Not one to ever look back, Eugene Haslam traces the trajectory made by Zaphod’s 20-year journey in the galaxy
by Cormac Rea | March 1, 2012
In Douglas Adams’ famous sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the two-headed, three-armed, eye-patched character Zaphod Beeblebrox was voted by readers of the fictional magazine Playbeing as “owner of the hippest place in the universe.” Meanwhile, on planet Earth in the Ottawa quadrant, Eugene Haslam – the dreadlocked, bespectacled owner of downtown club Zaphod Beeblebrox – has been a well-recognized gadabout in the local galaxy for several decades, with his bar taking top spot in many an XPress Best of Ottawa poll, and its take-a-chance-on-me programming launching the careers of hundreds of bands. For Haslam, Douglas’ quote “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be” rings true to life, a maxim that still guides the bar owner on the eve of the club’s 20th anniversary.
“In so many ways, The Hitchhiker’s Guide has provided a parallel to life,” explains Haslam. “Douglas Adams, for some reason, seems to be the guy that encapsulates so much of what I think. And it’s certainly true, I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I certainly ended up where I needed to be. You don’t really know at the time; you have goals etcetera, but they morph into something else, and Zaphod’s has morphed nicely.
Twenty years ago, Zaphod’s opened its doors on a very different looking Bytowne Market. Haslam would make his impression quickly on the hardscrabble local bar scene with a mixture of oddball programming and a special ear for up-and-coming talent. Over the years, Zaphod’s has broke a variety of emerging bands and established acts alike, with high-profile groups like Radiohead, Ben Harper, Yo La Tengo, The Commitments, Burning Spear, The Pogues and Broken Social Scene gracing the stage, but local (or even out-of-town) acts with little cachet have always had their place as well.
“Normally I don’t look backwards. People ask me what the best band we ever had was, and I never know – I’m always excited by what is coming. We’ve had some nights that ran their course too, like Bingo Jet International,” reveals Haslam. “It was getting to the point where you can’t light fires inside a nightclub, and keep burning or bashing TVs, so we gave that a rest for a long time. Our industrial DJ night just might be the longest running in the galaxy. We’ve actually emailed Guinness [Book of World Records] to find out.”
Haslam, who recently ran for a position as city councillor, also suffered a debilitating stroke, which caused him to step back from operations at Zaphod’s for the last year. However, with the approaching anniversary, not to mention an improved bill of health, he’s back on the scene as helmsman of the good ship Beeblebrox.
“It’s something I’ve tried to wrap my head around now that I’m back booking,” he adds. “The first thing was to stop and say to myself, ‘Do I want to do this anymore?’ There have been times when I’ve thought… when you’re looking at the end of your life, and I don’t want to get morose about it, but it’s when your obituary is in the paper that people show up. When something is ending, people show up. I want to evangelize to people that you need to be a part of something while it’s around. Zaphod’s has had a great run of success and, looking at it 20 years later, it’s about representing people, representing your community. At one time, people even likened us to a galactic “Cheers.”
“Basically, there’s a lot of talk about what alternative music is, but we’ve always tried to be an alternative club, and really only one of many in town. I think, at Zaphod’s, it’s always about the basics, about being hospitable. We actually have a club philosophy posted on the webpage, and I haven’t seen that anywhere else in the universe.”