For the regulars, there's a wave of reverence and remembrance upon passing through The Reservoir's entrance: There, facing the walkway, the long bar's corner stands in the same spot where the stage of Go! Studios—one of the Triangle's best rock rooms between 1998 and 2004—once stood.
Curtsying to that cornerstone isn't required, but it would probably be OK with The Reservoir's four owners, who built the bar out of that old beloved live music space four years ago, partly as an homage to the good times they had at Go. Despite the failures of several nearby clubs and a general economic downturn that's affected loads of local businesses, The Reservoir has survived in large part because it's defined success on a self-sculpted business model—one built on the pleasure principle, not profits.
The Reservoir began as a clutch of guys drinking together, a familiar enough scene. Lyle Collins, Mike Ellis, Bill Fischer and Wes Lowder wanted to do something that was theirs. They thought first about a restaurant, but that plan changed when they heard Go was on its way out.
"We heard Go was closing and thought 'Fuck, that's our favorite place to see shows,'" says Ellis, recalling the tipping point. For Fischer and Collins, Go was also their favorite Triangle room to play in their old band, Amish Jihad. They signed the lease and started converting the space. Ellis continues, "Then the headache came. With every nail that we pulled from the stage at Go, another amazing show vanished from memory. I really felt that we were unseating an amazing place. It seemed that the community reacted the same way. No matter what we do, we weren't gonna be the same as Go."
They eventually wooed those Go faithful with cheap beer and a corner-bar atmosphere that's open to film screenings, sports watching and—of course—live music. The Reservoir's provided a steady stream of shows at the darkened rear of the club, tucked neatly under an overhanging balcony. The budget reflects on-the-fly punk house shows, which Fischer had seen work in the world through his band. "I saw that without such things as sound men, guarantees, backend pay, booking agents, contracts, etc., it's possible to have the most fun shows in the world," he says. "There is not much money involved, but that's not the business we are in."
Just like those house parties, The Reservoir's gigs draw a specialized crowd—particularly those who want to see the music, not the trappings. And it fills a trough in the local music landscape. These shows, which happen between two and five times each month, cost nothing, and the club often pairs a touring band with locals.
"In such a situation, the band doesn't get paid much but has a blast, and people who don't have much cash on hand can still get some rock," says Fischer. Touring bands play for donations. The locals play just to play. When only local acts share the floor, they split the crumpled bills folks have thrown into the bucket. "We try to offer that, since there is not that much of that sort of scene around here."
During each of the last four years, The Reservoir's invited that scene inside for an anniversary rock concert. Bands with close ties to the old Go space—Fin Fang Foom, Transportation and Monsonia, whose members used to book, tend bar, run Go's sound or record bands in a studio next door—play. It's another part of the bar's efforts to build strong ties with the community around it.
"Regulars are what keep us going," Fischer says. "Without a steady crowd of cool folks having hilarious conversations, we would go both broke and crazy. I would never name names. There are too many. It would be like having to say which of your kids you love the most." You don't often hear that kind of language in the service industry.
Ellis agrees: "Most of them are more than customers, they're our friends. They help out when asked, and they rock out when we ask them to. They are always cool to just do whatever." In many ways, the bar has become an anchor for a network of locals. "Our regulars have acted in other regular's commercials and built other regular's houses. It's a beautiful thing."
Emblazoned with a bold mural of the working man raising a glass as the masses join him, the back wall of the bar stands as a monument to the proletariat and the bar's ethic. "Since we opened, there has never been a time when at least two of the four partners didn't have outside employment, and that is still the case," Fischer says. "Luckily, we are all pretty simple dudes, so we can live as such."
Maybe they know what a place like this means to people. After all, they were once regulars here, too.
Transportation, Fin Fang Foom, Monsonia and Caltrop play at The Reservoir on Saturday, Dec. 6. The show is free, of course, and starts around 10 p.m.