UPDATE 7 June 2016 -- Many thanks to commenter Mandy for sending these pictures of the Hi Hatt:
Well, there have been a lot of people over the past few years urging me to do this post. I have always put it off up until now as I have no personal memories of The Hi Hatt Club, and though I must have seen it many times up until I was 12, I cannot even recall the building. I was always hoping that I would run across a picture of the club, or would find an old ad that I could use to hang a post on, but that seems destined not to happen, so I will go with what I have been able to establish, and by consolidating various mentions made of the place in the comments.
Here's what I found out by looking through old phone directories last week. The Hi Hatt Club first appears in the Columbia Southern Bell listings in the August 1957 directory. The last time it was listed was in the December 1972 directory. At the start of its run, the phone number was given as SU-7-9143. That number was retained in each directory though with the advent of direct dialing the prefix changed from Sunset to became 787-9143. The name the club used for its directory listing was always Hi Hatt Drive In, and it listed under Clubs in the Yellow Pages though it never bought a Yellow Pages ad.
Given that other sources state that the club started in the 1930s, I'm not sure why listings only started in 1957. I suppose that in those days not every road-house felt it needed a phone, or perhaps the listing was under another name.
The town limits formed an irregular rectangle that paralleled Forest Drive. The original area of incorporation was two square miles with the northern and southern boundaries lying one half mile on each side of the road. The eastern boundary ran north to south a thousand feet to the east of Gill Creek. The western boundary lay two miles to the west paralleling the eastern boundary. The boundaries did not change right away, but over the years the city grew to the east and primarily to the north. Forest Acres was planned to be a residential area. Existing businesses were grandfathered in, but new businesses were not to be opened. Because of loopholes in the laws, this was not enforceable. To the chagrin of the local residents, the old Bethel School at the comer of Forest Drive and Landmark Drive (3830 Forest Drive) had closed, and the Hi Hatt (pronounced High Hat) Club had opened in the building. The Hi Hatt Club, an early form of nightclub, was in the area in 1935. The city founders would have liked to have seen it close, but it managed to stay open. Over the years, especially in the 1960's, the Hi Hatt Club was rumored to be a place of prostitution, or a "whore house," as such operations were called. Mothers shielded their children from it, but the Hi Hatt Club's reputation made it a big source of interest and a hot topic of conversation for teenage boys. Frowns and concern could never close it, but a good financial offer to purchase the land to construct office buildings finally brought it to an end. The city officials, from the beginning on, wanted only wholesome businesses in the area with protection and privacy for the nearby residential properties.
Does ANYbody remember the Hi Hat Club on Forest Drive, not too far from Beltline? I asked William Price Fox about it, because he is a wealth of info on stuff like this, but he cannot recall it. I swear I’m not making it up, though. It was a white wooden building. Had a neon sign shaped like a top hat.
Commenter BR suggests the place was informally known as Goldie's:
Speaking of Forest Acres places, when Forest Dr was just 2 lanes (yes, how many of us remember that!) there was a honky tonk in the pine thicket about where the gold-glass reflective building is now located. It was called GOLDIES. Anyone else remember that?
Hi-Hat Club update: My 91 year old uncle is the last remaining person of that generation alive for me personally, and I’ve been hitting him up for city history a little at a time so as not to wear him out. The latest nugget should tickle all the “Hi-Hatters” out there. Dig this, before it was a honky tonk the building was a 2-room schoolhouse and my uncle went there for a bit. Unfortunately he is not a photographer and doesn’t even have a photograph of his old garden center. Oy vey!
Something a little less certain that I remember from my father talking about the Hi Hat Club back when it was still a working honky tonk in the 1960s is his insistence that a couple of scenes for the cult Robert Mitchum movie “Thunder Road” were filmed there in 1958 or so. According to this wikipedia entry for the movie, most of the principle filming was done in Asheville, NC, so this at least puts the production crew to within a few hours drive. It’s not uncommon to film several locations for one final composited location. In other words, if you were filming a honky tonk scene, you may film the interior of some place on the outskirts of Asheville and the exterior of some distinctive juke joint in the suburbs of Columbia SC and then edit them to look seamless. It seems excessive, but often one place looks better on the outside and the other place looks better on the inside and because they can, film crews do this stitching all the time and you’d never know it.
Going against my father’s story is that the South Carolina film database doesn’t have “Thunder Road” listed, however it mostly lists the films that have been primarily filmed here. It does list a “Thunder In Carolina” stock car movie (with Rory Calhoun and Alan Hale, Jr., the skipper from “Gilligan’s Island) filmed in Darlington in 1960, which my father could have been confusing with “Thunder Road”. But on the side of a film crew having filmed a few scenes at the Hi-Hat Club for “Thunder Road,” here is an interview with Mitchum’s son James on the 50th anniversary of the film where he mentions that some of the inspiration came from their South Carolina cousins’ moonshining and fast driving. I could see Mitchum coming down the short drive from Asheville for some scenes at the Hi-Hat Club, it was such a wild looking little honky tonk. I suppose one way to solve this would be to rent both movies and watch them with hawk eyes and keep an eye out for that crazy neon sign on top of the club. And speaking of signs, wonder what ever happened to that sign, bet it’s at the bottom of a trash heap somewhere.
I can see that place in my mind’s eye just as clearly as this computer screen, but sadly, 41 years or more later it’s not enough, especially with websites like this. Right this very moment there is a box of photographs with photos of places like the Hi-Hat Club and YOU may know the person who has them.
Comments from anyone who actually visited the club are welcome (and you can be anonymous if it really was an establisment of ill-repute at some point :-)! Pictures would be great too..
UPDATE 14 Dec 2010: I got the Montgomery book for my birthday. You can get it here:
Anyway, there is a section on the Hi-Hatt Club. To answer some questions asked here:
1) Yes, 'Goldie' was the proprietress.
2) The 1968 movie with scenes at the Hi-Hatt Club was not Thunder Road, but The Road Hustlers. (It does not seem to be available on DVD or VHS).
3) The book doesn't definitively settle the question of whether the Club really was a house of ill repute, but states "Due to a renewal of complaints about the Hi-Hatt Club's liquor violations and rumors of prostitution, SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) raided it in 1973.
4) There are no exterior pictures of the club given.
UPDATE 20 March 2012 -- Well, The Road Hustlers has surfaced (subtitled in Norwegian, of course). I have not watched the movie as such, but simply fast forwarding through it leads me to believe there is only one scene set at The Hi Hatt Club, stills of which, and a youtube embed, are below.
The exterior shots at the beginning (Hi Hatt sign) and end (front porch of Hi Hatt) are definitely the club. Unfortunately they are so dark as to be almost invisible. I don't *know* the interior shots for the scene to be the actual Hi Hatt Club, but it seems unlikely that a shoestring drive-in quickie would build a sound set for such a thing. Perhaps some old Hi Hatt patrons can comment..
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