New Brookland Tavern explains why it’s leaving West Columbia for Five Points

Posted 10/19/23

What was previously the longest continuously running music club in Lexington County will be moving across the Congaree River.

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New Brookland Tavern explains why it’s leaving West Columbia for Five Points


New Brookland Tavern is headed to Five Points.

What was previously the longest continuously running music club in Lexington County will be moving across the Congaree River, as the West Columbia rock dive has announced that it will relocate in December to 632 Harden St. in Columbia, taking the place of college-leaning bar The Cotton Gin in that former movie theater building.

The club, a linchpin of the local music scene and a consistent home for smaller touring acts coming through the Midlands, told the Chronicle in August that its more-than-100-year-old building at 122 State St. in West Columbia’s River District was being put up for sale. Mike Lyons, who has owned New Brookland since 2004, said that with needed maintenance and an offer to buy the building for $700,000, he wasn’t sure if it made sense to stay.

Earlier this month, the club announced that it would move, hosting its last show in West Columbia, a reunion appearance from popular South Carolina indie rock act Sequoyah Prep School, on Dec. 29.

That last act in the old space will also be the first act in the new space, as Sequoyah Prep School will open New Brookland’s Five Points rebirth on Dec. 30 with the second half of a double-header. The club’s annual New Year’s Eve cover show, featuring local acts dressing up and playing as music luminaries, will follow the next night.

“As far as finding a new spot, we want to find something that's a little bit bigger, something where we can also kind of separate the bar a little bit from the venue,” Carlin Thompson, who runs sound and oversees the club’s operation, told the Chronicle about what the club was looking for when it began seeking a new home.

When the building was purchased, the lease offer they received to stay was too high, so they began working with a real estate agent who reached out wanting to help them find a new space. They looked at several, in Five Points (the former Moosehead Saloon and Pavlov’s spaces were both considered) and in Columbia’s Vista nightlife district (they toured a couple spots around the old Jillian’s space). But the size and layout of The Cotton Gin, which will allow them to separate the main upstairs venue space from the downstairs bars, ultimately won the day.

On top of that, it just felt right.

“It just reminded us a lot of New Brookland Tavern,” Thompson said. “Just something about the building itself. Just, it felt like a very cool place to be a music venue.”

Being able to separate the main bars downstairs from the upstairs performance space, which will host all full-band shows, presented a few benefits — separating the clutter of people lining up for drinks from the main showroom, allowing them to sell liquor downstairs and keep it apart from the all-ages show space. The upstairs room will still sell beer and nonalcoholic drinks.

Indeed, New Brookland seems keenly aware of some of the negative perceptions of its new home, adjacent to the University of South Carolina. In addition to the plan to combat underage drinking, Thompson said the venue is looking to establish a system to combat any fear of sexual assault by setting up a phone line where people who feel uncomfortable or see somebody in trouble can text the venue for help.

But the youth and the walking traffic that Five Points presents are also key benefits that New Brookland felt were lacking in its current home. Thompson noted how often he hears from people who are unwilling to cross the Gervais Street bridge from Columbia to check out a band, even when one of their friends is a member.

“Moving to Five Points is going to allow us to be with the people who are excited to go to shows, are excited to venture into this random music venue on whatever night of the week and just see who's playing,” he said.

Parking, particularly the difficulty to accommodate larger tour buses, was a challenge that pushed New Brookland away from staying in its West Columbia neighborhood, and Thompson said they have already reached out and found places where tour buses could potentially park in the Five Points area.

Capacity was another key issue. The tight 250-person limit at the current New Brookland made it difficult to compete for many of the touring acts the venue wanted to get — and to make enough money when they did manage to get them in the room. Thompson said the top venue space in Five Points holds about 260, while the middle room holds about 69, and the downstairs can have about 199, with the likely final capacity coming in around 500.

“We have booking agents that are like, you know, they don't want to send shows here as much because of the size, because of the lack of walkthrough traffic in the area,” Thomspson said of the current location. “Everything music venue wise, it's going to struggle in this particular area. At least how we see it now.”

The plan right now is to wind down shows at the West Columbia space on Dec. 17, using the rest of the month to ready the new space before using the two Sequoyah Prep School shows — which will come complete with special New Brookland-branded T-shirts — to close out the current spot and move on to the new one.

Thompson acknowledged the history of the current space, which has operated as a full-time music venue since at least 1998, but emphasized that moving the club is the best way to extend its legacy into the future.

“While the old location has all the memories in the world and everything that's been done here in the past 20 years, it just kind of seemed like it was a good time for like a fresh start, bigger spot,” he said. “It just seemed like it was time.”

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