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You don't have to live in Miami very long to learn that the club scene here is, to put it mildly, kinda weird. Locals no doubt know the litany of shortcomings: too many dance pits and not enough live-music stages; a spot on the national touring circuit that's practically nonexistent, given the city's geographic no-man's-land locale; radio programmers too scared to venture from beyond the constrictions of their myopic formats. (WDNA and WLRN can't do everything, and the pirate stations lack sufficient wattage to blanket the city with their guerrilla programming.) For the most part, the clubs that are here are doing as good a job as they can, given the above-listed limitations; to lose one, though, whether it's Rose's, South Beach Pub, or Tobacco Road, would border on cultural devastation.
That's why it's alarming to hear that Churchill's Hideaway owner Dave Daniels is putting his Little Haiti nightspot on the shopping block, for an asking price of $350,000. After nearly twenty years in the business, Daniels says he's ready for a break.
"What's happened is I've gotten tired of the hours," says Daniels, the 56-year-old British expatriate who bought the club in 1978 and began hosting local and national bands four years later. "I've just been forming the idea of not wanting to be here. It's sort of a seven-days-a-week thing, getting here anywhere from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and staying until 3:00 a.m. In the past I've tried working fewer hours here but it just doesn't work. It's a lot more than a one-man show. I've had people working with me who are wonderful and I've delegated things to them. But realistically, [Churchill's] needs to be run by a family, or at least two or three partners. And there's also more competition now, with more places for people to play."
Just as a place like Tobacco Road serves a specific music function -- providing a dependable, reliable outlet for local and national blues and R&B acts, for instance -- Churchill's has both carved a singular niche for itself and filled a gaping hole in the city's live-music network. (And like the Road, Churchill's is also open days and has a full kitchen.) When other clubs shunned or shied away from opening their doors to the city's eccentric, avant-garde, and just plain painful rock and punk outfits -- from early trailblazers such as the Eat to the screeching sonic explorations of Harry Pussy and the myriad combos led by Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra -- Daniels gladly turned over the Churchill's stage.
"We've fulfilled a function here that no one else has done," says Daniels, who booked shows at various nightclubs in England before coming to Miami in the Seventies. "We've given a variety of groups an opportunity to play and get their feet wet without them having to make money -- either for us or for themselves. A lot of other places in town have wanted groups that can guarantee a draw of like a hundred people, but we've never done that. We've had certain groups that have drawn well for us -- the Goods, Charlie Pickett -- and there was a temptation on our part to use these groups on a resident basis. But we didn't. We kept them at once a month so we could provide an opportunity for more groups to play here. When we made the choice to do this, it was directed by a sense of almost public service, and I think we've maintained that philosophy."
That kind of public service has allowed groups to hone their skills without worrying about filling the club with a throng of beer-swilling (i.e., beer-buying) regulars. And while the club has most often hosted groups and artists I guess you'd call alternative (whatever the hell that means these days), the variety on the club's music menu is there for anyone with the right ears: The straightforward punk of the Eat, Stun Guns, and Quit; the experimental shriek of Harry Pussy, Laundry Room Squelchers, SC, and Kreamy 'Lectric Santa; the fairly trad rock of Charlie Pickett, Sixo, and the Goods; and everything in between, from singer/songwriters and reggae to country and surf. And if the place hasn't been very aggressive with national bookings, Daniels has had the good taste (and good business sense) to bring surf-guitar pioneer Dick Dale to the club twice (first time was this past spring; second is next Firday, November 29).
Although Daniels says he hasn't put the club officially on the market, he's obviously ready to bail when the right buyer comes along. Meaning the best anyone can hope for is that whoever buys the place won't monkey with the formula that's made it so important for so many years. As for Daniels, who doesn't seem to know where he'll go if and when he sells the club, you can't really blame the guy for needing a break. The nightclub business ain't exactly the cushiest or most stress-free of occupations.
"I just need to take some time off," Daniels laments. "I would love to have six months where I could just travel. There are so many places I haven't been. The one thing I dislike about this business is that it hasn't allowed me to have any time off. In England, when I was doing this, I could take off two, three weeks at a time. Here though, I haven't had that luxury."