[Oops. Forgot to publish this a couple of weeks ago.]
News broke recently that Eugene Haslam was selling his night club, Zaphod Beeblebrox. Apparently, he’s selling it to one of his staff members, so it’s nice to know it’s staying in the family.
“Family” might seem like a strong word, but it really seems to fit. I spent a lot–a lot–of time there during my twenties, and it will always have a special place in my heart. And, of course, Eugene was central to the club’s success.
I won’t offer any grand eulogies or long-form think pieces on Zaphod’s’s place in Ottawa, but I’ll share a few of my experiences.
Everyone Remembers Their First Time
My first time at Zaphod’s was for a concert. It was the day before my 20th birthday, reading week of first year and I went down to this club to watch Rainbow Butt Monkeys, Sunfish was opening. I had hardly any money, so my sister shoved a couple of twenties in my hand as a birthday present.
When they…evolved…from Rainbow Butt Monkeys to Finger Eleven, I lost a bit of interest, but that show was great. Sunfish was a solid, but the real show was the headliner. It was energetic and fun. They threw in a cover/medley that included, if I recall correctly, such covers as Rage Against the Machine and House of Pain. For a closer, they brought Sunfish on stage to cover Rockin’ in the Free World.
During my university years, OC Transpo did something fantastic; they started extending buses until 2:00 am. This meant that we didn’t have to run to the transitway at 11:00 to get home (or, at least, to get partway home…local routes still sucked). This changed everything. My buddies and I tended to head to the Dominion Tavern on Thursday nights (this became the thing after they got kicked out of The Laff one night). You’d sit and drink $8 pitchers of Upper Canada…and with the extended bus service, you could then pop over to Zaphod’s to extend the party.
Playing with The Caesars
One of the best shows I saw at Zaphod’s was The Caesars. This was just after they’d broken (sort) by having Jerk It Out appear on one of those iPod commercials where silhouettes danced (the posters even said something about the ad). Well, during Jerk It Out, someone dropped a tambourine and it rolled into the crowd. I picked it up, looked at the roadie and he just nodded at me (while swigging a bottle of vodka). So I played tambourine for The Caesars.
I’ve seen and played a lot of shows at Zaphod’s. Here are some of the cool acts I’ve seen:
Luke Doucet, Inbreds, The Weekend (no, not that one), Siobhan, The Pop Shove Its, Mystery Machine, Adam Franklin and Bolts of Melody, Sadie Hell, Clem Snide, Veal, The Dears, Gateway Drugs.
And here are some cool acts I’ve played with:
Destroyalldreamers, Winter Equinox, Chickpea, Feed, The Crash Moderns, The Red Arrows, Jennifer LFO, that’s the spirit, The Good Night Knights, A Dying Breed, Lost Inside.
I was in a number of acts that played at Zaphod’s (a punk band, a shoegaze band, supporting a singer-songwriter and a pseudo-solo act). In one of those shows I had the opportunity to play with a great ambient/electronic act from Massachusetts, Arms & Sleepers, and a local alt-country band, The Allrights. A week or so before the show, I saw on Facebook that the keyboardist for The Allrights had bought a melodica. I implored him to play it at the show. He did, and so all three acts included melodica.
I’m quite confident that never happened in Zaphod’s before.
If you’ve lived at Zaphod’s, you probably know Heath. I got to know him quite well…at least in a customer-bartender sort of way. I’d walk in and he’d know what to get me, generally a pint of Newcastle Brown (which I’d pay for) and a shot, usually a doctor pepper (which I wouldn’t). He’d also include me in a round of shots that others were doing. It’s nice to be included.
There was one time he poured us each a shot. It didn’t go down quite as well. Turns out he’d mixed up Amaretto with Creme de Cacao Dark. Oh well.
Love and Marriage
Funny thing happened in my late twenties; I needed to find a new place to live and my best friend’s girlfriend had a an empty room in the house she shared with three other people, so I moved in. This was a semi-detached and on the other side lived my landlord, Eugene…well, actually it was partner who was the landlord, but he was still my neighbour.
I sort of knew Eugene. I’d spent years going to his club and often seeing him there. So he sort of recognized me…but not totally, even when I was at his club one night and sharing a front porch the next morning.
This was around the time my mother was sick. I was living there when she died, and shortly after I decided to move back home so my Dad wouldn’t be alone. I hated the idea with a passion, but I knew he need company, so two months later, I was back home. (And he was always out with friends, so I hardly ever saw him and really didn’t need to move home.)
At the time, my fiancee’s lease was coming up. The timing worked out, so she moved in shortly after I left. We’d still see Eugene from time-to-time at home and at the club. He seemed to remember Darlene more than me (which was cray-cary).
Darlene and I had our respective bachelor/bachelorette parties on different nights, but we both wound up at Zaphod’s. I ran into Heath again and he gave me shots (of course). Darlene ran into Eugene and she congratulated her told her to warn me that if I screwed her over, I’d have to answer to him.
P.S. I haven’t screwed her over.
(Sadly, Darlene is allergic to almonds, so no Dr. Peppers for her.)
Here are three stories about children at Zaphod’s:
- A friend in university had her 17-year-old sister visiting during March Break. We were able to get her into the Dominion no problem…but we knew that Zaphod’s was more strict about carding. So we had a plan. We were all around 21 or 22 and went to Zaphod’s multiple times a week, so we didn’t get carded. But, we had one friend who was 39, and didn’t get carded anywhere, so we had him walk in with his arm around li’l sis like she was with her. The bouncer didn’t even flinch.
- Jump forward ten years or something. I have a wife and child. Darlene and I are backing up local folkie Mike Munnik during his CD release party. We bring our one-year-old and have her sit in the back with the mother-in-law. Usually, it would have been fine (she always stayed up late), but not this time. We would hear the crying until my mother-in-law just took her outside during the set. Luckily, they have a speaker out there so she could still listen.This also means that Glynis may be the youngest person to go to show there.
- I had gig at Zaphod’s, and we now had two kids. The toddler was at home (I think), but Darlene was there with our new(ish) baby…but we had learned our lesson. She was there during soundcheck, only, then went home. I was playing a show with the local band, The Allrights. The drummer asked me if that was my kid, and noted that it was great that we’d actually bring our kid out to soundcheck at a club.Little did he know…
For a little while, Eugene opened a second club, Zaphods II, on Bank Street. He’d been a part owner in Barrymore’s, and it was generally understood that this new club was to stick it to his former partners, as they’d kept Barrymore’s and Eugene kept Zaphod’s.
(I don’t know if this is true…it’s just what people said.)
I quickly took a shine to Zaphod’s II. It wasn’t going to replace Zaphod’s, and at the time, I was much more about the Market than the Bank Street scene, but still, I had some good times. I hit it for Hallowe’en party one year, and I saw some decent bands: The Dandy Warhols, Creeper Lagoon, Fiftymen, Zuckerbaby and Limblifter. Before the Zuckerbaby/Limblifter show, my friend and I were sitting at the bar when My Name is Jonas came on the sound system. We commented on it–enjoying it, as we hadn’t listened to Weezer’s blue album in quite a while. The bartender proceeded to play the whole album.
I like to think he did that for us.
I mentioned earlier that I saw Adam Franklin at Zaphod’s…the lead singer of Swervedriver. I was always a big fan, and, as mentioned, used to be in a shoegaze band. We actually had a song called Adam Franklin. It was the very last song we’d ever played…at our final show…at…well..you can probably guess.
Back in June, Swervedrive was back on tour after having re-united. My friends and I just had to go. It was incredible. I reclaimed my youth and spent the entire show at the front of the stage. It was incredibly loud, but incredibly good.
I’m absolutely certain I did (more) damage to my hearing. My ears were screwed up for days afterwards, I could barely hear out of one ear for two days. It was worth it.
So thanks, Eugene. I was only there for the last 15 or 20 years of your run, but you made an indelible mark on Ottawa’s night life, and your club was a key part of my young adulthood.
Enjoy your retirement. You’ve earned it.