With building for sale, West Columbia’s New Brookland Tavern could be on the move

Posted 8/22/23

Lexington County’s oldest continuously running music club could soon be on the move.

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With building for sale, West Columbia’s New Brookland Tavern could be on the move


Lexington County’s oldest continuously running music club could soon be on the move.

Mike Lyons — who has owned New Brookland Tavern, the legendary rock dive on West Columbia’s State Street, since 2004  — told the Chronicle he was informed about two months ago that his landlord intended to sell the building. 

Lyons said he was offered the chance to buy the building at $700,000. While he added that he was assured that if the building sold to another owner, New Brookland getting a chance to stay would be part of the deal, a hike in the rent could easily follow.

“It’s just an expensive piece of property and probably something I couldn’t quite be able to do myself,” Lyons said, saying he took a couple weeks to process the news before informing Carlin Thompson, the sound engineer who books most of New Brookland’s shows and oversees the operation. They recently began telling the club’s staff when the landlord began speaking with other interested parties about the property.

New Brookland’s space at 122 State Street in the River District is now listed for sale via RE/MAX for $774,900.

Faced with the reality that the club will soon have to either buy its space or move elsewhere, they launched an online fundraiser through GoFundMe to “Save New Brookland Tavern.”

“We want to make sure that New Brookland survives one way or the other,” Lyons said of where the $250,000 the fundraiser is asking for will go. “Whether we can actually figure out a way to buy the building or have to move New Brookland to a new building, we want to make sure that we survive one way or another and try to keep going what we've been doing for the last 20 years.”

The club has long been a linchpin of the local music scene, providing a space for Midlands bands to move up from openers to headliners. Functioning as a full-time music venue since at least 1998, New Brookland has hosted many well-known acts when they were up-and-coming, including Death Cab for Cutie, My Chemical Romance, My Morning Jacket, Brand New, Rilo Kiley, Band of Horses, Against Me!, Toro Y Moi and more.

Justin Osborne, the leader of rising Charleston band SUSTO and a musician with deep roots in the Columbia area, recently told the national music site Consequence his favorite hometown venue is New Brookland.

“Growing up in small town South Carolina, [New Brookland] always felt like the center of my musical universe,” he is quoted. “Because it’s all ages, I was road-tripping to Columbia from an early age to see shows with friends, and I eventually started performing some of my first shows there.”

Beyond the price tag, maintenance issues with New Brookland’s pleasantly dilapidated home stand in the way of buying the building. The biggest of these, Thompson said, is replacing a failing AC unit, which would cost about $18,000. Lyons noted that some bricks in the more-than-100-year-old building crumble a bit when you touch them.

The GoFundMe page details that “the mountain of things needing replaced” also includes new plumbing for the bathrooms.

“New Brookland back in the day was kind of built on being a hot venue packed out all the time, but times have changed,” Thompson explained. “Over the past two months, [the AC’s] been kind of struggling. Bands have been starting to complain about it more. People that come here have been starting to complain about it more.”

Thompson said they can make it through the year with the AC they have, but after that, something has to be done. Which leaves New Brookland needing to complete expensive maintenance to a space it may not have for much longer.

The need to compete for touring acts with larger, more well-appointed clubs in the Southeast makes a problem like the AC an even more pressing concern. 

The club has worked to make itself more competitive, moving to open sister business The Attic Lounge in an upstairs space just down the street in part to be able to offer a green room space to artists. The buildout for that sister club, which will emphasize relaxed drinking and eating and host some lowkey shows, is pretty much complete, Thompson said, with the approval of the lounge’s alcohol license and a couple other things remaining before the lounge can open.

Lyons and Thompson said the plan is to keep The Attic Lounge going regardless of what happens with New Brookland.

The need to compete with other regional clubs had already pushed New Brookland to look into new spaces, as jostling to snag acts with a capacity of 250 when going up against venues with capacities north of 500 often forces the club to pay more than it would like based on the tickets it can sell.

Thompson and Lyons said they have looked at multiple potential spaces, including the one previously occupied by the music club Headliners in Columbia’s Vista. Being in a neighborhood with more walking traffic would help ticket sales, they reasoned, while noting that they are also keen to see if they can find a space with better parking. New Brookland shares the cramped city lot behind it with D’s Wings, Savage Craft Ale Works and the city’s Meeting Street Artisan Market, making it hard to accommodate tour vans with trailers and, especially, tour buses.

At the same time, Lyons and Thompson said they honor and respect the history the club has in its current location. Which is a big reason why they continue to strategize ways they could make staying in the spot work. They said one idea is potentially grabbing the neighboring space that is being vacated by the soon-to-close Tall Oaks Boutique and knocking down part of the wall to expand their space.

Whether they stay and upgrade or move to a new location, a smooth transition is vital.

“We’re already booking shows into 2024,” Thompson said. “Even telling agents [about the situation], it could scare them off and they might not want to have anything here at all because they think it could fall apart and their shows have nowhere to go. So we have to have a plan set up from the get-go of, like, either we have a place that we're putting together on the side until the very last day that this place can be open so that those shows can move over there, or if we do end up buying this place, that it’s set in stone.”

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