Farewell, Dave Daniels. Churchill's Will Miss You.

May 23, 2014

Dave Daniels, Churchill's former owner, will officially retire May 26.
Credit Mindy Hertzon

Churchill's Pub in Little Haiti has been sold, and Dave Daniels -- the owner and founder -- will officially retire on Monday, May 26.

The dive bar and music institution will still be called Churchill's, but will have new owners. Daniels says nearly 20,000 shows have graced the bar's stages during his 35-year-long legacy.

He opened Churchill's Pub in 1979. He came from England, where he'd already been an entertainment agent, booker and bar owner for quite some time.

Locals call it the CBGB of the South after the legendary New York City punk club.

Graffiti covers the walls. There's a long bar, pool tables, filthy bathrooms and a striking mural of Winston Churchill on the outside, above the front door.

It's Miami's musical hideaway with an international footprint. But when Daniels took it over, it was called C&H Pub, and the crowd there was pretty different.

"The clientele was old-timers," he recalls. "They were as old or older than I am. It was an afternoon bar, it used to close at 7 o'clock."

He put in satellite dishes to broadcast rugby and soccer. In the '80s, he began bringing in live music, but had trouble booking talent.

"We were getting rubbish punk bands on Friday and Saturday nights and about 40 or 50 people. And they were not really that good," he says.

And then singer-songwriter Charlie Pickett walked in.

"I remember the conversation," Daniels says. "His favorite English band was not the Beatles but Johnny Kid and The Pirates, who I had booked. So after an hour, so I said, 'Would you come play for us?' So he said, 'Oh yeah.' But instead of drawing 40 or 50 people, Charlie Pickett drew 250 to 300."

After that, Daniels put in a stage and Churchill's began to take off. 

Over the years, Iggy Pop filmed music videos there. Scenes from the movie "Something About Mary" were shot there, too.

And there's the annual International Noise Conference -- led by Frank Falestra, a.k.a. Rat Bastard -- who started doing a noise night on Thursdays that eventually became a full-fledged festival 11 years ago. 

Churchill's became a staple of Miami grime nightlife. Here, a shot of the bathroom sink.
Credit Diego Saldana-Rojas / WLRN

  Charlie Pickett says of Daniels: "If you owned a bar you wished you'd be Dave Daniels. That you would be that open, that warm, that patient with people and that open to everybody playing."

Kenny Millions, a performance artist who says he's been fired from venues all over the world, agrees.

"The first time I think Dave saw me perform years ago, I pulled down my pants showed my ass and my crotch on stage, and he walked in and that was the first time he's seen me," he recalls. "And he did not fire me."

Ever since that first gig at Churchill's in the '90s, Dave Daniels kept bringing Millions back.

The last two years, the performer has been hosting a night of experimental performance twice a month. He would project lesbian porn on the wall, and play ear-crushing sounds while wearing a scuba mask. 

"This gig that I did a few weeks ago, I said I'm going to vomit for the entire performance. Fifteen minutes of straight vomit," he says. He drank enough milk, inducing himself to spew into a garbage can.

Daniels is 73 now, and he says it's time to retire.

And his retirement, at least to begin with, will look a little different than all those nights at Churchill's. He worked seven days a week, lived on the premises, and devoted half of his life there.

A big bash was held on Friday, May 16, to wish Daniels a proper farewell. And since the news of the pub's sales, mini tribute nights have occurred over recent weeks.

But this past weekend was the last when locals could toast to the man who helped foster one of the greatest live music venues. Daniels officially retires Monday, and he says: "I'm delighted."