Harboring History, Creating Legends: The Legacy of Howard’s Club H
Phillip Keck, trumpet player for Texas Pete and the Revolution, sounds his horn into the microphone during the band’s sound check. The reverberation of the trumpet blast, along with the remnants of smoke from the fog machines and the crowded room, make the stage feel like a pre-modern warfare battlefield.
However, Howard’s Club H (http://howardsclubh.com) is more than just a band’s battleground in the war of popularity — it is also a band’s great ally.
Because of the economic downturn and diminished demand for live music, owner Jim Gavarone has seen a fall in attendance, despite being one of the only remaining clubs in downtown Bowling Green that offer live performances. Gavarone scoffs at his competitors and what they find to be amusement.
“I’ve seen what kids spend their money on these days and it’s not real entertainment,” Gavarone said. “They could pay $3 to see a band here. Instead, they’ll go next door [to Skybar] and pay $10 … to listen to the same eight songs.”
There are not many places for bands to perform downtown anymore. Howard’s is the only place that has kept its stage open to traveling and local bands said disk jockey Brian Scavo.
“We have been here for over 80 years,” Gavarone said. “Ten years ago, half of these bars weren’t here. Cla-Zel, Skybar, none of them were here. Now, they are our main competition.”
On the outside, Howard’s Club H looks like a basic downtown bar, but on the inside, with its graffiti-covered tables, mural-covered walls and legendary stage, is where the club harbors its history and sets itself apart from the others.
Howard’s has been in business for more than 80 years. The establishment has seen wars, the Prohibition and thousands of students come and go each year at Bowling Green State University. Gavarone and general manager Jennifer Snyder look to preserve the culture behind Howard’s while annually bringing in a whole new crowd of students.
“No matter what you do with your life, you can come back here,” Snyder said. “You can walk through our door and it will always be Howard’s. We have people who come back as alumni and they look around for their names on the wall. They are looking for a little bit of their history. They know that they are a part of this place.”
Gavarone and Snyder allow patrons to write on the walls of the bathroom and carve words into the tables as they have for years. The bathroom looks like a vandalized train, almost completely covered in bright, nearly illegible writing.
Performers like Keck cite the writing on the walls as one of Howard’s most distinctive characteristics.
“We always joke about the graffiti,” Keck said. “There are some questionable messages in there. We also look around for our old stickers on the walls. We feel like we really are a part of the culture there.”
The club looks rough around the edges, with its graffiti and low lighting, but it holds some lifelong memories for many people, including the owner.
“I get a lot of pressure from people who want me to clean this place up,” Gavarone said. “I am a sentimental guy. I do not have the heart to shut this place down. In fact, I kissed my wife for the first time against the pole near the stage.”
That stage is where Howard’s differs from all the other clubs downtown. Bands like Panic! At the Disco and The White Stripes played there when they were first starting out, while Method Man, Andrew W.K. and David Allen Coe performed to maximum capacity crowds.
“I had Fall Out Boy play here in 2003, and people were bitching at the door about paying $3,” Gavarone said. “A few years later, they were selling out stadiums nationwide. Bands are nobodies here and then they become somebodies out there.”
Scavo agreed, adding that Howard’s is where many artists come to get noticed and bask in the light of the stage.
“Howard’s has its own character and its own stories,” Scavo said. “Bands coming through Bowling Green always go there. It has such a great reputation. It’s one of the only places left in Bowling Green that gives our downtown diversity.”
The club also played part of the famous blues tour known as the “Chitlin’ Circuit” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitlin’_circuit) during the late 1950s, providing a place for blues artists to perform. The tour consisted of blues guitarists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
“This place had legends play here every weekend back in the day,” Gavarone said. “Howard’s would get the big name blues guys who were on their way from Chicago to Cleveland.”
Deeper in Howard’s history is the tale of confectioner and founder Freddy Howard, a candystore operator turned bar owner.
“Legend has it that this candy store sold liquor out the back,” Gavarone said. “He was famous for his parties because he would have the entire football squad out here. The coaches began calling him Freddy the Falcon. The day Prohibition was overturned, he was one of the first ones selling [legally].”
Currently, the bar caters to anyone who walks through the door by providing food in-house and next door at Mr. Spots. Gavarone is also the owner of Mr. Spots (http://www.mrspots.com), which is how he received his liquor license.
The club is separated into two parts connected by a wrap-around bar. One side is more laid back, complete with a few TV screens playing sports games and the majority of the beer taps, while the other side is focused on recreation with four pool tables, a soundboard and a stage.
Snyder said she thinks of Howard’s as the town hangout, as well as the final stop during a weekend bar crawl.
“We have always been the closing bar,” she said. “We are open seven days a week and everyone seems to come here for their final round of the night. It’s been like that for decades.”
Whether it’s a night of just hanging out and shooting pool with the regulars or it’s a night of rocking out with the next band preparing for its big break, Howard’s and its operators look to keep the stage open and to continue to aid bands in the fight for stardom.
View Route from BGSU Campus to Howard’s Club H in a larger map
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