At age 75, Philly nightlife superstar heading west to start over

It’s a bitter cold January evening with the streets of Center City laced with ice, but nightlife entrepreneur David Carroll can still pack them in, as he has for nearly 50 years ago.

Inside Sansom Street’s Happy Rooster, Carroll, 75, played both host and guest of honor for a room full of punk rockers, lawyers, artists, models, politicos, rappers and hangers-on at his good-bye party last week. And in the process, he made each person feel as if she or he was their best friend. “Because they are,” Carroll said. “These people have always been my family. Always will be, too.”

But Carroll spoke to Metro by phone from a lounge at Philadelphia International Airport, where, after decades opening forward-looking venues and managing and booking bands in Philly, he was about to hop a plane and take his show on the road to the West Coast’s Bay Area to continue on in likewise fashion.

Long before Stephen Starr or Marc Vetri, Live Nation’s Geoff Gordon and R5’s Sean Agnew (maybe even before they were born), David Carroll all but created Philly nightlife with an edge. At the end of 1976, before punk rock truly hit, Carroll and his trusty pal DJ Bobby Startup booked Elvis Costello, Devo, Iggy Pop, The B-52s, The Cure and countless others early in their careers into the Hot Club on South Street’s higher numbers.

When nightlife all but relocated itself wholesale into Old City during its then-bourgeoning lounge renaissance at the end of the ’90s, Carroll opened the dark, mysterious speakeasy-ish Bar Noir on 18th Street — an act which reinvigorated the Rittenhouse area and made it into a late-night DJ destination point once more, as everyone from ballers to Police Commissioner John Timoney to Mel Gibson could be found (or not found) hiding out there.

“I always wanted to do something that wasn’t happening otherwise, something that wasn’t available unless I made it so,“ Carroll said, whose other clubs included Peanuts at 17th and Lombard (his first spot, opened in 1968), neighboring Artemis a few years later, and Walnut Street culinary hotspots like Magazine. “And mystery, too. I wanted each of my locations to feel dangerous and strange.”

When Carroll wasn’t busy running venues, consulting on others, or fashioning real estate deals, he was managing musical talent. It’s a career he plans to continue out west.

“At some point, I had to ask myself how much more could I do here,” Carroll said, while pointing out that he misses his daughter – a music promoter in her own right in the Bay Area with Artemis Booking – and her children, who have musical careers in San Francisco. Carroll will be managing his grandson London Jackson’s band X Lovers and some of his former Philly clients. Carroll is also in the middle of planning real estate/nightlife ventures in San Francisco even before he boards the plane.

“Nothing will stop and it’s business as usual,” he stated, pointing out that his Philadelphia restaurant brokerage business with Chris Conover isn’t over, but the young Conover taking the reins on the home front.

“It will never be goodbye for me and Philly,” Carroll said before boarding. “I love it too much. Just call it ‘So long for now.’”

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