New Brookland Tavern is the odd man out that survived. It’s time for them to take the crown.
In 1999, New Brookland Tavern was situated in an unideal spot in West Columbia, on the wrong side of the river from the buzzing college district of Five Points. The Five Points clubs had long dominated the college music scene. Even in the 1990s, with live music at a high due to the popularity of grunge and Hootie, these clubs faced challenges. Rockefeller’s closed in the late 80s, reopened a few years later, and then shut its doors for good in the late 1990s.
There was a time when Rockefeller’s, Elbow Room, and New Brookland Tavern vied for shows. In hindsight, this competition was a pinnacle that soon led to a rapid decline. When I moved here in 2002, New Brookland Tavern was THE venue, with the exception of Headliners in the Vista, which had one of the most inconvenient layouts I’ve ever encountered. So, when Rockafella’s finally closed and Elbow Room followed suit, trusty old NBT remained, offering their beloved, albeit rundown, dive of a venue. Over the past 15 years, the place has transformed from the hot and smoky dungeon it once was.
Columbia’s music scene is now in a unique position, unlike before. Gone are the storage sheds that provided dozens of bands with space to rehearse, mingle, and lay the foundation for a vibrant scene. That’s why the music community needs a venue like New Brookland Tavern now more than ever. However, I believe its current location is not ideal.
For the past 23 years, New Brookland has witnessed the fall of every local venue. It’s been heartbreaking to observe. New Brookland has emerged as the unlikely hero we need. Meanwhile, The Senate (formerly Music Farm) has seen a revolving door of management and consistency. The recent performance by Dinosaur Jr., along with a promising lineup of shows, offers a glimmer of hope.
Columbia was let down by a generation (or perhaps two) of leaders who overlooked the town’s culture. While there have been heroes in the music scene, the overarching narrative has been one of battling against the town’s greed and mismanagement. For evidence, one only needs to review the challenges venue owners have faced over the years.
All this leads me to believe that it’s time for NBT to relocate to Five Points. They should claim their rightful place as the premier club for Columbia, becoming this generation’s epicenter for live music and community.