“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” So goes the famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And that’s the way we roll when a legend passes, and such is the legend of Don Hill. We hardly ever dig too deep to find faults, flaws, or the things that define him—up or down—as human. However, recent rumors imply that the joint bearing his name is possibly opening again under “new” management. The implication is that the old management drove the place into dire financial circumstances so that the club was no longer able to continue. This requires a look, as reputations are on the line.
When Don Hills took Paul Sevigny and Nur Khan on as partners last September, it seemed like a second coming—a marriage of heaven and earth. Immediately, mega acts like Iggy and Courtney were banging in the intimate room, and it was déjà vu all over and over again. It was a real rock and roll joint, where true believers could hang their fabulous hats. When it began Don didn’t just go away and let them do it their way. He was there smiling, telling stories, reveling in the renewed fame and possible fortune. He had new life—until he didn’t.
His sudden death shocked us and penetrated our beings on a level unlike most others. Don was the “greatest guy in the world”—a saint who’s sins were amusing and fun, and a big part of the party. I paraphrased another Liberty Valance quote once to describe Don Hill. I said he was “founder, owner, operator, answered the phones, and he also sweeps out the place.” Don was the perfect club owner, everybody loved him.
A bit of time has passed, and the joint has since closed. When I talked to Paul Sevigny, who has created big success out in LA which is now taking up his time, he told me it didn’t feel right without Don. They had had a great run. They had made a statement. I postulated that without Don things would be different with the community, and the landlord and local enforcement. I was told that Martin from the Ear Inn was actually on the license, while Don had the relationship with the landlord covered. I was also told that Don owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back rent, and to scores of vendors. I asked Nur to comment.
“You will see another live music venue from me. It’s my passion. Don was riddled with debts that kept popping up out of nowhere. I loved the guy but Don’s creditors back from like 2000 who started taking money out of the bank account. When he died we tried to get the lease changed which was being negotiated together while he was alive but were only offered a 1 ½ year lease with a 6 month demo clause. Would have had to pay all Don’s back debts that were way too extensive for such a short-term lease. That, coupled with the fact that we had no idea who was going to come out of the woodwork at any given moment and take money out of the company account, made no business sense to continue. I loved Don and the venue. Yes I’ve had some of the best times in NYC in that room, but I will build another live music/dance room.”
The Nur/Paul/Don Don Hills was a home-run for those into this scene. Nur is right to walk away and to clarify that it was old debt and a changing situation as well as the loss of his old friend that meant the end of this era. Rumors abound of a temporary operator until the landlord is ready to put up hamster habitats in the air space above. I guess going up will bring them closer to the heaven Don dwells in. There is a rumor of a Taco Bell. I think that would be perfect. The city continues to shed it’s nightlife culture to service the high-risers at the expense of the low riders. That’s why Brooklyn was invented, anyway. The Nur/Paul/Don show is over, and the light it shone was a bright, and has left us a little blinded, wandering lost and wondering what can replace it. There’s still places to go and I’ll just pop into Kenmare a bit more to taste the magic until these guys bring it again—together or separately.