Chukker History and Lore

The Chukker harbored Tuscaloosa's pranksters, malcontents, and misfits from August/September 1956 to 31 October 2003.

Chukker ad in Tuscaloosa News 1956

"Introducing" the first incarnation of the Chukker—the Tuscaloosa News, 11 August 1956. Debuting soon after Tuscaloosa voted to allow alcohol sales.

Chukker exterior as it appeared during the 1970s and 1980s

The Chukker exterior as it appeared during the 1970s and 1980s. Photo by John Earl.

1990s Chukker exterior

The 1990s Chukker exterior: "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality, fraternity). Painting by Rich Marcks. Photo by John Earl.

The Chukker site after demolition

The Chukker, destroyed. November 1, 2007, 2:06 p.m. Photo by atlantagrrl.

Chukker Owners

The ambience of the Chukker was largely determined by its owners—especially when it came to booking music.

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    1956-1968: "Chukker Bill" Thompson
    Thompson borrowed the Chukker name from a bar he admired in San Francisco. (N.B. A "chukker" is a period of play in polo.) The Chukker began as a proper restaurant at 2121 Sixth Street in August or September 1956, in a building that dated to the early 1900s. Sonny Simon, a patron from the early days described it as "a cafe-bar that served inexpensive steaks and seafood complete with white tablecloths, uniformed waiters and kitchen staff, clean restrooms, and soft piano jazz at night. It was a perfect setting for both the business and college folks who did not want loud music and drunks."
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    1968-1972: Earl Hilyer; 1972-1974: Mark Lee Cobb
    Before Hilyer and then Cobb took over, the Chukker had changed. Sonny Simon explained, "In [Chukker] Bill's later days, things started going downhill. Food service was curtailed, sanitation problems increased, plumbing collapsed, and it became more of a beer bar than a cafe. But the clientele stayed. It expanded to include 'fringe' folks who felt uncomfortable in other local bars (gays, bikers, blacks, artists, veterans, intellectuals, etc). Everyone mingled well and enjoyed the one unique quality only found at the Chukker: tolerance." This was the Chukker that Hilyer and Cobb inherited and so it remained throughout the 1970s.
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    1974-1980: Bob Callahan & Lewis Fitts
    The Chukker doubled in size as the room that came to hold the pool tables and pinball machines was acquired. Tom Bradford painted "The Recreation of Man" (aka, "The Sistine Chukker") on 16 panels and installed them on the ceiling in 1974. Mike Dement painted the motorcycle & Chukker staff mural circa 1977. Draft beer only became legal in Alabama bars in 1976 and it quickly became a staple of the Chukker. It was now and forever a bar and not a restaurant.
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    1980-1989: Bruce Hopper & Ronnie Myers
    The Chukker quickly became a haven for alternative rock, experimental music, and punk during this epoch. George Hadjidakis and his record store, Vinyl Solution, provided the spark that led to appearances by national acts like the Replacements, Fetch'n Bones, Salem 66, the Descendents, Eugene Chadbourne, and the Indigo Girls. Regional and local bands like Club Wig, Henri's Notions, Jim Bob and the Leisure Suits, Even Greenland, Afrikan Dreamland, Johnny Shines, Widespread Panic, and Will and the Bushmen made recurring appearances.
    At some point in the early 1980s the performance room shifted from the room on the left (as you entered) to the one on the right. A proper stage was also constructed; early in the '80s, bands performed on the floor, near the front door. The bar had been near the door, but was relocated at the rear, where the kitchen had been "in order to meet the state requirements to add liquor sales," according to Hopper.
    Circa 1980, "Chukker Nation" became formally organized, with a newsletter and a calendar. It was modeled on Woodstock Nation, but with less outdoor urination.
    Hopper bought out Myers in 1981.
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    1989-1991: "Mr. Bill" Gipson & Richard Lindsey
    Not many changes to the Chukker during this interlude.
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    November 1991-June 2001: Frannie James, Ludovic Goubet, Robert Huffman (and Silent Partner Carlos Garcia)
    James and Goubet bought out Huffman in early 1995 and Garcia before then. Goubet bought out James later in 1995. Dave DeMoya managed the club in the late '90s as Goubet became more detached from it. The Chukker was shuttered in June 2001 after years of financial decline.
    Bob Weston painted a mural for the east wall.
    Jazz musicians including McCoy Tyner, Larry Coryell, and Sun Ra and his Arkestra (1992) were added to the roster of rock acts that were booked (e.g., Dick Dale, the Lyres, the A-Bones, the Woggles, Sweat Bee, the Penetrators, Man or Astroman?, D. C. Moon, Burning Zoo, the Dexateens, Ultrababyfat, et alia).
    In 1995, the facade was painted with the "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality, fraternity) motto by Rich Marcks.
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    2002-October 31, 2003: Brooks Cloud & Will Harris
    Cloud and Harris renovated the building and re-opened the bar on May 8, 2002—featuring Lunasect, the Forty Fives, the Penetrators, and the Moto-Litas. The facade was repainted with an eyeball on the exhaust fan and a coat of arms by Rich Marcks.
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    Halloween, October 31, 2003: The Last Night at the Chukker
    Loyal Chukkerites partied until late into the night while Club Wig, the Woggles, D. C. Moon, and others played requiems for the Chukker.
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    November 1, 2003: The City of Tuscaloosa Officially Condemns the Entire Block
    The Chukker and much of Sixth Street became victims of "urban renewal." They were razed in October 2007 and turned into Gummint Plaza.


This Chukker history was compiled from conversations/email with Bob Callahan, Bruce Hopper, Frannie James, George Hadjidakis, et al., and my own experiences at the Chukker (starting in 1980). I also relied on the following newspaper/magazine/blog articles—listed in chronological order.

Chukker Nation

Chukker Nation comprises a (very) loose-knit group of pranksters, malcontents, and misfits who found a home at the Chukker. It once had a newsletter. It occasionally has reunions. It's like Woodstock Nation, but without outdoor camping.

Chukker Weekender

The Weekender was held October 27-28, 2023. For postmortems and photographs, join its Facebook page and/or view the gallery here.

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