You know, it’s been almost ten years since Hal Daddy’s closed for the final time, and man I still miss it! I remember well the night the wheels came off the place. Fuck You All and Severed Head played the bill that Friday night and the basement was packed, a sweaty throbbing pit of hurtling bodies, the air thick with lightning fast riffs and punishing blast beats. The Natty Boh flowed freely and the pungent aroma of skunk mingled with the perfume of women brave enough to test the basement and wise enough to stand in the elevated section to the back of the room, mostly safe from the melee below. By the end of that night a chapter in the annals of Baltimore rock music would end, and an entire scene would scatter to try to find new digs somewhere else. While there have been a few places that, for a while, could almost claim to be “the new Hal Daddy’s” there just never will be anything like it again.
The casual observer or first-time visitor might well have been put off by their initial impressions of the place. It surely wasn’t up-scale pretty. But for my money it was THE coolest place to hang in Charm City. To begin with, there just isn’t a more affable and people-smart bartender anywhere than Hal himself. He’s the main reason nobody ever died in that place. By the time you’d walked (or stumbled) through the door and found your place at the bar he had you figured out and knew just how to make you feel comfortable. That was key as the place had a pretty diverse clientele.
There are so many bands which would become favorites that I saw for the first time while at Hal’s: MeatJack, Buzzard, Johny Love & Speed, Dark Water Transit, Trephine, Compression, Swarm of the Lotus; even saw Dillinger Escape Plan there one night playing in front of maybe fifteen people. Dying Fetus and Severed Head taught me some respect for death metal. Quarter Inch Microbomb, Chapel Blaque, The Rock Stars, The Penny Regime, Pimp Daddy Longstockin’ … all churning it out in a 12-foot by 20-foot concrete hole under an old row house in east Baltimore, where the upstairs toilets dripped onto the stage and the single upstairs window air conditioner barely touched the summer heat.
Remember the jukebox at Hal’s? Lots of Beatles. But also some Mr Bungle, Buckethead, Behold the Arctopus, lots of local band CDs as well. And woe be the newbie who found that perfect parking spot across the street (at Tiffany’s). Then there was door guy Jack, the original “Grumpy Cat”. No matter what he hated your band. Usually for good reason. There were, after all, some really breathtakingly awful bands that played there. On occasion.
Every so often I read of or hear someone mention the possibility of a Hal Daddy’s reunion. It certainly would be a fun time. But maybe it’s all best left in the memory vaults. After all, it’s been ten years now. Some of those barely-not-legal scruffy punk/deathcore/grindcore musicians now have families and “respectable” careers. It might end up being like a bad high school reunion. But somehow I don’t think it would be a bad time.
Well, look at the time – I can hear Hal hollering last call and perceive the strains of “Sleepwalk” issuing from the jukebox. “Mount up regulators! If you don’t work here or sleep with someone who does it’s time to go!”