The Late, Great Hailey's Club: An Oral History

Hailey’s Club as we know it is gone, and if we’re being honest it’s been absent for a couple of years now. Nevertheless, the club had a great 12-year run. It took Jennifer Gibbs, the club's current owner, two years to realize running that space as a music venue had ultimately become a bust. Although the club is closing its doors as a music venue, it is reopening as a split bar concept. Half of the space will become a sports and video arcade concept as announced last month, while the other part will be transformed into a prohibition-themed speakeasy. Gibbs says that the new venue, 1933 Spirits and Small Plates, will offer “an extensive cocktail menu and a rotating selection of seasonal small plate offerings in a refined atmosphere.” 


Hailey’s was never a spot for regulars. The crowd each night was completely different depending on what was programmed, whether it was a weekly DJ night or a rock show. It was one of Denton's first “clubs” and it helped plenty of musicians keep the local scene alive. Does anyone remember seeing Fleet Foxes, Crystal Castles, Nada Surf, Dusdriver, Deltron 3030, Band of Horses, Deepthroat, Monotonix or the Arcade Fire?

After the New Year's Eve show tonight, Hailey's will close, and all we'll have are memories. Below, some regulars reminisce about this weird, iconic club. 

Rocky Ottley, musician, former bartender
"I helped build the place. Before Hailey’s was open, I did construction work for the owner [Eric Hill] in June of 2003, during the summer breaks."

Paul Peffer, bartender at Mother of Pearl in Brooklyn, NY:
"The first month [it] was [run] as a jazz club. No one was showing up, and it was BYOB. I told the owner that we weren’t going to make money. My roommate’s band, Sub Oslo, played a show at the club. They got a temporary liquor license for the weekend and there was a line around the block. Jazz and blues was not going to pay the bills; rock and roll is king."

"Jazz shows didn’t do so well. All the jazz students are all underage. Selling beer to minors was pretty against the law."

Glen Farris, owner, We Denton Do It, former talent buyer
"The square was a ghost town. I was shocked at how desolate downtown was on a Saturday evening at 5 p.m., as the shops were closing and the town was being put to sleep."

Ray Gill Jr., independent consultant for Appen, former GM
"You can't talk about the history of Hailey's without mentioning [the] influence of 'Daughter Entertainment,' run by the one and only Robin Phillips."

Robin Phillips, senior talent buyer at AEG Live, owner, Daughter Entertainment
"Denton has always been a supportive music community and will continue to be. The vibe has always been laid back and chill and being a promoter in college in a town like Denton was a priceless experience and I owe a lot of my career to that city and some key players in it like Rob Peters [The Argo], Jayson Wortham and Josh Baish [Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios], Dan Mojica [Dan’s Silverleaf] — all great guys who have made Denton what it is and was."

"A lot of other places on the square closed at 5 or 6 p.m. We had a hard time getting people to the door when the club first opened. TV On The Radio came through twice, the first time they played to about 20 people and it was a very intimate setting."

"We flew by the seat of our pants until the middle of March 2004. I believe TV On The Radio was the first show we had where you could purchase booze but at that point we’d been running shows since we opened Halloween night of 2003. Being a bar without a liquor license is a horrible business model so the pressure for the booking and production was immense."

Gill Jr.
"One day a friend of mine was bartending at [Lucky] Lou's while I was there and told me about this club that just opened up downtown. He was there for a Suicide Girls show and it was packed but he said the staff didn't seem to know what they were doing and I should go there and get a job. I just walked in and met with Jon [Bakke, GM at the time] and he was preparing for a show that night and told me to come back on Monday."

"Just a couple hours later I got a call from my friend from Lou's saying the person I met with was calling around trying to get my number because he needed me that very night because someone no-showed on him. So I walked back up there and he asked if I could work that night. I went home, changed and was working that night and that's how it all started."

Andy Bothwell, aka Astronautalis, musician
"I have played Hailey's more times than I can count. Back in the early 2000s, it felt like I was playing there every few months. If I wasn't at Rubber Gloves, I was at Hailey's."

Gill Jr.
"Around the year '05 or '06 we lost both Jon Bakke and Eric Hill, the only owner from the partnership group I really knew, leaving me to run the club by myself. That's around the time I hired Spune Productions to take over the booking and the promotion of the club which they did so well for years. I just knew I had to make a change because I didn't know how to book shows or promote them so they really saved us back then."

"Spune Productions was doing a lot of the booking, getting the club off the ground. I started working with Spune on filling out empty dates, bringing in my friends who were musicians. I was in school with them, so they are buddies of mine. It was a three-part deal for me: I got to sell drinks, hang out with my friends and [I] loved all the music. I got to hang out with all of my friends while getting them drunk."

Jonathan Graham, DJ G, musician
"I started with Hailey’s not long after they opened and played every Thursday through [the] New Year’s Eve party of 2009-2010. I had the pleasure of playing alongside Peter Hook of New Order and on another occasion Andy Rourke of The Smiths when they were touring as DJs. There are many memorable nights of great music and great people."

"The show that will always stand out to me was the first or second year of 35 Denton. Was that what it was even called back then? I was booked with Bleubird as 'Boyfriends INC.' At the time, we only had one song — about cats, google 'lookin ass kittie' — and a color book, and somehow we were supposed to fill an hour set. It was probably one of my favorite shows of all time. It was one of those glorious shit shows where you have one half of the crowd in the palm of your hand, and the other half is confused, scared or downright pissed. And the staff at Hailey's couldn't have been happier."

Kyle LaValley, talent buyer/artist manager at the Majestic Theatre, former 35 Denton creative director ('12-'13)

"I want to preface this by saying I’ve always been and always will be a Dan’s Silverleaf and Rubber Gloves girl. But I did see some great shows and have some wild nights at Hailey’s over the years. The first show I ever saw at Hailey’s was Neon Indian’s last show before the band left town. I think it was the week I moved to Denton, and it blew my mind. I dare say, aside from 35, it was the most packed I ever saw the club."

Marcus Webb, programmer/photographer
"Whatever Hailey's was ended for me a long, long time ago. It wasn't the most important or influential venue in Denton's history or future, but it was the first 'club' for a lot of us. And a lot of things sort of started there. Hell, my marriage started there. Bands, scenes, DJs, weeklies, stupid party photos — there was a moment [when] it felt like a group of us programming and playing were bringing something new, something a little more like you'd see in NY and LA — more like Misshapes than Rubber Gloves would ever want to be — than what you'd expect to find in a small Texas college town."

"Even the nicest New York clubs aren’t a whole lot bigger than Hailey’s. When the Knitting Factory was in Manhattan, their main room reminded me a lot of Hailey’s. We were booking on par with what a lot of New York clubs were booking when Robin Phillips was booking."

Joey Lietchy, aka DJ Yeah Def, musician
"Ian Bangs and I began '90s Night on Tuesdays in December of 2008. I remember the first night of that weekly being a ridiculously huge turnout. I don't think Ian or myself had anticipated how popular it would become. Few people know that there was actually some discussion with Jaleel White to host the 1 year anniversary of '90s Night. Haha!"

Ian Bangs, aka DJ Bangs, musician
"Basically we started it because we felt as though there was a need for a night here people our age could come out and be nostalgic about the music that was playing. But in a way that you really remembered what you were doing when that song came out. Or you were at the 7th grade dance keeping arms length while dancing with the girl you had a crush on. It was just a way for people to come out and relive a little of that and drink on the cheap while doing so. I loved being in that booth. I loved watching some great shows there. And just vibing with the crowd there was always on point."

"When I moved to town, Joey Liechty’s dance parties were legendary. I had come to town unaffiliated with UNT and the college scene, and I remember going to a '90s night and being like, 'Oh! This is where all young people hang out on this side of town.'”

"Some of my favorite things to see at Hailey's were impromptu dance battles. I won't name names, but my friend once danced so hard that he cut his head open and had a real big gash that left a pool of blood on the dance floor. He survived without any complications to his health."

Gill Jr.
"In 2009 the remaining ownership informed me they didn't intend to renew our lease starting in January of 2010. The club was up and down as far as revenue and making enough to sustain the club, but not worth the investment and liability to those remaining owners who never really came into the club and didn't have anything to do with the day-to-day. They focused on the restaurant [Hannah’s] and left me to deal with [the] club."

"In the beginning of 2010, Ray Gill asked me to carry the torch for '80s Night in addition to '90s Night. It was a challenging role to fill the shoes of DJ G, but I'd like to think I put my own mark on the decade party throughout the years."

"It would be dishonorable not to mention Hailey’s excellent staff. Hard working bartenders who knew their patrons' drinks as equally as I knew their favorite records. I don’t know where I’d be without Paul, Glen and Rocky. I will forever be indebted to Ray Gill for trusting me to take chances and giving me space to do what I felt needed to be done. Not many DJs have the opportunity on such a sustained scale and I am very lucky [and] thankful for that experience."

Gill Jr.
"Now enter the landlord. I owed him a summer's worth of rent and didn't see how I could pay that debt. The threats were coming about closing the club and putting a lien on everything inside. I got one offer from a partnership group out of Frisco to buy into the club. The negotiation seemed to be going well with them until they gave a counter offer from my proposed 51 percent ownership stake to a 5 percent ownership and a salary of $1,000 a month. This was pretty insulting and a pretty clear sign that they were just going to push me out and Hailey's would be in the hands of these Frisco people."

"In 2011, the club hit some financial woes, and Ray was forced to split ownership 49/51 with the landlord, Jerry Taylor. Jerry was toxic for the club. It quickly became very uncool to go to Hailey's."  

Gill Jr.
"Jerry proposed a deal where he'd have controlling interest but allow me to run the business and the staff would be safe, but he would also offer an accounting staff and take over payroll allowing me to hire management help. Almost immediately after the papers were signed he began making changes. Then he put the staff in uniforms, which isn't the worst thing in the world, but he really wanted to go with a tiny white shorts policy for the girls, which was just infuriating to me."

"Then came the grand fuck-up of firing our '90s night DJ, Joey. Despite this being our most successful night of the week and we had no issues with it, he just felt he had [to] put his mark on it by making Joey wear a uniform. This made no sense to anyone; Joey didn't quickly obey and this was used as the excuse to let him go."

"After Joey was fired, Jerry thought he could find the DJ to replace him and hired DJ Andre who used to spin at Rockin' Rodeo. This guy was terrible and would not adhere to spinning '90s music. His signature song every night was Otis Day & the Knights' version of 'Shout.' It may not have actually been that Animal House version, but either way, it was totally not fitting. Our crowds went from over 400 a night on Tuesdays to around 70 people. '90s Night was dead for awhile until I finally just fired him and hired a guy I met a few weeks earlier, Jeremy Tipton. He saved it."

"Jen Gibbs bought out Hailey's in October of 2013, giving the venue a shot in the arm, along with some format and programming changes. I came back to play '80s Night again on Thursdays, but in late 2014 I moved out of Denton and at the same time shut off all my recurring gigs in Denton."

Jennifer Gibbs, current owner, Hailey’s Club and Dusty’s Bar
"When I took over Hailey’s, business on [the] square was good, but there was a ton of competition that had just opened and was scheduled to open."

Matt Battaglia, founder, Oaktopia Fest
"I've been going to Hailey's since my early teens. Back then, a lot of clubs were all-ages. I got to see so many legendary acts in Denton when I was a teenager. I saw Atmosphere at Hailey's when I was 15, POS twice, Eyedea & Abilities twice. It was THE spot for underground hip-hop in the mid-2000s. One of my favorite memories was selling it out with our band, The Basement. We had a line past what is now Mulberry Street Cantina. Shit was wild."

"It was an awesome space for dance shows and DJ nights, but also served as a good room for punk and metal shows on the rare occasion they were programmed there."

"Hailey's will be missed, for sure, but everyone who was involved with that place can look back at the 12 years it was around and be proud. That was quite a run."

"Hailey's shutting down leaves a quite noticeable vacuum for a large dance floor in Denton. Perhaps an opportunist will fill that void with something new."

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