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Hardback Cafe Makes A Comeback

The new bar at the Hardback Cafe, on the top level of the venue with a patio overlooking University Avenue, is almost completed. The bar will serve local beer and Sweetwater Coffee. (Kirsten Chuba / WUFT News)
The new bar at the Hardback Cafe, on the top level of the venue with a patio overlooking University Avenue, is almost completed. The bar will serve local beer and Sweetwater Coffee. (Kirsten Chuba / WUFT News)

A staple in the local music scene is returning to Gainesville.

The Hardback Cafe will reopen in mid-December in a new downtown location at 211 W. University Ave. The original Hardback closed in 1999 after bringing both local and national acts to the stage for over 10 years.

Hardback owner Alan Bushnell decided to bring the cafe back after seeing a resurgence of local musicians who needed a place to play.

“I started seeing bands and shows and none of the venues are really music venues,” he said. “1982 was, but then they changed over. High Dive is, but that’s for bigger, touring bands, and beyond the local stuff, so I just saw that there was a need for a venue dedicated to local, original bands.”

The new Hardback will have a split-level design, with a stage on the first level and a bar on the second.

The first shows are set for Dec. 11 with The Howleez, As Is and Loony Bin Love Birds, and Dec. 12 with Gris Gris Boys, Eve of November and Poor Kids. Several musicians from these bands also played at the Hardback in the '90s, Bushnell said.

“We’re not trying to duplicate those days; I’m trying to duplicate the atmosphere and environment that will make people thrive with the bands,” he said. “We’ll have a nice mix of the generations.”

Debra Fetzer, lead singer for The Howleez, played with three different bands at the old venue and considers the Hardback a historical piece of Gainesville’s music and arts culture.

“The original Hardback was a free-wheeling venture that encouraged all forms and genres of music and art,” she said. “It was one of the first solid punk rock clubs that gave the scene a place to grow. Its organic diversity was a treasure.”

Now scheduled to play the opening of the new Hardback, Fetzer said that the return of the venue can only positively contribute to the local music and arts scene, and she hopes it will once again bring national acts to town.

Bushnell opened the Hardback in 1989 in the space that is now Boca Fiesta. At that time, he said, local bands were primarily playing at house parties, and cops were starting to crack down on noise complaints.

Having been in bands most of his life, he wanted to create a club space where these local musicians could play.

Local and well-known acts came to play at the Hardback, including Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music and River Phoenix. Bradley Nowell of Sublime even thanked the venue in the notes of the band’s debut album “40 oz. to Freedom,” according to a post from the blog Ken Eats Gainesville.

The Hardback built quite a fan base over its time in Gainesville, with people connecting to the local music and its culture.

“I think you felt like you were part of a family and part of a movement,” Bushnell said. “I think people relate to that, that they were part of something different than mainstream, but strong.”

In 1998, Bushnell sold the venue because he was going to law school and the building was becoming too difficult to maintain.

Now, more than 15 years later, Bushnell is ready to bring the Hardback back to Gainesville and open up the space to the next generation. His daughter, Julia, has her own band, and he hopes she and her friends bring a new kind of character to the place.

“I just want the space to be utilized by artists and musicians to foster creativity,” he said..

Kirsten is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.