Two weeks ago, I stepped into a bustle of activity in the Village Tavern, which had been closed down in late July after an eight-year run in the Crickentree Village. The place was almost entirely gutted from its former set-up. Carpenters were kicking up sawdust on the patio and varnishing a freshly sanded bar surface just inside the doorway. Delivery guys were hauling in new fryers and vents for the kitchen. Two local musicians — Eric Galloway (of the Specs) and Harrison Ray — were sweeping debris from a newly built stage. In the middle of the buzz were the new guys in charge: John Morlan and David Warren.
"So far, we've been super fortunate to have the help we've had from friends, local musicians, and contractors who've really been on top of things," Morlan told me during a quick chat. He plans to take care of the financial details and oversee the daily operations while Warren handles the booking and performance details.
"We wanted to rip out some of the walls to really open things up," says Morlan, whose wife, Jennifer Goldsmith Morlan, is a co-owner of the club as well.
Warren and Morlan have been friends since their middle school days in Aiken. They got into a variety of alternative rock and Americana while attending Silver Bluff High School. Warren describes himself as a career student; He's switched between working day jobs attending schools over the last 10 years or so. Morlan spent five years as a safety consultant with a company in Columbia before moving to Charleston in 2008.
"In Aiken, we had no college radio, but there was a local rock station similar to the old 96 Wave," remembers Warren.
They started refurbishing the facility in late September, clearing out most of the bar and dining area and adding all-new kitchen equipment. Last week, they've hustled like mad to get their final renovations finished before opening their doors for their first weekend in business.
"The first thing we want to do is plow ahead with live music," Warren says. "The first time I came to the old Tavern, I felt like it was one of the go-to places to see bands and drink beer and whiskey and grab a bite."
The new stage features a newly installed PA system as well. They moved the mixing board to a spacious sound booth in the back of the room where a pool table once stood.
"We want to keep it open and not so closed in," says Warren. "But we still want it to feel cozy, like any cool music venue."
The club hired a consulting chef, too — Daniel Nurick, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
"I want to feature good food and good beer, but we really want to push the idea that this is a live music venue," says Morlan.
The Tavern will host local and touring acts weekly. The first night in business is Thurs. Nov. 18. Strummer Brandon Lamar Simmons and folk act Hungry Monks get things started early in the evening, followed by pop-rock band Run Dan Run, Baby Lips, and Lindsay Holler & Jamie Resch.
On Fri. Nov. 19, the bill includes roots-rock band James Justin & Co. and local songwriters Harrison Ray, Gregory Scott, Everette Bigbee, and Scott Freeman. Beaufort-based strummer Michael Korbar plays early in the evening on Sat. Nov. 20, followed by local songwriters Mac Leaphart, Danielle Howle, and Alan Stockard.
"I think we'll be booking more out-of-town bands this winter and spring — especially when word gets out," says Warren. "The weekends are booked already through February. We're starting out doing Thursday-Friday-Saturday, but we'll soon have live music six nights a week."
For two young dudes with zero professional food and bev experience, this endeavor is risky stuff, but their enthusiasm and support for local music seems strong enough to propel them to success.
Check out the club's current Facebook page for more.