I haven’t been to Don Hill’s in years. Six years, to be precise. The last time I was there was in 2005 for the Squeezebox 10th anniversary party. I walked through the door that night into a thick swell of drag queens and rockers, almost crashing right into Debbie Harry. Sean Lennon was smoking outside, and Kate Moss elbowed me in the back trying to get past, Johnny Knoxville trailing behind her like a lost puppy.
A typical night for me at Don Hill’s wasn't often like that. I was a TISWAS girl, and the TISWAS crowd -- more mod than rocker, dressed in whatever Britpop uniform was in vogue at the time -- wasn’t as glamorous or edgy as the Squeezeboxers. Our music was shiny and bouncy, not raw and grinding. But we always had a good time, and Don Hill’s was the type of place that suited both worlds; it felt right for both crowds, secure in its simplicity: two bars, a stage, a few unpretentious booths, room for dancing. The little box just off the West Side Highway was the place we felt ourselves in our late night skin, drinking our bourbon with Coke, dancing in a circle to “Disco 2000” and “Under My Thumb.” It was the only kind of "scene" I ever felt like I was part of in this city. My little group of friends started going to TISWAS when it was still at Coney Island High, but when I think of TISWAS I think of Don Hill’s. That was our geography: an entire year of Saturday nights in that westside box, dancing until the lights came on.
Don would turn up now and again, walking around in his denim, the oldest guy in the room but never really a sore thumb. He never tried to make himself the center of attention; it was his house, but as far as we could tell, whoever was playing the music was in charge. I know when I think of “Don Hill’s” I think first of the place, then of the music, then finally of the man. But there’s something in the way his name infected my early years in New York, taking over memories of a place and time that once was, to the point where when he goes, that goes too. New York, forever changed. And so: Rest In Peace, Don. You left many happy nights in your wake.
(Elsewhere: Emma Straub remembers Don Hill's Thursdays.)
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.