The struggling Triangle venue circuit received an unexpected boost last Tuesday from a small, unlikely spot on Ninth Street in Durham. Dain's Place—a 50-seat pub that specializes in American microbrews—welcomed New Jersey buzz band Titus Andronicus and their Chapel Hill drinking-and-touring buddies, Spider Bags, to play in its tiny window bay.
Owner Dain Phelan says he was at home asleep during the show. Though he was happy to have music in his bar, he was afraid something might get broken. He decided to skip the evening's entertainment, but, ever since, he's heard only positive feedback.
"I started having music here early on," Phelan says, "but it never took off. But I want to do music here every Tuesday night."
Catherine Edgerton, a member of Durham anti-folk trio Midtown Dickens, bartends at Dain's on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She approached Phelan with the idea of hosting music late last year, convincing him that nothing would be broken and that occasionally turning the televisions off in a bar would be OK. [Disclosure: Edgerton is the news clerk at the Independent Weekly.]
Edgerton, who also helps organize and book Bull City Headquarters, believes Dain's would make a suitable, low-key alternative for bands without big followings. Since Joe & Jo's closed in late 2006, there have been few places for upstart bands to play.
Casual venues like Dain's could persuade more people to play in bands and support live music in Durham.
"I think it's important to have a place where anybody can get started, but I don't think you can do that in a venue setting," says Edgerton, who hopes Dain's can become that space. "I think it has to be a record store or bar or restaurant or something like that."
Tuesday night's show was an auspicious debut. A few dozen people crammed into the bar's booths and between its tables. Even unsuspecting students stayed to see the rock bands.
For good reason, too: Titus Andronicus ties several high points of a decade-plus of indie rock—from Bright Eyes and Frog Eyes to The Arcade Fire and Built to Spill—into punchy, passionate pop squalls. Their set in Dain's was loud but magnetic, thanks in no small part to an opening cover of "A.M. Dial," a song Edgerton sings with Midtown Dickens, and a late-set take on The Misfits' "Where Eagles Dare." Frontman Patrick Stickles even sang to the crowd outside and stood on a chair at a table, trying to expand the 32-square-foot alcove where the quintet was playing.
Spider Bags played its signature balled "Waking Up Drunk" early in its headlining set and never looked back.
The shows continue next week: New Durham Billy Bragg-meets-Black Flag outfit RESIST NOT plays Dain's Tuesday, Jan. 22. On Jan. 29, Dain's employees throw the bar a birthday party, as Dain's celeberate its first anniversary with two of Phelan's favorite bands, The Wigg Report and The Future Kings of Nowhere. Eberhardt plays Feb. 5, and bluegrass band The Rail Readers—who own the second Tuesday of each month at Dain's—are set for Feb. 12.
Meanwhile, on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, another Dayn is looking to raise the local band booking stakes for another unlikely spot. Dayn Peters, who's been running sound at Jack Sprat Cafe since last fall, took over late-hours booking for the restaurant and coffeebar in November. Peters says he's focusing mostly on original Triangle rock 'n' roll, and it's working so far.
"You have to have a certain marquee to headline a place like Local 506 or Cat's Cradle on a Friday or Saturday night," says Peters, echoing Edgerton. "I'm trying to be more of a jump-off point if you're not quite ready for those stages."
James Lee, who co-owns the Anti-Mall and 305 South complex at 305 S. Dillard St. in Durham with his wife Michelle, says there's still hope for their venture. Their retail business is open Saturday mornings, selling clothes and trinkets as the Lees search for ways to buy the nearly 30,000-square-foot building they occupy. The Lees stopped hosting shows in 305 South last summer after Durham inspection officials informed Lee he had an improper entertainment license, an insufficient number of bathrooms and no handicap access to the venue.
In October, the Lees began auctioning goods from the venue and the mall. In December, they posted the contents of the Anti-Mall on Craigslist and said goodbye on their own Web site. But now James Lee says he hopes they can fully reopen the store and slowly renovate the venue to meet city codes this year.
A new venue in Chapel Hill at 462 W. Franklin St. hopes to coexist with its neighbors—Local 506 a few doors toward Carrboro and The Cave a few doors east.
"We want to be a viable part of the exposure the music scene within this town gets," says Brad Waycaster, general manager of Mansion 462, which claims the space once occupied by Avid Reader and, more recently, the furniture boutique Chaise. "We're not just throwing parties here. We're all about the live, original music of this town."
Waycaster adds that Mansion 462 is intended to be an extension of Elaine's, the restaurant across the street owned by Mansion co-founder Wesley Johnson.
Waycaster hopes to book music from Tuesday through Saturday each week, with open jazz jams on the first and third Wednesdays of every month and a live jazz ensemble every Thursday. For now, the major attraction is the Dexter Romweber Duo, which plays the club Friday, Jan. 18, followed by Sugar in the Dirt on Friday, Jan. 25. For more information, see www.mansion462.net.
Just 14 months after Jonathan Tagg purchased Broad Street Cafe, he's selling the combination coffee shop, diner and music venue—or at least part of it.
"I'm seeking somebody who will really take over the daytime café aspect—increasing retail, making food better, increasing profitability," Tagg says, adding that Broad Street is four to six times more profitable at night than during the day. "I know that I cannot keep it with the needs that it has for growth in terms of its major departments. ... My preference would be to keep some aspect of the evening business."
The profits at Broad Street have quickly peaked and plateaued, says Tagg. When he purchased the business in November 2006, it was averaging $90 in profit each day. By January, he says it was making $800 daily, and that amount held through last October. According to Tagg, the business is too small for a separate full-time manager, but administrative duties have squandered time he could be using to increase profits.
"Right now, I just say I'm putting gum over the dam cracks," says Tagg, who hopes to book national touring bands to Broad Street when he can free himself of daytime responsibilities.
So far, Tagg says he has talked to a dozen interested investors, and he's confident at least one will buy into Broad Street, especially since the neighborhood now includes the successful High Strung music shop, Joe Van Gogh coffeehouse and Watts Grocery. If no one invests, though, Tagg says he will likely adjust the hours to capitalize on the times when Broad Street is most profitable.
"Without the music, it would lose a lot of its character. But it's not just the music," Tagg says. "We have three communities that use the space—the old-time jam community, the blues-jam community and open mic. It would displace those communities. And how many music venues do we have in Durham?"
Skylight Exchange owner Dennis Gavin says he and the management of Nightlight, the music venue that uses the Skylight Exchange in the evenings, have failed to reach an agreement about their continued partnership. In December, Nightlight owner Alexis Mastromichalis told club volunteers in an e-mail that Nightlight would continue at 362 Rosemary St., despite the Skylight Exchange's impending eviction. Gavin wasn't evicted, but a scheduled meeting with Mastromichalis in December did not resolve the issue of sharing the space indefinitely. "I continue in business the way I have been in business," says Gavin. "Nothing has been done."
Same at the moment for Kings, the Raleigh club that closed in April to make way for a parking deck. Co-owner Steve Popson says there are no new developments in their continued search for a new space.