Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe losing its big music room

dmenconi@newsobserver.comMay 13, 2013 

— The Berkeley Cafe, the venerable downtown club and restaurant on West Martin Street, is losing the big music room where it hosts many of its shows.

That space, which can hold up to 200 people, will close June 30 and be converted to a retail store called Island Tobacco, according to landlord York Properties.

The Berkeley will be down to the smaller adjoining cafe space. It will continue to have live music, but on a smaller scale with a capacity closer to 100.

“We hate downsizing,” owner John Blomquist said Monday. “It’s not the end of an era, but it is the end of the big side, and we’ll miss it. It’s gonna be a transition.”

Blomquist opened the Berkeley on the south side of Nash Square in 1980, expanding its live-music operation into the big hall in the early 1990s. The Berkeley has hosted everything from country singers to hip-hop and metal over the past two decades, including some of the local scene’s biggest names – Chatham County Line and Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown among them.

“I’ve always liked the Berkeley, the funkiness of it,” said Marianne Taylor, one of several outside promoters who booked concerts there.

For a number of years, the big music hall also included a storefront space on Martin Street, which housed a series of businesses including a coffee shop and convenience store. The last one, Taz’s, moved out in late 2010. After the Berkeley’s lease on the music hall space expired in November, York began shopping the property to potential tenants.

“York told us they were exercising their out and it was pretty short, less than 30 days,” said Jim Shires, managing partner who oversees the Berkeley’s live music. “We asked for another month to fulfill some obligations to bands and customers, and they agreed to give us until June 30. So there are no hard feelings. We’ve always known this was a possibility.”

The Berkeley Cafe will remain. Blomquist’s lease runs until 2023, and he promised he’s not going anywhere.

“A man needs a place to go, and I want to continue coming here,” Blomquist said. “I love my customers.”

Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat

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