The Chukker

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The Chukker was a well-known bar at 2121 6th Street in downtown Tuscaloosa. It was opened by "Chukker Bill" Thompson in 1956, who patterned it after a bar of the same name in San Francisco, California, which he had visited while in the U. S. Navy. (That bar's name came from the term denoting a 7 1/2 minute play period in the sport of Polo, derived from the Hindi word "cakkar" meaning "circle" or "turn")

Originally the bar served lunch and dinner from a full kitchen. Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Joys (who later became the Allman Brothers) performed there and other musicians spent time at the bar. It is claimed that footage of Keith Richards playing pool there was included in the Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter.

Thompson sold The Chukker in 1968 to Earl Hilyer. It had another owner before it was bought in 1974 by Bob Callahan and Lewis Fitts. They expanded the bar into an adjacent space and added a stage area for occasional music shows. That year artist Tom Bradford painted the Sistine Chukker ceiling mural. Other interior murals were contributed over the years by Bob Weston, Mike Dement and Rich Marcks.

Bruce Hopper bought the bar in 1980 and began booking bands more regularly, up to about 200 shows per year. He gave all of the door proceeds to the bands and profited himself from the bar business generated by the crowds. He tried to provide opportunities for local bands as well as bringing in touring acts in the rock, punk, blues and jazz genres. George Hadjidakis, owner of the Vinyl Solution record store, assisted in booking acts such as the Descendents, the Replacements, and the Indigo Girls. In 1989 Hopper sold The Chukker to Bill Gipson and Richard Lindsay.

Ludovic Goubet, Frannie James and Robert Hoffman bought it from Gipson in 1991 Hoffman left the partnership four years later and James about a year after that. Goubet has Rich Marcks create a new "Liberty, Egality, Fraternity: Vive le Chukker 1956" mural on the front of the building in 1995. He operated the bar himself until 2002, partnering briefly with Dave DeMoya. Goubet initially brought in highly-acclaimed acts such as Sun Ra, Richard Thompson, R.L. Burnside, Dick Dale, Morphine, At the Drive-In, Man or Astroman? and Sublime. He also scheduled art shows and poetry readings. The Chukker saw dwindling crowds in the 1990s, especially after the construction of the Tuscaloosa Municipal Courthouse eliminated a large parking area used by bar patrons. Some blame Goubet for his reluctance to tend to maintenance issues, especially after he moved to South Carolina in 2000. Goubet, for his part, explained that he had lost patience with rock bands who caused repeated damage to bar property. He made it known that he was interested in selling the bar before he finally closed it in June 2001.

The Chukker reopened in 2003 under the proprietorship of Will Harris and Brooks Cloud, publishers of The Strip and Tuscaloosa Business Ink. The bar closed again in early November, hurt by a new city ordinance mandating bars close by 2:00 AM, and with the threat of imminent domain being used to acquire the property for a proposed new Tuscaloosa federal building. The building was demolished on October 27, 2007. The "Sistine Chukker" was salvaged before the demolition and put on display at the Downtown Trading Company, a cigar store owned by Bill Gipson.


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