Don Hill, the Best Guy at the Bar, Passes Away

don hill1 Don Hill, the Best Guy at the Bar, Passes AwayDon Hill, the man responsible for the legendary Spring Street spot that carries his name, passed away yesterday. He was 66 years old.

Like many others, we knew him. “I don’t talk too much,” Mr. Hill said to The Observer, moments after we had met. It was a September afternoon, and in the empty hallway we could hear the unsteady knock of his shoes on the tiles, see the porn decorations in its full glory. The place was absent of its usual distractions. We again asked him about how he opened the bar, and then he decided to speak, slow and gravely, on the record. He had The Cat Club. It got shut down. Martin Sheridan, proprietor of ancient watering hole Ear Inn, suggested that there could be a non-restaurant, nightclub place nearby. Mr. Hill agreed and named it after itself.

It’s still there, of course, on the corner of Greenwich and Spring. For years Mr. Hill hosted live performances — when we asked, he smiled and mentioned those early, sloppy gigs with The Strokes — as well as weekly dance parties like Squeezebox, BeavHer, and the Misshapes that came to define that subsection of New York nightlife. The newest incarnation of the club began last September, when Nur Khan and Paul Sevigny teamed with Mr. Hill and renovated the place. It got bigger and louder. They put even more porn on the walls. It would be a place in the mold of CBGB, the Mudd Club, Max’s Kansas City, Mr. Khan told The Observer. Don Hill’s has always been a good bet for celebrity sightings, but with a string of high profile events during Fashion Week the unapologetically crass place was fully embraced by screen icons, club kids and, yes, the press.

In the ensuing months, The Observer would stop by the place with some regularity, and we would without fail see Mr. Hill at the right hand corner of the bar, perhaps nursing a drink, leaning on a cane. If there were a show that night, we would ask him about it. “Great, great!” he’d say, or “Eh, I don’t know,” shaking his head. Or we’d ask how the bar’s doing. Then he would buy us a whiskey.

Mr. Hill was the only thing missing from his bar last night when The Observer swung by — there was an impromptu bash in his honor that featured a midnight toast from Mr. Khan. The word had spread through Twitter (the term “Don Hill” was trending today in New York City). There were the requisite strippers on the bar, clueless mop-headed rocker-types looking bored in the side room, young girls sitting at tables with their bottle service.

“He went out on top,” the bouncer said to us as we walked into the party, packed as ever.

He did. It’s a good bar, and he embodied it. There was no Max behind Max’s Kansas City, but everyone who goes to Don Hill’s knows Don.

nfreeman [at] observer.com | @nfreeman1234