Just when you thought The Cave was closed, surprise!

The Cave in Chapel Hill, in 2009 with Rachel Hirsch and On the Beach, has been a longtime venue in Chapel Hill.
The Cave in Chapel Hill, in 2009 with Rachel Hirsch and On the Beach, has been a longtime venue in Chapel Hill. rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Cave — a longtime Franklin Street fixture in Chapel Hill — is not dead after all.

The club closed at the end of April after hosting plenty of up-and-coming and major musical acts for 40 years.

But it will reopen soon under new ownership: Melissa Swingle, a musician who has led local bands including The Moaners and Trailer Bride; and Autumn Spencer, a bartender at various Chapel Hill nightspots.

"I'm excited it's not really dead," Swingle said. "We have several things to do this week to complete getting the liquor license, then we'll have a soft opening."

The reopening is an unexpected turn following last month's sudden goodbye, which started with an April 19 announcement that The Cave would close on April 30. A six-month search for new owners had come up empty.

If all goes according to plan, Swingle said, The Cave should have its grand reopening bash in late June. She likened the situation to a recovering hospital patient.

"Last week, The Cave was in triage and ICU," Swingle said. "Things were touch and go until we could get a new lease. Now it's in stable condition, recuperating, and it will take some rehab. But I think we'll be operational in a couple of weeks."

The Cave has occupied its subterranean space at 452 W. Franklin St. since 1968. Acts like Lyle Lovett, the Avett Brothers and Arcade Fire all played The Cave on their way up.

But the club's heart and soul is the local acts that have called it home, including former Red Clay Rambler Jim Watson, who has played his annual Christmas show at The Cave every year since 1986.

Jim Watson, known for his Christmas shows at The Cave in Chapel Hill, performs in 2005. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

The Cave always employed lots of musicians behind the bar, too, lately including rising country singer Sarah Shook — who wrote in a Facebook post last month that she was "totally devastated" at the news that it was closing.

As The Cave's days wound down, the community responded with an outpouring of support as people shared remembrances and packed The Cave in the final days of the club's "Funeral Week."

"Watching the community reaction really lifted my spirits," former co-owner Mark Connor said on closing day, April 30. "It's been something special to see people support it, go there one last time, make their farewells."

One result of that outpouring was that Swingle, who has recently worked as beverage manager at another Franklin Street nightspot, Local 506, and Spencer emerged as buyers. They came to terms with landlord Julie Jennings, who also owns the Uniquities clothing boutique upstairs from The Cave.

"I'm very happy that we all found a way to work things out with the landlord," said Van Alston, The Cave's other former co-owner. "It's fantastic that the place ended up with somebody who cares about the music and has a history there."

As for changes, Swingle said there wouldn't be many beyond maybe adding a PAC-MAN video-game machine.

"People seem to like The Cave the way it is," Swingle said. "But we are gonna clean it up. Maybe get a load of gravel for behind the club, clean up the cigarette butts. Just try to be cleaner."

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi
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