Churchill's Pub: An Oral History

The beer is cheap. The noise is glorious. The ladies' room is disgusting. The men's room is worse. For 35 years, Churchill's Pub has stood at 5501 NE Second Ave. in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. That 73-year-old guy with the thick white hair and beard sitting in the shadows, sipping on cider, is Dave Daniels, a former British promoter and owner of this establishment since 1979. Recently, he sold the place, leaving behind a legacy of punk rock and total artistic freedom. From its humble beginnings as an old-timers' day bar, this watering hole has evolved into one of the few music venues in the world where anything goes.

The pub's new proprietors, including real estate developer Mallory Kauderer, haven't announced any major changes, but the shift in ownership does mean the end of an era. So to capture three insane decades of jazz, noise, punk, metal, heavy drinking, performance art, and international soccer, New Times gathered the stories of those who have made Churchill's a cultural landmark.

What follows is the oral history of Miami's greatest rock club.

Nicky Bowe, pub enforcer and co-owner of Donkey Barn Motorcycles: Churchill's is about freedom. There's stuff that goes on that any other owner would walk out, flip a switch, and say, "Get them the fuck out of here."

Chuck Loose, former Chickenhead member and Iron Forge Press founder: You can just do whatever you want at Churchill's. It's where you go to light yourself on fire or ride a motorcycle across the stage.

Steven "Mr. Entertainment" Toth, longtime Churchill's volunteer: There's only one rule at Churchill's: no stage-diving. Anything else goes. Anything.

Dave Daniels, pub founder and owner: Back in England, I'd been a promoter. Then in Miami, I'd worked on cruise ships. So I did that for a year. But I didn't want to get institutionalized, like so many people seem to do. And I got off, looking for a pub to buy in 1979. This [the current Churchill's Pub location] was actually one of the places that I looked at, but it was an elderly couple in ill health who owned it, and the old man was going a bit crazy, so there wasn't a deal to be done.

See also: A Look at 35 Years of Churchill's Pub Flyers

Instead, I ended up getting another place, a very small one, not too far away, at 35 NW 54th St., near Overtown and Liberty City, which I called Sir Winston Churchill's Pub. I bought it on the first of January, 1979. It wasn't much more than 1,000 square feet. It was just a pub. That place was beginning to do well. We were doing 30 or 40 lunches. But then the riots happened.

In 1980, after four Miami-Dade Police officers were acquitted in the beating death of a black man named Arthur McDuffie, outbreaks of violence, arson, and looting tore through Overtown , Liberty City, and other Miami neighborhoods. Churchill's original location was unharmed, but many nearby businesses fled.

Charlie Pickett, former frontman of the Eggs: At that time, Overtown was also absolutely drug-infested. And oddly enough, the people who were going over there to get drugs were able to get in and out safely, even during the riots. They were known there. They went in. They got their drugs. And then they left. It sounds almost incredible. But it was absolutely foolish to venture into that part of town for any other reason.

Daniels: Just before the riots, the crazy old man who owned [the current Churchill's Pub location] must not have been paying his taxes, because it was sold on the courthouse steps. The building was a pub serving beer and wine on the corner, with two storefronts. It used to close at 7 in the evening. It was an old-timers' day bar. The people who bought it, though, weren't really interested in running a pub. So they approached me... Meanwhile, the other neighborhood was completely changed by the riots. So I unloaded the old pub. And I concentrated on the new place.

By late 1980, Daniels had renovated and renamed the Little Haiti bar Churchill's Pub. But he was still mostly serving its longtime clientele: a hard-drinking gang of working-class senior citizens.

Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra, leader of the Laundry Room Squelchers and International Noise Conference founder: Yeah, Dave opened up this bar. He didn't have nothing else to fucking do. It was called Charlie and Harriet's. That's where the C and H comes from. He turned it into Churchill's Hideaway. I went to high school right there at Curley. I used to come with my fake ID.

Daniels: At that time, there were 20 bars within two miles of here. And now they're all gone.

Rat Bastard: This was an old neighborhood, so you still had these old guys that used to work for the phone company, electrical company. They'd retire, and they just drank.

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S. Pajot
Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.
Contact: Liz Tracy