Kelly Rae Smith was an intern 2005-2006 and music editor 2014-2017.
Looking back at local venues that are no more from the past 20 years has been one heck of a walk down memory lane for not only myself, who moved to Charleston one year after the conception of the City Paper in 1997, but to every person I spoke to while researching this piece. Remembering can be bittersweet, and with every good memory comes a pang of aching nostalgia — the inability to return to a time and place, the faces you can only vaguely still place, but most of all, what hurts the most, is the ever-changing landscape of a once far more innocent, charming, colorful Charleston. Some spots have gone on to become other cool places, sure, but others have been demolished or replaced with something corporate or equally sterile. What we can learn from the nostalgia is this: support your local venues, and hang on to the memories as tight as you can. They are fleeting.
Oh, Cumberland's. There's not enough room here for the words we have for you. First at Cumberland Street, the venue was instrumental in the city's music scene — local music veterans were welcomed on its stage as teens. Many would-be pros got their start on the dive's open-mic stage. Its rock 'n' rollin' tradition continued when the venue moved to where the Apple store now resides at 301 King St., sharing a space with another former local institution, Granny's Goodies — where vintage clothing was sold before that became the millennial's wardrobe essential. It was at this Cumberland's locale that nights like Jump, Little Children's Metal Monday (a.k.a. Haireoke) became legendary and cheap Mystery Beer was a poor guy and gal's go-to. Its last show was on New Year's Eve in 2007 with local band Live Oak, but not before one last Metal Monday on Sat. Dec. 29. R.I.P., sweet Cumberland's.
Once upon a time, The Plex lived at 2390 W. Aviation Ave., and it was there that locals could go see everyone from Blues Traveler (2001) and the Flaming Lips (2003) to the Violent Femmes, the Strokes (both in 2006), and Conor Oberst, the latter of which was one of the last shows in November 2007. The building that housed this once adored venue is no longer, as it was demolished in 2008 to make room for a new SCE&G building — a story as sad as hearing an Apple store would overtake Cumberland's.
Deerhunter, Andrew Bird, the Mountain Goats, Kings of Leon: Those are just a few of the slew of greats that have graced the stage of the late great Village Tavern in Mt. Pleasant. Located at 1066 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., the venue got its start in 2002 before new ownership and renovations in 2010. It closed for good in 2012, with one of its most legendary nights happening one summer night when Band of Horses threw a surprise gig there. Announced day-of, the show sold out lickety-split, and the Charleston-based band went on to become a household name around the world. Old local faves the Green & the Bold (Dex Cox, Kevin Hanley, Stephanie Something, Richard Hussey, Cary Ann Hearst, Billy Compton, Steven Thompson, Josh Kaler, and more) opened. Memories so good ya didn't need Instagram to capture 'em no how.
King Street Palace
The former King Street Palace on Upper King is the stuff of legends. Acts on the bills included Vanilla Ice, Anthrax, Skid Row, George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars, Live, Dead Kennedys, the Replacements, and Fiona Apple. Before the mid-'80s, it was called Charleston County Hall, where guys like Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, the Doors, Buffalo Springfield, and Strawberry Alarm Clock rocked. Even Elvis Presley (1956) and Count Basie (1947) — you heard me — graced the stage. The site at 1000 King St. is now home to Palace Apartments.
Ocean Song Cafe
Ocean Song Cafe was owned by local singer and songwriter, Carroll Brown, who you've hopefully caught at either Tommy Condon's or Dunleavy's Irish pubs at some point. Brown enlisted many a Nashville songwriter as well as local and regional talent, making the IOP cafe a go-to destination for local music lovers. Many were sad to see it go.
The New Moulin Rouge
- Michael Campina
- The New Moulin Rouge is shuttered today — but 15 years ago you could catch house band the Secrets every Saturday night
Now here's a flashback. Back in the early 2000s, folks flocked to this itty bitty bar to catch its incredible funk-and-R&B house band, the Secrets, on Saturday nights. The sneaky part is that the fun often occurred after 2 a.m., after which things got cramped, sweaty, and super lit. We don't know how they got away with it for so long and sometimes, looking back, it all seems like a dream. Led by Bill Wilson, the Secrets are still on the local live circuit, and damn if they aren't as groovy as they were 15 years ago.
Momma's Blues Palace
Momma, her husband Papa Dupree, their son JoJo Wall, and their band were the house act at local blues staple Momma's Blues Palace, which once sat across from the Charleston Music Hall at 46 John St. A pretty ace spot for a date night, the joint was gritty and full of smoke and Momma's sarcasm, wit, and howling vocals. The band still keeps the bar's memory alive as Momma's Blues Palace, so catch 'em around town if you can.
Hello, 1980s. At 4355 Dorchester Road's Flying Dutchman, music fans would come for the music — the Allman Bros., Joe Cocker, and Leon Russell, to name a few. But they stayed for the Drink and Down on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays. They did the drink-all-you-can for $5, sat back, and enjoyed the live music on the juke joint's huge stage, where anybody who's anybody performed.
Beloved for a quarter-century, the now-defunct Bert's Bar has been described as the Cumberland's of Sullivan's. The venue hosted live blues, country, and rock acts and closed in 2007 due to rent hikes. The space at 2209 Middle St. is now home to Home Team BBQ, who graciously hosted a Bert's reunion back in 2009. If that doesn't cement its sentimental value, how 'bout this: On its last day of business, musicians held a New Orleans-style funeral down Middle Street to bereave and celebrate the 20+ year ride.
In researching for this list, readers suggested quite a few former gems that were not necessarily set up to be official venues, but that nevertheless played important parts in the music scene across one era or another, and we'd like to pay homage to those spots here: King Street art space Tivoli, the CofC Communications Museum helmed by the late great Rick Zender, warehouse space called Outer Space, Great Wall Chinese, Spring Street's Eye Level Art (also formerly the Garage), the old 52.5 Records (when it was a bigger, band-friendly space on Upper King ), and even Granny's Goodies, where the early-days V-Tones played. Another notable for this list is Andolini's on Wentworth Street (rest in power, old girl), where Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell delivered pizza at one point, and where Secret Guest's Brett Nash's old band Hip Young Gunslingers opened for Round Robin of Toro Y Moi, Thank You, and Future Islands. Deertick also performed there. Wowsers, right?
Only a bar as punk-rock as Burns Alley Tavern (BAT) could take the place of this spot's endearingly grimy history. Where BAT sits now, many a dive bar came before, including, in order from recent history to way back, Fluids (still the grossest bar name of all time), Capone's (not a venue, but a bar where you could always find you some trouble), and Radio Room — a sweet spot in the local scene to catch national and local acts. Depending on the era, it all happened behind the old La Hacienda, which replaced D'oriano's Pizza — once favorite late-night stop. It was at Fluids that I first saw Cary Ann Hearst sing — she performed there with Danny Cassady and members of Jump, Little Children as Borrowed Angels — if memory serves me right. In 2014, Hearst told Rolling Stone that the bar Comatose in Shovels & Rope's breakout hit "Birmingham" is in reference to Fluids, where she and Trent first shared a bill back in 2002, when their love story began. And no one's even a little surprised they changed the bar name to something far more rock 'n' roll, right? EDIT: Despite our most valiant efforts to pinpoint every incarnation of this area, it's clearly still a fuzzy memory for most — and we stand corrected: Capone's second existence happened next door to this space, not in the former Radio Room.
Mezzane lived above the old Sermet's, and its owners ran the hip, always really dark jazz bar upstairs frequented by beatniks and punks alike. A great old hangout it was, later replaced by jazz bar the Mezz, which was recently replaced by The Gentry cocktail bar.
Many punk and rock shows went down at the Warehouse, be it at its old East Bay residence or the one at King & Wentworth, which folks may remember also housed Zebo, which is where Band of Horses' Creighton Barrett worked as a line cook back in the day. Readers recall seeing bands like Against Me! perform there, and Action City Blackout's Emily Richards remembers the load in-and-out process on East Bay the most, where bands hauled their gear through the parking garage behind the Little Cricket/next to High Cotton.
Where Voodoo Tiki Bar now thrives is where Johnny Ola's began the groundwork, along with, of course, Gene's Haufbrau, in making Avondale a cool and happenin' place. When the barkeeps and clientele weren't busy drinking everything at AC's (guilty as charged, I am), they hung out just over the bridge here, a sweet little escape from downtown where rock 'n' roll acts were often on the menu.
Everything from rock to punk to hip-hop found a welcoming space at James Island's Oasis, or the Reef, depending on what year we're talkin'. Now The Break sports bar at 778 Folly Road, the Oasis is where the Explorers Club's Jason Brewer remembers his old garage-rock outfit 1984 performing, while local hip-hop trio Savage Souls had their Savage Saturdays there as recently as 2013.
- Joshua Curry file photo
- West Ashley's the map room closed in 2008
Horse & Cart
Before Upper Deck there was Horse & Cart. A soft spot for many old-school Charlestonians, Horse & Cart served up snacks along with live music: drum circles, open mic, and more. And rumor has it that's where Charleston old-school faves Jump, Little Children got their start in the '90s.
Before it was the ACME, it was Myskyn's, a place so legendary it honestly deserves its own article. A later incarnation was Indigo Lounge and hot-tub and cocktail joint City Bar (sounds gross 'cause it was). But The ACME was by far the best incarnation since the departure of Myskyn's. At The ACME, everyone from 311 to Muthafist to Concrete Blonde, Joan Jett, and the Band — yes, that the Band — played. ACME's last show? The motherfucking Ramones, y'all. Now, it's event space, No. 5 Faber.
Club Dog Alley
Also at one point the LGBTQ-friendly Treehouse Nightclub as well as Ground Zero bar, Club Dog Alley was important in the local rock 'n' roll scene, where Social Distortion, Elvis Hitler, Hootie & the Blowfish, Flotsam-and-Jetsam, and Flat Duo Jets performed as well as local bands like the Archetypes and former City Paper columnist Jack Hunter's punk band, Crotch Rot. Yes, Hunter says their mothers were proud.
The Map Room
West Ashley's the Map Room had one helluva heyday, bringing local and national live rock, blues, jazz, hip-hop, and pop acts to its stage nearly every night of the week beginning in 2005. Located in the Village Square Shopping Center on Sam Rittenberg, the Map Room and all its memory-making came to an end in May of 2008, its owner Ryan Brown citing lower crowd numbers in the venue's final months.
Who remembers Lite Affair? First it was on Cumberland Street and later moved to 137 Calhoun St., where, on Sundays, you could usually find house band La Calle performing up to four-hour improv sets before it closed around the end of 2006/beginning of 2007-ish. These days, you can rock out in the same spot to bands at Big Gun Burger Shop and Bar.