Music & Nightlife

Iconic Little Haiti bar Churchill’s to change hands week of May 19

When asked how he feels about selling Churchill’s Pub, the 35-year-old landmark club in Little Haiti, Dave Daniels replied, “I’m ecstatic!”

Daniels, 73, said he has wanted to retire for the longest time. He was about to put the live music venue, at 5501 NE Second Ave., on the market when he suddenly received an offer from an undisclosed buyer in February. The prospective new owner, whose identity has not been made public, had 60 days to do his due diligence. On April 7, the deal was finalized; the ownership will change by the end of May.

Daniels, a veteran of the British music scene who has featured countless local bands on the Churchill’s stages since opening the club in 1979, will be missed.

“Dave Daniels gives any band a chance,” said Andurio Chisena, a lyricist for the local rumba-ska band Askultura. “Our band wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Churchill’s.”

Askultura is set to play its first show under the venue’s new management on June 14, but Chisena feels the pub may not have the same rowdy environment he has grown to love.

“If the new place doesn’t feel right, we’re going somewhere else,” Chisena said. “They call punk rock a subculture, and like all subcultures, it’s gotta have a place to breathe.”

While Daniels is convinced the new owners will keep the location as a live music club that televises English soccer matches during lunch hours, he acknowledged there will be a change. Revamping the restrooms and making over the menu from pub grub are on the agenda, he said.

“It will definitely be more corporate, at least from the point of view of the people who work here.”

Christopher Hubbard, 54, the Churchill’s doorman, known as “Mr. C,” has been collecting money and distributing wristbands at the English pub for 10 years. Hubbard, who donned camouflage pants and a Coldside “Hooligans” band-tee on a recent Thursday night, was a bit apprehesive about the impending change.

“I don’t know what the new owner’s policies are,” he said. “Will I still be able to wear pants like these?”

Hubbard said the staff has been told very little about the changes that will occur over the next few months. But from what he’s heard, the new owners will be more “posh.”

“Hopefully, I’ll work with the new people,” Hubbard said. “I’ve hung around because of Dave Daniels. He’s like a father to most of us.”

Daniels, originally from a small town in England called Leek, attended Staffordshire College in the ’60s. He was good at soccer and his college team wanted to do an end-of-the season tour. To raise money for the team, Daniels suggested to run some dances. He went to one of his favorite jazz bars, the Embassy, and arranged for a band to play at the dance. The promotions were simple: Daniels got rolls of toilet paper from the janitor, and wrote the date of the dance and where to get tickets with a felt-tip pen on the paper. The dance sold out in advance.

“It was a great success, and I made a lot of money for them,” Daniels said.

By the time Daniels had graduated, he had decided he wanted to book entertainment for a living. Early in his career, Daniels had booked big names, including Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton and Steppenwolf for pop festivals he helped orchestrate in England. He and his friend, Mike Gold, bought a number of clubs and business was booming.

In 1976, Gold persuaded Daniels to move to Miami. Three years later, on Jan. 1, 1979, Churchill’s Pub was born.

At the time, there were many other competitors from the ’40s in the neighborhood. But Churchill’s had more to offer than just beer and wine. Churchill’s served English-style pub food, provided a gathering space for English soccer fans and, most of all, opened its doors for musicians of any genre to play experimental shows.

Daniels figures that 20,000 bands have played at Churchill’s since its opening. Some of those bands, including Social Distortion and locals Marilyn Manson and The Mavericks, performed there before their fame.

Said bartender Nicky Bowe, 43: “It’s been 12 years of a lot of fun and a lot of music. You can’t replicate it ever again.”

As Churchill’s enters a new phase, so, too, will Daniels. He plans to write a historical novel set in a small British town.

“It will be early 1800s … I’ve got my characters and plots already figured out,” he said.

Over the next few months, Daniels says he will help the new owners with anything they might need. He will enjoy watching the World Cup in mid-June and July, and then he is off to Europe. He hopes to visit Italy and Iceland before returning on a repositioning cruise back to Miami.

“I’ve had an interesting life,” Daniels said.