After more than a three-year absence, Kings, the Raleigh rock club that served as a hub for the Triangle music scene from July 1999 until it closed in April 2007, will return late this summer. The second iteration of Kings will take over a three-story space at 14 West Martin that will combine a 250-capacity music venue with a full-service restaurant and underground bar.
Last Wednesday, the three founders of Kings—longtime local musicians Ben Barwick, Steve Popson and Paul Siler—and a new partner, Cheetie Kumar, signed a 10-year lease on the property. The paperwork ended a search for a new Kings space that started long before the old space on East McDowell Street was demolished to make room for a nine-level Wake County parking deck across the street from the Raleigh Convention Center.
"It was a little frustrating," says Barwick of the time it took to settle on a new location. They seriously considered at least four sites before settling on the Martin Street space, most recently home to Martin Street Pizza and Alibi Bar and, before that, a string of three failed music venues. "But the last week Kings was open, I realized how important it was to me and to Raleigh. It wasn't until then when I was like, 'We have to reopen.' There was no doubt. We were all willing to overcome that frustration."
The original Kings worked as an important launching pad both for emerging national and local talent. Mastodon, now one of America's biggest metal acts, played early shows at Kings, as did Bright Eyes, Baroness, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. More important, though, Kings offered local acts many of their first shows, regardless of the crowd they promised to pull. Though not always profitable, that booking approach allowed for Raleigh to build a local music scene that's now risen to some national notoriety. Ticonderoga, which spawned Bowerbirds, played their first show at Kings. It was a cradle for Annuals and Megafaun, too. The Rosebuds even decided to move to Raleigh from Wilmington in large part because of the energy they felt at Kings.
"They brought us in, and we played our first show there with Ashley Stove while we were still living in Wilmington. The Loners saw us, and they offered us our next show," says The Rosebuds' Kelly Crisp, who went on to not only play the club but to participate in many of its more scene-entertainment functions—comedy nights, game shows, dance parties. "It felt like home for us. Everything we've had here kind of grew out of Kings."
According to the owners, the second Kings will work to do the same, providing not only opportunities for young musicians in town but also serving as a comfortable, affordable gathering point downtown. Kumar—who, aside from playing guitar alongside Siler, her husband, in Birds of Avalon, works at The Rockford and is a lifelong cook—will operate the restaurant. It will focus on international homecooking, reflective of her adolescence in India and the Bronx and her travels with bands. The downstairs bar, Siler says, will be akin to a cozy, high-quality rathskeller.
In addition, though, Siler hopes Kings can work to bring in even more touring bands than in the past because—with the bar and restaurant below serving as a financial cushion—they'll be able to guarantee incoming talent more money. That was rarely possible in the past.
"We are hoping people can hang out in any of the three different levels without necessarily having to come to the show," says Barwick. "The hope is that it will create a revenue stream that will allows us to book more things we are really truly behind and think are quality shows."