Star Bar Co-Founder David Heany Has Died
David Heany, one of the original owners and founders of the Star Community Bar in Little Five Points, has died.
Heany, 67, suffered a massive heart attack last night (Tuesday, November 13) at his home in Ansley Park. He had been dealing with serious health issues for the past couple of years, according to his longtime friend and former business partner Marty Nolan. Namely, a herniated disc left him unable to get up and walk around without tremendous pain. He’d also undergone hip replacement surgery and a couple of back surgeries in recent years.
With fellow plumber Nolan, Heany – a nationally recognized metal sculptor who at one time taught at the Atlanta College of Art and had several large pieces on display around the city – opened the Star Community Bar on Halloween night 1991, transforming the former C&S bank building into a smoky neighborhood watering hole. Appropriate considering Heany’s enthusiasm for Elvis Presley, rockabilly and vintage 45s, the joint quickly became the headquarters for the emerging “redneck underground” subculture of the Atlanta music scene, a scrappy and spirited jumble of nascent bands embracing, reviving and transforming classic country, rockabilly, swing, early rock ‘n’ roll, surf-rock and other supposedly outmoded American music styles. Some of those bands, and their remnants, still perform at the Star Bar.
While it’s undergone several ownership changes since Heany and Nolan sold it in 2001, the divey character and appearance of the place, including the notorious “Grace Vault” Elvis shrine, remain intact to this day. In fact, while it’s no longer functional, that’s the same Americana III jukebox in the vault today that Nolan and Heany obtained from the owner of a New Orleans bar and hauled back to Atlanta in the trunk of a Cadillac. Heany also consulted current Star Bar owner Kahle Davis on the purchase and repair of the former Waffle House jukebox that Davis put downstairs in the Little Vinyl Lounge. That one’s been unplugged for quite some time, but it was filled with Heany’s 45s for the first year it was there.
After selling the Star Bar, Heany and Nolan’s business partnership endured for several years in the form of a car wash on the south side of the city. After that closed, Heany turned to – of all things – raising honeybees. He also hosted his own “Coin Operated Radio Hour” program for a while on the now-defunct 1690 AM (WMLB) and had renewed his artistic endeavors. While David’s marriage to Judith Russel in the 1970s ended in divorce, he later found a soul-mate in Nancy Fortier, his life partner for decades afterward.
Nolan, meanwhile, carried on with his long-established plumbing business (“We used to say when we opened the Star Bar, we went from human waste to wasted humans,” he jokes), but has experienced his own serious health issues in the past two to three years. The 62-year-old likes to joke that it’s a “bar-related injury,” but the hard truth of it is, he drank to the point of ruining his liver, resulting in cirrhosis and a hospital stint for seizures in 2016. He’s been progressively getting better, and now adheres to a vegetarian diet that presumably doesn’t include distilled/fermented corn, grain or potatoes. “Other than getting the wind knocked out of me with news like [Heany’s passing], I’m doing alright,” he says, and he even made it out for the Star Bar’s Halloween/anniversary show on Oct. 27.
Speaking fondly of Heany, Davis notes that “he used to stop by on Thursdays when I was receiving alcohol deliveries downstairs at the Star Bar. We would share shots of Old Overholt and talk about the bar business. He quickly became a mentor for me, and repeatedly referred to me as The Heir Apparent of the Star Bar. He could be a bit prickly in his customer service and employee management solutions, but damn if he wasn’t always right. As he would say, ‘Sometimes Daddy’s got to take off his belt.’ Evidence of his management style can still be found if you look up into the ceiling of the phone booth outside of the Grace Vault. He had found a stashed bottle of liquor. It pissed him off so much he built a little prison cell for that bottle and attached to it a note that read, ‘Fuck you, asshole.’ And there it has sat for decades.
“In recent years I saw less and less of him,” Davis continues. “He aged rather quickly and had lost the badass spring in his step. But he seemed happy to be getting back to pursuing his art. I’m really going to miss that man.”