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Credit the club's longevity and success to its owner, Dave Daniels, a 58-year-old British expatriate who arrived in South Florida in 1976, looking to escape the dark, cold, wretched weather of his homeland. A veteran club promoter, Daniels spent the mid-Sixties booking live acts (including the Moody Blues and a nascent version of Cream) in Stock-on-Trent with his friend, Mike Gold, who moved to Miami in the late Sixties.
"Mike's father lived two miles from me, and he would come [back to England] every year to visit him," Daniels recalls. "He was always saying how great America was, so that February I came over for a month as a tourist. The weather was just gorgeous here. When I left England it was snowing and there was lots of ice, and when I got back to England it was still snowing, still a lot of ice. But the weather in Miami was perfect. I was doing well in England. I had a successful club in Leek, and my booking agency was doing quite well, so it was a good time and plenty was happening. But [Mike] kept coming over here, and in 1976 his father died. After the funeral we went down to Birmingham and had lunch. The weather was just abysmal and he kept saying I was crazy to put up with it. And that was the turning point. He persuaded me to come to the States, and a few months later I did."
Although he toyed with the idea of opening an English pub somewhere in the city, Daniels first took a job as a food manager on a cruise ship. "From my experience booking entertainment, I had a better knowledge than any of the cruise directors, plus I'd had pubs and bars in England, so my bar knowledge was there. But I didn't have a lot of food knowledge, so I learned a lot on the cruise ships. I did that for a year and decided I would try and open up an English pub here."
His entry into the Miami bar business was made in 1979, when he opened Winston Churchill's Pub on 54th Street. He was later approached by a pair of entrepreneurs who had bought the bar (built in the mid-Forties) that is now Churchill's Hideaway, while he was working simultaneously at both joints. "We worked out a deal, and I leased what was then the part that has the pool table and bar. We initially carried on as a neighborhood bar. Then the 1980 riot screwed up the other bar that I had, which basically catered to the people who worked in that area." As businesses closed following the riot, Daniels sold Winston Churchill's and devoted his attention to what he christened Churchill's Hideaway. Initially your average neighborhood bar, albeit with an English theme, Daniels began bringing local bands to the club in 1983. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
"I started out doing a little bit of blues stuff," Daniels recalls. "Then Fire and Ice opened down the road. The kids would go there, get stumped, then come here because we had pool tables and our drinks were cheaper. Some of the kids said that I should put some punk bands in here, and it just happened. We didn't have a stage or a PA, but it gradually evolved, and all of a sudden it just took off."
Daniels's open-door policy has been crucial to the development of Miami's often bewildering, occasionally brilliant music scene. Acclaimed groups ranging from the Mavericks to Nuclear Valdez and the Goods cut their teeth on the Churchill's stage, as did the seminal punk band the Eat, Charlie Pickett, the Holy Terrors, Prom Sluts, and Myrin and the 2 Wotz. Avant-garde experimentalists who wouldn't stand a chance of landing a gig at Rose's or Tobacco Road (Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, Harry Pussy, and Rat Bastard's Laundry Room Squelchers, to name a few) were able to raise an unholy racket at Daniels's suitably scruffy pub.
"We've been the only place in town that would use groups like that," says Daniels. "I've encouraged them to play, whereas other places don't want them unless they have a big following. If a band can draw a hundred people at Churchill's, then they want to book them. We're like a birthing place."
Although the Churchill's family album is best seen in person, a pair of 1993 compilations offer a terrific snapshot of the diverse sounds that have rattled the nightclub's windows over the years. Both Sun Brewed Action Music and the marvelously titled Music Generated by Geographical Seclusion and Beer -- each issued on Rat Bastard's Esync label -- are eclectic, slightly inconsistent, yet ultimately entertaining live testaments to Churchill's role in the fostering of Miami's sonic underground. The gamut is spanned, from the rootsy bar-band crunch of Charlie Pickett to the cacophonous skree of Harry Pussy; from the fairly trad punk of Quit to the mainstream rock of the Goods.
Beyond the cultivation of local talent, Daniels has hosted a slew of national and international artists, among them surf-guitar pioneer Dick Dale, retro-instrumentalists Los Straitjackets, the Silos, Joe "King" Carrasco, pseudo-Western swingers Big Sandy and the Flyrite Boys, and punk stalwarts TSOL. Of equal importance, though, have been Churchill's annual Miami Rock Festival, Harry Pussy's farewell gig from a couple of years back, and the 1997 reunion performance by the Eat.
But twenty years is a long time to do anything, and Daniels admits that the grind of maintaining the bar is getting a bit old. For the past few years, he's been looking to sell, thus far to no avail. "To be honest I haven't gotten much interest," he admits. "I still want to sell it, though. It's just too many hours for me. Sometimes I'll work a 100-hour week, which I resent. I've never had any length of time off in my life, and I'm starting to get old. I'd love to just take a year off."
Still, he can't hide his fondness for the place, and the much-maligned neighborhood in which it rests. "People criticize Churchill's because it's in Little Haiti, and that they get hit on for money from the local derelicts. But we actually have very little trouble here. You can go to a very fine part of Miami Beach and get hit on for money to park your car, by the people who need money for their drugs, then you get hit on by the clubs for expensive drinks. And these places in Coconut Grove and Miami Beach -- the big company places with neon in the storefronts, the 400th unit of whatever chain -- they could be any place and it really wouldn't matter.
"We've succeeded because we fire on more cylinders," he continues. "We're an English pub. We're a neighborhood bar. We do the English soccer. We do entertainment. That spreads our overhead over a lot of things, which means we're very inexpensive when it comes to drinks and things. Kids can come here and have a nice night out and not spend a lot of money. And my contribution to all of this is just to let things happen. [The music] is not always something that I personally like, but a long time ago I learned that if somebody wants to pay for it, if there's a market for it, then fine. Just let it be."