Locals remember Harry Hammonds, basketball player and bar owner

Whether you knew him as Handsome Harry Hammonds, a former University of Alabama basketball player or simply as Harry from Harry’s bar, it’s a sad week for the city of Tuscaloosa. Harry Hammonds has died at 81.

Who knows how many people have visited Harry’s Bar since it opened more than 50 years ago, but current owner Jake French summed it up succinctly.

“It’s a Tuscaloosa staple,” French said. “It’s iconic. It’s legendary.”

Harry Hammonds opened the bar that bears his name in 1972. But before that, his No. 1 love was basketball. He was a star player for the Tuscaloosa High School Black Bears and then with Alabama Crimson Tide.

“He was very rags to riches growing up,” French said. “He played basketball down at the University of Alabama. He was starting forward, No. 42. He told me that they actually tried to get him drafted to the NBA when the NBA only had like eight or 12 teams. I was like ‘Well, why didn’t you go?’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve done whooped them in college. I didn’t need to go back on TV and whoop them again.’ I was like, ‘OK!’ ”

Besides Harry’s, Hammonds at one time operated as many as 10 bars and restaurants.

French, who bought Harry’s Bar in 2008, said he never felt a need to change anything about the spot. To him and so many, it will always be Harry’s.

“Man, he was just larger than life,” French said. “Definitely one of a kind. He really mentored a lot of people coming through the bar, made a lot of stories. Never met a stranger. Personality bigger than life. He was a good guy. Helped a lot of people out when he didn’t have to. He put a lot of people through college, just did a lot of things.”

Like hundreds of other young people, Mason Dyess called Harry’s Bar his employer and second home. That’s where he learned a whole lot of business and life lessons from Hammonds himself.

“He said that the reason the place had been able to stay open for so long was because it always fun,” Dyess said. “And not to get too caught up in being serious and worry about making money, but that if it is fun, all of that will come.”

Harry had been in poor health for years, and those who knew him said they’re glad he’s no longer suffering.

Hammonds’ funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, but French said he’s planning on shutting down the bar for a few days around then in a final tribute to the man who made Harry’s what it is.

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