In Churchill's Pub, Dave Daniels established and maintained a safe space for musical and artistic expression, the watching of international soccer games, and drinking heavily in the heart of Little Haiti for 35 years. But, at 74, Daniels tells us: "It's time for me to move on."
An undisclosed investor put in an offer to purchase the business. Though Daniels has accepted the offer, the sale is by no means final. After much talk and failed attempts to sell over the years, it seems the universe just might be ready to let Daniels off the hook this time. We spoke with him about the possible changes coming for one of the best live music venues in the world, ever.
The bar has undergone its share of changes and challenges, including extensive road repairs out front that made lunchtime business impossible, and an influx, then cessation, of location fees for movies and videos. "Because I have been trying to keep people coming, I haven't put the prices up. Some you could regard as competition charge twice as much [for drinks]," Daniels says. Keeping his business profitable in this way has made it a more attractive property.
The prospective buyer has 60 days' due diligence, so he could pull out anytime before, while Daniels is now locked into the agreement. If the deal falls through, another option is that a group could lease Churchill's -- and folks have planned for this over the years, people joining forces and finances in an attempt to purchase and preserve the place -- but that would require Daniels to remain involved. He doesn't really want to deal with the city anymore.
But with the increased interaction he's had with the possible new owner, Daniels offers hope for a continued Churchill's-like presence: "I think that they are going to make less changes than initially I thought they were going to." They have a good team, he says, and likely a popular local restaurateur to set up shop foodwise. Churchill's used to feed about 30 people for lunch and did outside catering and deliveries at one point. "I think it'll be moving in that direction," he says but reminds, "It's entirely up to them."
We can only hope that these "them" have as fine a mind and ear as Daniels. "There are so many things about Churchill's that work. Even though nobody else does them..." he chuckles. "So, it's unique. I basically said to them before last week, the International Noise Conference, it's very good. It's profitable now. Like 15 years ago, when Rat started doing his noise stuff here, it was a handicap. I mean, they drove people out! But freedom of expression had to prevail. It turned into something special. People come from all over the world."
Daniels is supposed to help them at the outset of the transition, but afterward, it's out of his hands. Thankfully, he says, "I'm going to suggest that they do the Noise Conference next year." If the deal goes through, it would be in May, which is sort of unfortunate, because, he's had the bar set up for the World Cup for the past six months. But nowadays, he laments, you can watch everything from home. Some things that drew people to Churchill's in the past have ceased to be an attraction today, while other things, like live music and community, remain the bar's central appeal.
When asked if they would shut down for a period to make repairs, he says he doesn't think it'd be a good idea and is hopeful they'd shut down only certain sections for repairs. Because if you close, he thinks you lose momentum (Daniels emphasized that they did pass their 40-year inspection). He seems to really hope a new owner maintains the Churchill's spirit. "They're putting the time in and getting ideas," he notes. "I'm encouraged that they're going about things the right way."
He's already started planning a few farewell shows. "We have been confirming dates. There's quite a few people who want to play dates for my last hurrah and whatever. We have some big shows and special things." So, we'll keep you informed on all of that.
"There are a few things that I was going to do to make things better; some I'm going to still do," he says. "I want to set the place up to succeed rather than to fail. I'm not one of those conceited people who thinks, 'Oh, it can't manage without me.' I think it can do better without me. You know, somebody halfway bright will see what works, carry on with those things, and then do other things on top of that."
What's Daniels going to do post-Churchill's? He's going to maintain a home in Miami, would like to spend about four or five months in the U.K., and do some traveling. He also wants to write a historic novel set in a place like his hometown at the beginning of the 1800s, a time of horses and carriages, before railways. Perhaps this was inspired by his first jazz club, which was located in a coaching inn. He's got characters ready and everything. "Other than writing a jazz column in the newspaper, I haven't been much of a writer. It's just something I wanted to do."
About the sale, he says, "It feels right." And though many of us will mourn the closing of our second home, if Churchill's changes hands, at least Daniels -- a man who's kindly provided us with the wildest hangout and music venue possible -- will be set for life.
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