Brian Hahn was 10 years old when he stepped on a stingray off the Florida coast, setting off a memorable tail whack across the top of his foot. "The pain was pretty killer," he recalls.
So he went home and drew a picture of the offending creature on a Magna Doodle he'd gotten for Christmas. Then he decided to adopt its name - Stingray - as his own.
Ever since then Hahn, 30, has gravitated toward experiences that are big on bold sensation. He cruises around town in a bright yellow Mitsubishi Lancer adorned with a formidable rear spoiler.
And he books hard-rock and metal bands for the new music club he's opened near the intersection of Highway 51 and Pflaum Road. He even gave the club a paranormal name - Area 51, after the Nevada military base that's the subject of UFO rumors.
"I opened the place last August," says Hahn, "but we just started the live music in June." Area 51 is hosting local and national rock bands each Friday and Saturday night. In July, the club featured Canadian thrashers Ashes of Soma. One night later, four Minnesota metal bands shared the lineup.
"We don't want to be known just as a metal bar or a heavy music bar," says Hahn. "We want to switch it around as much as possible. But right now that's the kind of music a lot of local bands play."
The prevalence of hard rock at Area 51 also has something to do with Cory Kastner. Kastner is the lead vocalist of the Madison hard-rock band Kill Junior. He plays a key role working with Hahn to book the music.
"Our sound system belongs to Cory," says Hahn. "He pretty much arranges all the local bands. He's the one who knows them, since I just moved to town 18 months ago."
Hahn is originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, but his parents moved the family to Wisconsin Dells when he was 12.
He was drawn to music and sound engineering at an early age. By 12 "Killer Stingray," as he called himself, was a DJ at his school's dances. At 15, Hahn worked sound at Tommy Bartlett shows three times a day. "My parents operated a bowling center and a bar called Hole in the Wall that did music twice a day, seven days a week," says Hahn.
Area 51 is his first solo bar venture. It sits just east of Highway 51, along Seifert Road. The metal-sided, warehouse-like space fits in with the small industrial facilities that surround the bar.
Across the street, towering oak trees fend off the evening summer sun. They lend a shaded sparkle to the venue's illuminated marquee, which now touts music: Friday Two Bands. Saturday Three Bands.
In a tough economy, says Hahn, music has helped draw customers to his business. "We're trying to charge the lowest covers we possibly can," he says. "People need to feel like they're getting a good deal to come out."
Area 51 is not a large music venue. The stage is west of the bar in a space that used to be filled with pool tables. "The turnout has been great so far," says Hahn. "A lot of people have come out to see the first shows."
While Stingray walked me around the new stage, I noticed something on the ceiling that looked like graffiti. "We just started a tradition," says Hahn. "When we host a national touring band, we'll have them sign one of the ceiling tiles."
At the moment only two are signed. "We hope to have a lot more of them signed soon."