After getting wind of the Hedwig-themed tribute coming to the former Don Hill’s later this week, we got a chance to talk to Alma Ayala, the creative director of the club that’s set to take over the space. The 40-year-old Carroll Gardens resident tells us The Hills will open sometime next year. Ayala, previously an art director in the music and fashion industries, is still being tight-lipped about the identity of her partners, but she did reveal a thing or two about the future incarnation of the Soho venue where bands like the Strokes played early gigs and where she once caught a secret Green Day show. Read on to hear what she has in store.
So you knew Don Hill?
I was working for Sony at the time and I was the girl that would show up at the end of the night and beg him to allow some of these newbie artists to perform. He used to call me “Princess Pain-in-the-Ass.” But he was awesome. He always supported any newbies, especially if they were from New York – but he said, “Listen, I can’t pay you.” He was like, “All I ask is that I don’t have to get up and be here before noon.” Everyone laughed when he said that, because they knew he’d be there anyway.
I’m making sure the brand and image is what it should be and is preserved. I’m making sure that the music and everything that comes in stays within that realm. There should never have been hip-hop [at Don Hill’s]. That infuriated me – it was taking away from its soul. No offense to the hip-hop world, it’s a rock place. I’m just trying to keep and preserve and get a badass system in there so all those bands that started there want to come back and play because of the intimacy and also have a place for these newbies that want to experience it and have heard about what it was like and want a piece of it.
Don Hill used to manage a band called The Bangers and Michael H was his best friend who was the lead singer. He appealed to me and said, “I heard you used to do this, I want you to do it again.” The guy that took on the lease sought me out and wanted to know if I wanted to be a part of it.
I’ll ask you not to research that right now, just because there’s some health issues and things like that involved. I will say that it was not easy maintaining the lease and the landlord gave it over to someone that they felt was close to Don because they also are fans of Don. But there’s no connection to anyone [from the former Don Hill’s].
Live music is dying out, especially venues like that – so I want to bring that back. I know there’s amazing DJs like Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols and Roger Taylor from Duran Duran that would still suit the place and not just be a DJ dance party – it would be sticking with the whole scene and image. It definitely won’t be opening [for shows] every night – probably more like three shows a week.
I’m a Brooklyn lover – I was born here and I’ve never wanted to live in Manhattan. I think the location and the history is a reason people will want to go. I know that times have changed but I do think the people who went there as 21- and 22-year-olds may now have kids and live in Manhattan but they still want to hear some good music and some rock and go somewhere where they can enjoy a show and go home easily instead of having to take a $50 taxi ride to Brooklyn in the middle of nowhere.
I really like going to Baby’s All Right and I actually love Irving Plaza. I went to the Jam Room at Milk Studios and that was kind of cool. It was small, very small. There are places I enjoy going to, for sure, but there’s only one Don Hill’s. When people walk in, they always tell me a story. It’s amazing to hear: “Oh, I saw the Strokes here and it was only 70 people… Oh my God, Iggy Pop, Florence and Machine… I saw Sting here and he wasn’t performing, he was just here to see some show.”
I’ve definitely been approached by all these previous parties and I know that’ll be part of it – I don’t think it’ll be on a regular basis, maybe a one-off here and there, but obviously having ‘80s night and gay night and certain nights like that would be great as long as I can mix it in with the right bands.
The last show I saw there was Green Day and it was such a fun show. It was so crowded I couldn’t even put my drink to my lips. But it was so much fun and I love the whole idea of bands coming and playing under aliases. I want to say it was Lady Gaga who played under another name and did this often and I didn’t know. My friend Dean Winters, the actor, would spill it and everyone would check it out.
What would you say to cynical types who might think you’re just paying lip service to Don Hill’s while actually planning to open a more chic, bottle-service-type club? Or are you still going to have those grimy bathrooms?
I’m trying to preserve it and keep it what it was. I do want to step it up a bit with the level of bands and the crowd, obviously, with tighter security. The bathrooms have definitely been cleaned up. There’s a small VIP area – if someone wanted to have a bottle or something like that, sure, we can accommodate any customer. But I don’t see it turning into some kind of bottle service venue. There’s a little bit more furniture in there but if Green Day’s going to be coming back, we can definitely move all that.