You'll usually find Nicky Bowe in the warm womb of Little Haiti's Churchill's Pub. The Irishman's thin arms and torso are covered with a colorful tatted narrative that rivals the dynamic tales that emerge from his smiling face. Nicky isn't just a bartender or a guy who builds motorcycles. In his 11 years with Churchill's, he's been a kind enforcer, a goofball, and one of the patriarchs of the pub's rowdy family.
"I love going to Churchill's," Bowe says. He spends birthdays there, his 23-year-old son from Dublin has graced its stage, and he even got married there. "It's not because I work there," he says. "It's not like I own the place."
But he does make it fun. "I found a black-and-white dress behind the bar, 2 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon," he recounts. "I just took off my T-shirt, put the dress on, walked out from behind the bar, and everybody was like, 'You're fucking psycho.'" He's also taken the Churchill's stage more than once. "I'll do anything for a laugh," he admits. At the International Noise Conference, he's driven patrons into the street. "First time, I drove my bike into the middle of the floor, burned out the tire. I smoked out the whole place. It looked awesome, but everybody was choking. And then last year, I burned out the tire, but not as long, because I felt for everybody."
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His forgive-and-forget attitude makes Churchill's a safe haven for all things weird and wonderful. "A family that hits each other stays together," he jokes before revealing he has 132 first cousins. And though he says he's seen only two serious fights there in 11 years, it's that controlled, intimate aggression that's reflected in the wild interior of this English pub.
Bowe, who came stateside thanks to a job at Carnival Cruise Lines, says that growing up in Ireland prepared him for working at a bar. "Any excuse for a drink," he says of his homeland — specifically "weddings and funerals. There was no difference between the two. One, there was a person added to the family, and one, there was a person lost."
He left Churchill's for two years while owner Dave Daniels was away on a cruise around the world. Bowe spent that time building $30,000 bikes in Hialeah with a friend. After one he constructed appeared in Easy Rider magazine, he opened his own space, Donkey Barn Motorcycles, with Rob Schaefer and Alex Fendler. The name was inspired by Robert Is Here's donkey barn.
Though business is good, he's not leaving the bar: "Every city needs to have a place like Churchill's." And, for certain, every town needs a Nicky.