Daniels, 61, decided several years ago that he'd eventually sell the Atwood Avenue restaurant and music venue to Bradley Czachor, who worked at the Harmony for nearly 10 years and currently manages the Great Dane's Hilldale brewpub. Czachor, 45, will take over the Tuesday after Labor Day, when the Harmony customarily reopens after Daniels' annual vacation.
Czachor and Daniels both envision a future in which the Harmony maintains its menu, blues-heavy music lineup and dutiful connection to its neighborhood. Daniels opened the Harmony in 1990, purchasing the building when it was "a pit." He gradually built it into a spot known for a strange combination of characteristics: a friendly neighborhood-bar atmosphere, vegetarian burgers, fake parrots hanging from the ceiling, live music, boisterous game-day viewing and a sense of stable community in a city so often defined by transience.
For a man who runs a well-loved small business and has raised thousands of dollars for the Goodman Community Center through an annual golf tournament, Daniels has always come off as enviably calm. The Harmony's web presence amounts to only a neglected MySpace page. Daniels insists he doesn't need anything else since the venue's weekend shows already have a strong draw. During the recent "Michelle Shocked goes crazy" scandal, he could not be reached until he returned from vacation, even as venues across the country hurriedly canceled Shocked's shows. (Daniels eventually followed suit.) Even as the Harmony's transition grows nearer, Daniels keeps up his customary weekday sheepshead game in the Harmony's front room.
That said, it took a sad occasion for Daniels to finally sell the business. His closest friend from childhood died recently. That prompted him to want to spend more time traveling, though he'll still live in Madison -- and keep up that card game.
"I'm getting to the age when you're starting to lose people you're close to," he says.
Daniels says the first band to play the Harmony, in 1990, was local outfit the Falcon Eddies. After two or three years, the venue began to attract national artists, including Charlie Musselwhite, Marcia Ball, Syl Johnson and Robbie Fulks. Daniels has always booked the music himself, so the schedule reflects his fondness for blues. The Harmony's music calendar is currently set through November, and Daniels says he'll help Czachor transition to taking over the booking. Czachor does have a little experience setting up shows, as the Great Dane's locations occasionally have live music.
Czachor has a few initiatives he'd like to try in the long run, including adding outdoor seating and Sunday breakfasts, and perhaps bringing in the occasional guest chef. Out of affection for the Great Dane, he'll likely put a couple of the brewpub's beers on tap at the Harmony. Beyond that, he says he's "not in the business of fixing something that isn't broken" and notes that patrons won't see any changes at all for the first six months. Longtime kitchen manager Phil Ledwig is staying on, he adds, and the menu won't change in the near future.
While Daniels still likes his work, he's clearly happy that Czachor will be taking over.
"I'm ready to do nothing," Daniels says. "That's what I'm best at."