Churchill's, the Little Haiti nightspot famed for underground rock, has always relished its reputation as a club situated on the wrong side of the tracks. The locale adds a bohemian tinge that gibes well with owner Dave Daniels's insistence on maintaining an oasis of unpretentiousness in a town whose nightlife is better known for velvet ropes, stargazing, and buckets of attitude. If the aura of danger is more mythical than actual, it manages to keep the South Beach cell-phone crowd at arm's length, safeguarding Churchill's as a place where the music still matters.

For local promoter Robert Gregory, however, the threat of assault is all too real. "It just keeps getting more and more violent outside. I'm not going to expose myself to that anymore. I need my customers to feel safe. I need to feel safe!" Gregory says. He has pulled a number of announced shows (booked under the moniker Big Cat Productions) from Churchill's, including an eagerly awaited April 30 appearance by Memphis rockabilly legend Ronnie Dawson, and moved them to Home, a new club in Fort Lauderdale.

"Ronnie Dawson is ten dollars a head," a dispirited Gregory explains. "I'm going to stand at the door with $1000 in my hand [at Churchill's]? They're gonna try and kill me."

The final straw for Gregory came while he was working the door at the club two weeks ago. "One homeless guy came up and rubbed a newspaper in my face," he remembers, "trying to disrespect me. I blew it off and just ignored him. By the time I got home, my eye was burning real bad. I had a paper cut on my eye that took three days to heal. I'm just not going to fight with these guys to bring Dave [Daniels] alcohol sales, and then he's not going to put some of that money back into security for the bar. It's nothing personal. I love the people that work at Churchill's, but I'm not going to get shot over a damn concert."

A solution would seem to be hiring security for patrons walking from their cars to the front door, something Gregory has insisted on before he will resume booking concerts at the bar. Daniels, however, thinks the $23 per hour that it costs to hire an off-duty police officer is prohibitive. He also fears an armed police presence would create a tense, militarized atmosphere. He believes Gregory is unnecessarily alarmed.

"Look, we haven't had a lot of problems here," Daniels responds angrily. "Just last week the Hillbilly Hellfires played and the place was packed. We were so crowded, people were parking a considerable distance away, and there were no incidents.... You're in a lot more danger leaving your car on the street in Coconut Grove."

Police officer Harvey Nairn of Little Haiti's Neighborhood Enhancement Team Office agrees with Daniels. "We very seldom go [to Churchill's] for calls," he says. "They get a lot of people from outside the community, but there's no trouble. I've been working this area for years and nothing serious ever happens here."

Long-time customers of Churchill's have mixed feelings on the subject. Although fearful of bashing one of Miami's few remaining venues for live alternative sounds, they admit that robberies and car break-ins occasionally occur.

"It's not for a mainstream crowd, but I love it," explains Scott Baldwin, who grew up in Little Haiti and has been frequenting Churchill's for almost a decade, both as an audience member and as a performer with the punk band Los Canadians. "There's a couple of guys always spare-changin' outside, but they're not threatening," he notes. Still he concedes he was mugged outside the bar last month. "I was parked away from the club and walked to my car alone -- not a smart move," Baldwin says sheepishly. "You just have to be careful. It's not the best neighborhood, but what place in Miami is?"

Mike Damone: Dina, can you honestly tell me that you forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?

Dina Phillips: That's kids' stuff ...
Mike Damone: Kids' stuff? How 'bout the tunes? "I want you to want me!" "The dream police, da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da."

-- Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Relive those painful adolescent memories when Cheap Trick headlines Friday night at the Feast for the Palette in Bayfront Park, a weekendlong smorgasbord of food, crafts, and a slew of local bands. If you're not up for a rousing chorus of "Mommy's alright, daddy's alright," try attending on Saturday. Chicago's Mighty Blue Kings, one of the better bands on the neo-swing circuit, play at 7:30 p.m. Among the afternoon's performers are tropical funksters the Baboons, Haitian outfit Ayabonmbe, and oddball popsters Noodles on Jupiter, whose lead singer matter-of-factly explains her nine-piece band's name: "My name is Noodles and I'm from the planet Jupiter." Okay, then. For more information call 800-282-9909.

-- Brett Sokol

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail [email protected]