It's a sweltering Thursday afternoon on West Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Like the young punk rockers it's reared for three decades, The Brewery stands defiantly next to the construction project that will soon destroy it.
One door down, there's a two-story mound of dirt where the restaurant The FarmHouse once stood. An array of equipment sits where The Brewery's pothole parking lot gives way to red clay. It's gassed up, ready to land the final blow in the long struggle of one of the Triangle's most infamous and institutional music venues.
Inside, the walls are mostly bare. Framed posters lean against them, ready to be moved out. Neon beer signs lie on the floor, unplugged. Tom Taylor sits on a bar stool in the middle of his empty rock club, reflecting and sipping on one of the last remaining Diet Pepsis. He tears up a couple times, but he never allows his feelings to overcome his explanations: He bought The Brewery in 2004 and has since guided it through the last seven years of its 28-year run. For Taylor, this building and what it's long represented is important.
"This place has touched a lot of people," he says. "It touched a lot of people in the 21 years before I got here. In the seven years that I've been here, it's touched a lot of people. The outpouring has been unbelievable."
The Brewery fell three days later, on Monday, but its history lives on in three decades of concert-goers. In the '80s, under the guidance of original owner Kenny Hobby, it became a local home for punk rock, playing host to subsequent legends like Black Flag, the Descendents, Bad Brains and, of course, Corrosion of Conformity. In the '90s, it was a home for the area's burgeoning alt-country scene. And for the last seven years, it has served as a proving ground for up-and-coming acts and a room open to all genres, from the monthly showcases of local producer 9th Wonder to the alt-country of American Aquarium and indie pop bombast of Annuals.
Taylor is upset that his run has to end, and he's ruffled at how it's coming about. Val Valentine, the new owner of the property, plans to erect a multi-story, multi-use space on the land; it's all part of a recent movement to rescue the rugged landscape of Hillsborough Street. Taylor says Valentine violated his lease agreement by only giving him nine days notice to vacate. Valentine disagrees, saying he gave him the required 30 days.
But the controversy doesn't really matter; either way, The Brewery is still gone. Last Wednesday, Taylor opened up the bar on an off night, so that the venue's patrons could come in and say goodbye. He says he got a tremendous response. Some shared stories. Some cried. One man bragged all night after scoring the bar's very last PBR.
"It's kind of a special place," Taylor says. "I told a girl last night, 'You know what? It's just a building.' Maybe that's true. Maybe it's not. That's what I told her anyway."
Indeed, the story of a rock club isn't for one person to decide; it will invariably mean something different to every person who wanders through its doors. Below, a few of the thousands who went to The Brewery during its three decades talk about what the oddly shaped room meant to them.
(Superchunk; co-owner, Merge Records)
The Brewery wasn't where I saw my first hardcore show (Duke Coffeehouse), but it was definitely where I saw the most all-ages matinees in high school. Sunday afternoons (seems like it was always Sunday) at The Brewery I was introduced to a life-altering scene, both social and musical, that had its offshoots in Durham and Chapel Hill but was definitely fermenting in Raleigh. [There were] touring bands like Descendents, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Honor Role, SNFU and locals—most importantly, Corrosion of Conformity. I'd even go see bands I didn't particularly like (e.g. Suicidal Tendencies) because the opening bands were probably good, and my friends would be talking some shit in the parking lot regardless. Finding that new thing at The Brewery on weekend afternoons was huge.
(Corrosion of Conformity)
There were too many great shows in there to focus on one in particular. I saw Black Flag there twice, DOA, Fishbone, the Necros, the Meat Puppets and on and on. That's not to mention the local bands and forgotten out-of-towners. I missed even more being away on tour. I remember living on Friendly Drive, about 200 yards away, when it was a college slum of shotgun houses. When COC would play a Sunday afternoon all-ages show, I would wheel my SVT bass cabinet up Hillsborough Street into that dark, moldy bar room.
(Whiskeytown, Tres Chicas, Small Ponds)
I moved to North Carolina from Texas, and the first several shows I saw were actually in Chapel Hill. Notably, I saw a great show by Superchunk at the Local 506. I remember feeling completely bemused, though, by the fact that no one was moving. No dancing at all—not even perceptible head bobbing. I was so surprised; in Texas, everyone danced to every kind of music. Then someone told me to go see the Backsliders at The Brewery. I was totally blown away by the band, the good feeling of that tiny, hot room, and by the fact that, lo-and-behold, someone asked me to take a spin around the floor! Also, there's the fact that Tres Chicas was formed in the women's room of The Brewery. That's something, ain't it?
The first show that American Aquarium ever played in Raleigh was at The Brewery. Being a student at N.C. State, I would walk by that marquee every day on my way to class thinking how cool it would be if I could just play there once. At the time, I was soaking up all the Raleigh alt-country knowledge I could, and all roads led to The Brewery. Whiskeytown, Backsliders, Six String Drag, Two Dollar Pistols—they all played The Brewery. So it was settled: I had to play The Brewery.
After hassling the owners for months to let us play, they finally gave in and gave us a shitty Monday night gig. If I recall, it was October 2005. We were so stoked to have our name up there in lights and could have cared less that it was a Monday night. Just standing on that stage, cheesing, having no idea what a monitor was—looking back, we were just naïve kids who knew we wanted to play music in Raleigh, and The Brewery was the first place I found that would give us the chance.
(owner, Sorry State Records)
I moved to the Triangle for grad school in 2002, well after The Brewery's hardcore heyday in the '80s; however, I did see at least one great show there. It was Dec. 30, 2003, and the bill included Annihilation Time, Municipal Waste, Direct Control, Holier Than Thou? and probably a few other locals I can't remember. The bands were great. Direct Control were absolutely on fire; Municipal Waste were at their peak; Annihilation Time were still playing Black Flag-inspired hardcore rather than the Thin Lizzy-style boogie rock they would play later on.
I had trouble finding the hardcore scene during my first year here, but this show proved to me that underground, authentic hardcore was alive and well in Raleigh. Ultimately, this scene would prove too small for a proper rock club like The Brewery. Instead, it retreated into living rooms and basements, as it nurtured a new crop of bands. Even though Raleigh hardcore in the '00s didn't have a home at The Brewery, I always thought it was nice that this new scene had its kick-off party at the club that had nurtured so many great bands 15 or 20 years earlier.
(Birds of Avalon; co-owner, Kings Barcade)
I booked a few shows at The Brewery in the mid '90s. The first show was with Karp. I asked the obvious choices of Regraped and Dart 360 to play with them. They'd found a mail contact for me and Cheetie [Kumar, Siler's wife, Birds guitarist and Kings co-owner] through Maximum Rock and Roll's "Book Your Own Fucking Life" or Calvin from K Records. Karp pulled up at the back of The Brewery in an Open Road extended top van. Since there were no websites back then, and the only music we'd heard from them was this awesome cassette, Mustaches Wild, I didn't know what they looked like. This six-foot-four-inch dude with an extra five inches of afro slides out of the extendo top and asks, "What city are we in?" and if my name is Frank! This was the beginning of a long friendship with Jared Warren, Karp's bassist/ singer. After the show, we all went back to the Regraped house on King Charles Road. The Melvins' Bullhead record was playing when we got there. Jared has now been in the Melvins for the last four years.
I moved to Raleigh in 2003, quite some time after The Brewery's days—no Black Flag, no Bad Brains, no Superchunk or whatever the hell else put that place on the map. I've merely seen The Brewery go from bad hair and karate kicks to worse hair and karate kicks. Between 2003 and 2011, it has hosted fewer than a dozen bands I wouldn't walk out of the room to avoid. Bummer for the owners, I suppose.
(author of the Manchild series)
I think my favorite show ever was watching the Richmond band Butterglove (ex-members of Honor Role) open for the insanely popular local band Johnny Quest. To a man, just about everyone in the audience fucking hated Butterglove, who just smiled away as they grinded out their post-hardcore/ metal music complete with nonsensical vocals. The tension in the audience resulted in a few altercations and weird vibes. The band was stoned. So was I, as they had gotten me and my friend Ethan high before they went onstage. It was a beautiful experience. Did I mention how much The Brewery audience hated Butterglove?