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Last Day Saloon owner rides into the sunset

Dave Daher, owner of the Last Day Saloon in Railroad Square, behind the bar. Daher will retire this month, after 42 years in the nightclub business.

ALVIN JORNADA / PD
Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 11:15 a.m.

Seated at a cluttered desk in his upstairs, back-room office at the Last Day Saloon, the nightclub's owner, Dave Daher, carried on several conversations at once.

He talked on his phone — the ring tone is a chugging locomotive — while he chatted with several visitors walking in and out of his office. And every once in a while, he called out to his wife, Nancy, the club manager, working in her office next door.

“I gotta go,” he rasped into the phone. “I've got people here.”

It was a typically busy scene for Daher. But he'll soon have time on his hands — for the first time in four decades.

After running the original Last Day Saloon in San Francisco from 1973 to 2005, and the Santa Rosa version of the nightclub since 2001, the burly, plain-spoken club owner is ready to rest.

“In 40 years of being in this business, and being in this office and my office in the city — that office was even more of a dungeon — the longest vacation we ever had was 10 days,” Daher said.

And when was that? (A short bark of wry laughter emerged from Nancy's office in response to the question.)

“Probably about 1978,” Daher answered. “I went 79 straight days without a day off between the two clubs, when I first opened this one in Santa Rosa.”

Two months ago, Daher began to spread the word he planned to retire. Last month, he put the Last Day Saloon, and the building in Railroad Square that houses it, up for sale.

There has been interest in the property but no deal so far, he said. In the meantime, he's renting out the club to independent promoters for a few shows this month.

“I must have booked 15,000 or 16,000 bands in 40 years. I was lucky enough to know all of these people in their prime,” Daher said. “Before computers, I kept all the names in this black book.”

He picked up the well-worn, spiral-bound book off his desk and thumbed through the pages, and started reading off names at random — Bo Diddley, John Hooker, Etta James, Country Joe and the Fish, Huey Lewis, Los Lonely Boys, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells.

“I like all kinds of music, but I was always mainly a blues guy,” Daher said. “I like gutsy, down-to-earth blues.”

But Daher also counted many top comedians among his acquaintances.

“In San Francisco, the Last Day Saloon was next-door to the Holy City Zoo, so all the comedians who played there would come in after their shows,” he recalled. “Whoopi Goldberg, John and Jim Belushi, and Robin Williams all came in.”

The last Sunday in April, Daher threw his own retirement party at the Santa Rosa nightclub, featuring performances by several of his longtime musician friends, including Commander Cody and Elvin Bishop. After decades of booking acts, negotiating contracts, ordering supplies, writing menus, hiring staff and more, Daher declares he's done.

“We want to travel,” he said, but he and Nancy will keep their home in the Mark West/Larkfield area of Santa Rosa, where they've lived for the past 25 years, and where they raised four children, all grown now but living not far away.

It was through his kids that Daher got into his lesser-known local career as a youth sports coach for Mark West Little League Baseball, Riebli Elementary School and Catholic Youth Organization baseball, and the Northwest Oaks Youth Soccer Club.

“I coached for 17 years all together, plus I took care of the fund-raising and hiring umpires for Mark West Little League,” he said.

Daher's other passion is fishing, when he gets to take his boat out. But even when he talks about his fishing trips, Daher can't help dropping show-business names.

“I took Taj Mahal and Dr. John out fishing for sturgeon on San Francisco Bay,” he recalled. “Dr. John caught two, and I caught one.”

Daher grew up in San Francisco, going to concerts at San Francisco's legendary live music venues, including the REO Speedway, the Avalon and the Fillmore.

When he finished high school, he joined his father's San Francisco construction firm, Nick Daher & Sons, working with his dad and two brothers until he opened the Last Day Saloon in San Francisco.

“When I opened that club, I thought I'd retire with a lot of money in three or four years,” Daher said with a rough laugh. “But it's a lot more work than anyone thinks, and I had four kids to put through college.”

You can reach Staff Writer

Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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