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Churchill's End: Have Fate and Acrimony Closed the Book on the Beloved Little Haiti Dive?

Photo by Monica McGivern
There's no guarantee Churchill's Pub will remain intact under new ownership.
Chuck Loose, a 51-year-old punk rock drummer with a day job as a graphic designer, hasn't set foot inside Churchill's Pub in Little Haiti in nearly two years. The closest he's come to the storied live-music venue is the gravel parking lot next door where one of his bands, Rat Sex, played a couple of impromptu shows last year put on by fellow punk rocker and underground music promoter Ray "Fang" Henry.

"Fang set up a trailer in the parking lot and about 50 people came out," Loose recalls. "It was fantastic. It was reminiscent of the early days of Churchill's, when it was a lawless playground."

Loose is among former Churchill's regulars coming to terms with the likelihood that the grungy watering hole where South Florida's tiny rock music scene once thrived will not be making a comeback. "It's over," Loose says of the venue, which closed in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. "They might as well turn it into a Flanigan's or some overpriced yuppie club."

Jason Handelsman, a guitar-playing performance artist, former Churchill's promoter, and ex-Miami New Times contributor, shares Loose's sentiments. "I've been expecting Churchill's to be replaced by a Starbucks or a Chipotle," Handelsman says. "It would be awesome if Churchill's was still open. But life goes on."

Since Churchill's management company District Live Agency was officially evicted last summer, the pub has remained shuttered despite attempts by property owner Mallory Kauderer to bring in a new tenant. And facing a wave of foreclosure lawsuits from a half-dozen lenders, including companies seeking to collect on delinquent loans secured by the Churchill's property, Kauderer has put the building, its parking lot, and its liquor license on the market for $4.6 million.

Kauderer retained commercial broker Arthur Porosoff, who is a member of the City of Miami Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board, to sell Churchill's. Porosoff told Axios that his goal is to find a buyer who'll keep Churchill's a live-music venue: "No one's turning it into LIV or anything fancy, it's gonna be a grungy little fish-and-chips English bar where people can be themselves and have a good time," he said.

Still, there's no guarantee the pub will remain intact under new ownership; it's even possible the 76-year-old building will be leveled. (Over the summer, Kauderer demolished a small house in the rear of the property the City of Miami deemed an unsafe structure two years ago.)

The owner tells New Times he's in negotiations with a prospective tenant who intends to reopen the pub. But he declined to provide any specifics, other than to say he hopes Churchill's will be revived.

"I want it to be Churchill's," Kauderer says. "I am hopeful that whoever goes in there will keep it as Churchill's and as a live-music venue."

In a follow-up phone call, Kauderer insisted the prospective tenant will use the name Churchill's and that the pub will reopen with live music. But as far as closing the deal and signing the tenant to a lease, Kauderer says, "I don't know." He also says he has received several offers from prospective buyers he declined to identify. When asked what the potential buyers intend to do with the property, Kauderer was cryptic: "Hard to say."
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Mallory Kauderer bought Churchill's for $800,000 from its previous landlord, Dave Daniels, in 2014.
Photo by Ian Witlen

Pandemic Disharmony

In 2014, Kauderer bought Churchill's for $800,000 from its previous landlord, Dave Daniels, who founded the English-style pub in 1979. Under Daniels' reign, Churchill's became known as the primo stomping ground for local punk and heavy metal bands, as well as a morning watering hole where fútbol aficionados could catch European soccer matches.

Kauderer tapped District Live partners Franklin Dale and Pablo Barg to keep Churchill's rocking out. For nearly six years, Kauderer, Dale, and Barg seemed to be on the same page as far as maintaining the pub's musical legacy while also refining some of the venue's rougher edges. But when local governments ordered the closing of local bars and nightclubs to slow the spread of the coronavirus in March 2020, the shutdown triggered a toxic unraveling of the business relationship.

Dale and Barg accused Kauderer of backstabbing them by sabotaging their efforts to reopen Churchill's when lockdowns were eased. They claimed their landlord accepted a $149,000 federal Economic Injury Disaster loan meant to cover operational expenses including missed rent payments and then deposited the funds into a real estate shell company's bank account that wasn't affiliated with the pub's business. Additionally, Churchill's Pub LLC received two federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans totaling $102,120, but Dale and Barg allege that neither they nor employees and independent contractors on pub's payroll, received any of that money.

"I am hopeful that whoever goes in there will keep it as Churchill's and as a live-music venue."

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After District Live hosted some outdoor events at Churchill's in early 2021, state regulators suspended the pub's liquor license at Kauderer's behest.

"He made the decision to strangle the business, making it damn near impossible for us to operate," Dale tells New Times. "He tried to body us during a pandemic, and we fought back."

In court filings associated with their eviction lawsuit, Kauderer and his business associate, Donita Leavitt, alleged that District Live owed thousands of dollars to liquor distributors, failed to obtain liability insurance for the premises or pay monthly rent on the property, and had been in arrears on monthly payments to use the liquor license since November 2019, four months prior to the pandemic's onset. (Leavitt is the manager for Churchill's Pub, the corporation that holds the liquor license.)

Kauderer denies that he diverted government funds away from Churchill's or set out to undermine District Live's principals."Pretty much everything [Dale] told the court was false," Kauderer says. "The previous tenant also said that I stole PPP money. That was a blatant lie."
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Kauderer faces multiple lawsuits and judgments against him totaling more than $10 million in mortgage debt tied to Churchill's and neighboring properties.
Photo by Alexander Oliva

Accusations and Acrimony

Dale, who also accuses Kauderer of stiffing him out of $128,000 in consulting fees, submitted bank statements and text messages to the court as documentation that his landlord improperly funneled the $149,000 loan from Churchill's Pub to another Kauderer-owned company, Little Haiti Development Partners.

Kauderer scoffs at the allegation, explaining that the pandemic relief funds went to pay taxes and other bills tied to the property, including payroll. "The previous tenant claims he never received anything as far as PPP money and that we took it all," Kauderer says. "Well, I have his W-2, and he was the largest recipient of PPP money."

He declined to provide a copy of the W-2, explaining that he was unsure whether it was legal to share a tax document containing Dale's private information.

In a string of emails, Dale vehemently disputed Kauderer's claim, insisting that his documentation shows that no COVID relief money went to Churchill's, him, or any vendors. Dale shared Chase Bank statements for Churchill's Pub that show $149,000 was transferred out of the bar's business account into the business account of Little Haiti Development Partners on June 12, 2020. (Dale also has a website, Churchills.Miami, where he has uploaded the aforementioned statements along with other documentation of his feud with Kauderer.)

He claims Leavitt confirmed the misuse of government funds at a July 1, 2021, evidentiary hearing. (According to the transcript, Leavitt said she transferred the $149,000 and that the funds were used to pay a delinquent mortgage. She also testified that about $17,000 was applied as rent abatements for District Live.)

The fight for control of Churchill's officially ended on July 20, 2021, when Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Reemberto Diaz granted final judgment for eviction against District Live on the grounds that the company had failed to deposit $205,000 in alleged back rent into a court registry.

A few days later, the Miami-Dade Police Department executed an eviction warrant against District Live, which lost its appeal a month later, according to court records. The case remains open because Diaz has not issued a final ruling on a counterclaim filed by District Live, which Kauderer has moved to dismiss.

Dale points out that at the conclusion of the July 1 hearing, the judge didn't rule on the amounts owed for use of the liquor license but wouldn't reconsider compelling District Live to deposit the contested funds into the court registry. Dale claims Diaz failed to follow a Florida law that permits tenants to use rent credits to fulfill the requirement to place disputed rent amounts into a court registry.

"He dismissed that Kauderer's actions had any impact on our ability to pay rent for the premises," Dale says. "Our attorney also challenged Kauderer's ledger of rents due, but the judge was not interested."
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It's unclear whether Churchill's Pub's new tenant will keep the spirit of the venue alive.
Photo by Alex Markow

Pub for Sale

Though the books are closed on Kauderer's conflict with District Live, the property owner still faces multiple lawsuits and judgments against him and various corporations totaling more than $10 million in mortgage debt tied to Churchill's and neighboring properties in Little Haiti. In May, Chemtov Mortgage Group won a $7.5 million foreclosure judgment against Kauderer and Little Haiti Development Partners.

Chemtov sold rights to the judgment to Little Haiti Gateway Holdings, another lender that sued Kauderer for nonpayment of a separate mortgage. Churchill's had been set to be sold at a foreclosure auction in January. But Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman canceled the sale and reversed the foreclosure judgment at Little Haiti Gateway's request so the lender and Kauderer could negotiate a settlement, according to court records.

Over the past ten months, Kauderer has been on the hunt for a new tenant. Court records show that he has also run into legal trouble with a lawyer he'd hired to draw up a lease agreement and a liquor license sale agreement with an unnamed group: On August 29, Miami attorney George Aslanian sued Kauderer in small claims court for $5,800 in unpaid legal fees.

Kauderer declined to comment about Aslanian's complaint or the foreclosure lawsuits.

"There is certainly a little sadness there, but we all knew this was gonna happen."

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More recently, in a blog post published late last month on the Jitney, J.J. Colagrande cited "multiple sources" in asserting that Churchill's has a new operator and that "word on the street" is that the unnamed party will reopen the pub — but not as a live-music venue.

Dale, meanwhile, sent New Times screenshots of a text exchange with a person he claims knows Kauderer's prospective new tenant; the messages suggest that live music will be part of the equation, but not necessarily with the familiar Churchill's spirit.

"They put a lot of money into the place," the person texted. "Of course they [have] no intention of making it like Churchill's was. But they want to make it a live venue at least."

Dale says any tenant who signs a lease on the property will have to address code violations his ex-landlord ignored and will face the prospect of paying rent on a building that's producing zero income. "The majority of real estate developers will see it as a knockdown, not a bar, considering the capital and time investment required to open," Dale says, predicting that "Churchill's is not reopening."

Loose, the punk rock drummer, says the pub's demise seems inevitable in a city where real estate speculators are constantly redeveloping neighborhoods. "Churchill's was great because it was an anomaly," he says. "When development in the Design District and Wynwood got going, it was eventually going to creep over. There is certainly a little sadness there, but we all knew this was gonna happen."

He recalls taking the stage for the first time in 1991 with a band called Chicken Head. "I've never been to any other place where you had the freedom to do whatever you wanted," he marvels. "It was pirate land."

Editor's note: Click the links below to read previous coverage of the brouhaha over Churchill's by New Times contributor Olivia McAuley.