browns said was a concussion—and with his future on the team looking grim—when USA Today reported he was seen here at the tables. Manziel posted a photo to Instagram that night. It’s of the quarterback lying on the floor with a dog. He added the hashtag #SaturdayNights, and later he added a location: Avon, Ohio. By then he’d lost any benefit of the doubt, though, and most people following the Manziel saga assumed he was only trying to cover his tracks. After so many exploits, the whole thing just seemed like another wild story about Johnny Football. The man who was once photographed sipping champagne facedown on an inflatable swan. The man who threw a houseparty in Cabo on a whim. The man who posted a photo of himself fanning a handful of cash in an Oklahoma casino while he was still in college.

But none of the dealers or pit bosses or bartenders or waitresses I talk to have any memory of Manziel being here in January or at any other time. (One dealer at Planet Hollywood does, however, go on to lay out a particularly racist diatribe about why Britney Spears fans tip better than Jennifer Lopez fans when they leave the shows and come to the tables.) In the original USA Today report, which was taken as gospel by most outlets that repeated it, Manziel supposedly had dinner at the Heart Bar, in the center of the casino, and paid cash before gambling. When I ask if anyone might remember what he had to eat that night, I’m informed the Heart Bar does not serve food.

Looking back now, the idea of a pro football player flying across the country to play blackjack in a wig and fake mustache seems a bit farfetched. But when you’re Johnny Manziel, people will believe anything.

Setting off on this trip—Dallas to Columbus to L.A. to Las Vegas and back to College Station—I expected to hear tale after tale of his wild shenanigans. I expected stories about Johnny Football jumping on bars and—I’m not even sure what. Mostly, though, I’m hearing from people who were rubbed the wrong way by a sad, arrogant 23-year-old fuckup. A fuckup who, if not for his money and athletic abilities, is probably a lot like a fuckup you know. Maybe someone who lives down the block. Maybe someone in your family. 

Manziel's spokesperson, Denise Michaels, indicated that he was trying to actually embark on a new chapter, back in school and attempting to put legal problems in the rear view. "His actions lately point to an accountability and a shouldering of responsibility," she told B/R Mag. "The fact that he's been working out, that he's back in school, that he's trying to keep the promise he made to his parents—that all speaks to somebody who's moving in the right direction."

But after enough time seeing what Manziel saw, and enough vodka—his preferred drink while clubbing here, it seems—the places and directions begin to kind of blur together for me. By the end of every night, my arm is covered in strange stamps and wristbands, and I have to consult my notes to remember who I met where. Here, Manziel can sometimes blend into the sea of people his age. The night I go to JEWEL, there are nearly 2,000 people clubbing and several hundred more waiting upstairs in the maze of lines across the lobby. At 1 OAK, it’s so loud and dark and dense you can hardly tell one dancing mass from the next. Before I leave, I wonder again what Manziel must have been thinking. But of course, as the chemicals and the music and the moment all take hold, you’re not really thinking at all.

It occurs to me that his personal and professional struggles have some things in common. On the football field, as in life, he was always able to shut out the noise—the hecklers and doubters—and trust his instincts. He was able to do what he wanted in the moment and get by on his skill and connections. He was able to do it longer than almost anyone, too. There are stories of him skipping film sessions in college and still winning, of him showing up to practice in jeans and still dominating. But adulthood, like the NFL, doesn’t work that way. In his first pro start, Manziel went 10-of-18 for only 80 yards with two interceptions. The Browns lost 30-0.


The center lighting structure at Dragonfly, inside Hotel ZaZa in Dallas, has dozens of light bulbs on metal wires drooping from above. By 10 p.m., every table is occupied, and the crowd at the bar is thick. The night I visit, a man and a woman are arguing at the bar. They’re both here with other people, except they know each other—and it sounds like they may have dated in the past. Nobody can tell how the argument began, really, but as they stand in the mass of people in front of the bar, the woman is yelling: “Call him!” She picks up her phone and puts it in the man’s face. “Call him!”

The man, wearing a collared shirt and jeans, walks away to join his friends but in the process loudly calls the woman a “fucking bitch.” One of their friends looks embarrassed as she orders a Moscow Mule from the bartender. Soon, a manager in a powder-blue jacket and tortoiseshell glasses appears and tells them that if the yelling continues, they’ll both have to leave. The woman tells the manager she “feels threatened” by the man, and the manager tells the guy he has to go. Then she changes her mind: “Nah, I’ll go with him.” They walk toward the candlelit hallway that leads to the door, but they don’t get more than a few feet before they start yelling again. And again the manager comes over and tells them to leave.

This hotel is only a few blocks from where Manziel got into yet another car accident. This time, he was apparently T-boned at an intersection, and he called the police to report a hit-and-run. In the 911 tape, you hear him describe the incident in scant detail before the operator asks for his name. He says, sheepishly, “Jonathan Manziel.”

Hotel ZaZa is also where he was partying the night of January 29, when, his ex-girlfriend says, he smacked her in the ear hard enough that she couldn’t hear for days. According to her affidavit, Colleen Crowley, also 23, was out with three of her friends that night. They went to dinner, then went barhopping in the uptown area. She and Manziel dated for two years and had lived together for four months in Cleveland before breaking up a month prior to the incident. The two texted and agreed to meet at an after-party at ZaZa. Her friends left her alone with Manziel in his room, where she said that if she was going to spend the night, it would be on the couch. They discussed a woman who, as Crowley put it, “caused us problems in the past.”

She says Manziel claimed to throw her on the bed “playfully” but that it frightened her and she wanted to leave. Crowley says she tried to open the door but Manziel wouldn’t let her. “I became very scared that he was going to hurt me,” she wrote. She says he eventually brought her down to the valet stand and had his car brought around. She says she told the valet, “Please don't let him take me. I'm scared for my life,” but that the valet didn’t know what to do. She says the valet let Manziel “literally throw” her into the passenger seat of the car before he drove off.

The valet stand is right outside the bar, next to the pool. There’s a velvet rope and a mountain of a man standing behind it, sweating as he checks IDs and turns away anyone he deems unworthy. The hotel’s driveway is lined with luxury SUVs.

Crowley said in an affidavit Manziel drove her to her car and they switched vehicles. She says she jumped out of the car at one point and ran away but that Manziel turned the car around, got out, grabbed her by the hair and threw her back into the car. That’s when Crowley says Manziel, who is 6’ tall and weighs more than 200 pounds, hit her with an open hand on her left ear. She says she immediately lost hearing in that ear and hadn’t regained it by the time she wrote the affidavit two days later.

She says she worried he was “on drugs or having a psychotic break” and that Manziel had threatened to “kill us both.” When they got to her apartment in Fort Worth, 30 miles from the hotel, she says he smashed her phone. Crowley says she used her computer to try to FaceTime her parents, and when Manziel saw that, she says she became “extremely scared” and grabbed a kitchen knife. Only then, she says, did he leave the apartment.

The case is pending, and the management at ZaZa doesn’t want to comment. (Manziel's spokesperson cited a June tweet that Manziel's lawyer "would not have Manziel plead guilty—his position has not changed.") But a valet who didn’t give his name says he was on duty that night. He says when he saw Manziel and Crowley, they were both “totally wasted.”

The valet says Manziel has since been banned from the property. He can think of only one other celebrity banned from Hotel ZaZa: Ozzy Osbourne.


A few hours after he left Bodega on the night of this year’s draft, Manziel went to the Bieber concert at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus—reportedly his second Bieber show that week. Afterward, he showed up at a place called Dahlia Bar & Lounge. Unlike Bodega, Dahlia is a nightclub, one of the few in town that invites nationally known DJs. (When I visit, there are posters everywhere for the September 3 Paul Oakenfold show.) It feels a little like the places Manziel likes in Las Vegas. There’s an LED disco ball that displays the club’s logo and a long white bar that seems to glow as the night goes on. Between the bar and the kitchen is the DJ booth, where Manziel spent much of his time here April 28.

“It was a crazy night,” a bartender named Devin tells me. She shakes her head. “He decided to ball out. A lot of drunken choices were made that night.”

At one point, Manziel ordered 300 shots of Fireball whiskey for the whole place. The bartender says there were shot glasses lined up from one end of the bar to the other. They emptied “probably at least 10 bottles of Fireball,” she says. They weren’t worried about running out, though, because Dahlia’s sister bar is nearby, and there’s a liquor store between them. The tab for that order: $2,100. “Plus 20 percent tip,” she says.

“Three hundred Fireballs! Let’s get ’em some Miller Lites. Now let’s turn up. This shit wicked!”

— Johnny Manziel

As Devin tells the story, a Katy Perry song plays overhead. Then a Kesha song about parties not stopping. The bartender makes a point of saying much more famous people have come through here. LeBron James, for instance. The Cleveland Cavaliers rented the place out once, she says, before they won the recent championship. “LeBron is infinitely more famous,” she says.

A video of Manziel that night eventually made its way to TMZ. It’s dark and shaky, with the word DAHLIA illuminated in the background. You can hear a voice that sounds like Manziel’s coming through the speakers. He sounds a little hoarse and winded, like he might sound calling a play near the end of a game. Except he sounds shit-faced.

“Three hundred Fireballs,” he says. “Get ’em some Miller Lites.” He continues as the strobe lights flash and the music picks up: “Now let’s turn up. This shit wicked!” Later in the video, you can see Manziel in the DJ booth, still wearing the white headband he had on earlier, taking a long pull directly from a long dark bottle.

Devin says that with Manziel in the booth that night was Bieber’s DJ, who was doing a set here after the concert. She says Manziel told people he was waiting for Bieber. The singer passed by the place that night in his limo, she says, but he didn’t stop.

At some point, a small group of men in their 30s with bottle service near the corner of the bar—all Ohio State alumni—start passing around shots and are nice enough to share. There’s a round of Ciroc. Then another. And another. Then we’re on to a round of Fireball. I think there might have been Jell-O shots. There are definitely toasts: to Columbus, to Devin, to “this fucking night kicking fucking ass.” There are drunk texts and terrible selfies with strangers, and I wonder for a moment if this is sort of what Manziel felt when he was here, but I’m too drunk to really think about it—so probably yeah.

The next morning, though, feels like a nightmare.

Michael J. Mooney is a New York Times best-selling author who writes for ESPN The Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ, Outside, Texas Monthly, SUCCESS and Popular Mechanics. His stories have appeared in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Crime Reporting. He’s also the co-director of the annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. He lives in Dallas with his fiancee, Tara.

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