Over the Churchill

A British pub in the heart of Little Haiti staging distinctly American (and distinctly nonmainstream) rock and roll hardly seems a likely candidate for institutionalization as a cultural treasure. The other type of institutionalization (as in nutsy) perhaps, but appearances always deceive, and Churchill's Hideaway has watched many a more-typical rock club come and go over the years.

It's still here.
When he took over the unlikely 45-year-old venue a dozen years ago, Dave Daniels could have been seen as a man who should be committed. Turns out he was committed to providing an outlet for rock acts ranging in stripe from the Prom Sluts to Charlie Pickett, from Scraping Teeth to the Eat to Vesper Sparrow, many of them enjoying their finest hour. This month the venerable club celebrates another anniversary, and this Friday it stages bands Daniels admits have difficulty getting gigs in most clubs. Business as unusual.

Daniels booked the talent for music clubs in his native England before arriving in the States during the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence. Twelve years ago he took over the nondescript building at 5501 NE Second Ave. At the time the place, open since 1946, was known as the C&H, a neighborhood bar featuring two pool tables and not much else. "They used to close at 7:00 p.m.," Daniels recalls. "The old-timers would go home and the owner would go to bed."

After expanding the initials to Churchill's Hideaway, Daniels began an endeavor to attract evening crowds. "A few years later," he says, "as the neighborhood was losing old-timers, who were dying or moving away, I figured I had to make some changes." Seven years ago he knocked through a wall to expand, and installed a satellite dish in order to attract fans of British sports, especially soccer and rugby.

The next step was live music. "The early groups were kind of punkish," Daniels says. "Then we got into a string of the better local groups, like Myron and the 2 Wotz, Charlie Pickett. At some stage, Charlie and a group called Perfect Strangers would do a date each month, and they tended to be the biggest draws of all the groups we used. RBT was third. We had a regular corps of groups." The pool tables and satellite dish remained, with the room divided down the middle by the bar. About three years ago Daniels's pub grew again when he knocked through another wall and put in air conditioning. There's a kitchen in the rear, and a patio outside that has hosted barbecues and acoustic shows. The interior is chaotically decorated with things English. Sorry - British.

Throughout the years the Hideaway hosted some of the greatest concerts ever staged in South Florida - the Chant, Pickett, and virtually every worthwhile local band that ever plugged into an amp. The Silos once drew an enormous crowd, which they blew away with a devastating performance long before they signed to RCA. (The band has since broken up.) Traveling upstarts such as Mary My Hope and the Buck Pets made their area debuts (dynamically in both cases) at the club. Lava Love, from Atlanta, one of the best live acts in the nation, has played only one SoFlo date. At Churchill's.

While Daniels is selective about the talent, he's also opened up to the unusual. Last year, Thursdays at C.H. became famous, or at least infamous, as avant-weird Scraping Teeth, the inimitable Rat Bastard, and Tina's Dirty Girl Revue - a sort of political striptease - established a routine that was anything but routine. A tradition also developed around Friday the 13th nights. "It was sort of a hangover from the punky groups and things," Daniels explains. "We used off-the-wall bands. All of this probably began with the Trash Monkeys. It would usually be an aggregation of groups we didn't particularly want to use on a Friday or Saturday. Now we give them one weekend each month, regardless of Friday the 13th." This week the stage is turned over to "Lola-oo-mow-mow-au-pookie," a/k/a the Prom Sluts reunion show, also featuring Methadone Actors, Human Oddities, the Stun Guns, and Strongbox. And Saturday the club hosts a benefit for the Sierra Club featuring Gary Wilson, Boise & Moss, Maverick Bobby Reynolds, the Randies, and Jonelle.

Beers at Churchill's cost one dollar for draft ($1.25 during shows), $1.60 for a Bud longneck ($2 when entertainment is on). Pint servings of the numerous imports in stock are $3.25. If you've never been there, this is the perfect month, with a many-bands party celebrating both the C.H. anniversary and the release of the CD version of the Miami Sunburn Remedy compilation on September 21, and a concert by the Chant on September 28, among many other special shows and events. And if you've never been, take some advice: Try the shepherd's pie.

As a toast to the venerable rock hole, we've casually surveyed some of the regulars:

Prom Slut Sir o: "We kind of started there about six years ago, and had an off-and-on relationship with Dave. It's a good place to get fucked up, a good place to hang out, laid-back, as opposed to Washington Square and places like that. Churchill's is one of the few bars where the bands more or less control their side of the scheme. Other clubs are too much control, and not enough care, about the bands and what they want."

WSHE-FM DJ and local-show host Glenn Richards: "The neighborhood has become really kind of unappealing, I guess. And I hate the fact that they don't advertise what's going on there well enough in advance. It's like, `Oh, really, the Goods are playing? I didn't know that.' But, what? They got great beer and the expansion a few years ago was really nice and so many monumentally cool things have happened there. It's just an institution. Pickett, the Goods, the Nukes filming their video there, the Silos, the Chant...it's fun and funky."

Chant bassist Jim Johnson: "Dave is a really nice guy and it's a really good place to play. Of all the different places that have been in and out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale during the past few years, bands are lucky to have a place like Churchill's."

Washington Square owner Bill True: "It's got its own trashy little dive bar thing that I like. It's been there for a while, given a stage to local bands, and supports the scene. They're doing their thing over there. And Dave has always been more than hospitable."

The Goods' John Camacho: "Churchill's has been our blessing. Dave is a guy, a man, who believes in music and in us. He built an oasis in a musical desert."

Former Trash Monkey Bill Orcutt: "The most amazing thing I ever saw at Churchill's was when Dave once got up on-stage to introduce the Trash Monkeys. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but he was totally unzipped in front. It was humiliating for us. That and the fact that Mike the bartender had a special shirt made up that said `This Band Sucks' that he would wear only for Trash Monkey gigs."

Nuclear Valdez front man Fro Sosa: "It's a great place. It's the only club where you can get decent beer and an intimate atmosphere. I think Churchill's is the only club that has no official music format - anyone Dave deems worthy can get to play there. It's not like these other places that are `rock' or `dance' or a hangout bar. Churchill's is more like `all of the above.'"

Dead Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill: "Everyone has his day and some days last longer than others. In the past we have had a light which flickered, in the present we have a light which flames, and in the future there will be a light which shines over all the land and sea. I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. But Dave Daniels had cold beer and cool bands."

LOLA-OO-MOW-MOW-AU-POOKIE featuring the Prom Sluts, Methadone Actors, Human Oddities, the Stun Guns, and Strongbox at 9:00 p.m. Friday and the Sierra Club Benefit featuring Gary Wilson, Boise & Moss, Bobby Reynolds, the Randies, and Jonelle at 9:00 p.m. Saturday at Churchill's Hideaway, 5501 NE 2 Ave, 757-1807.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Greg Baker