My first exposure to Columbia’s music scene, like many other out-of-towners, was to see a show at New Brookland Tavern. Bringing in a slew of touring “alternative” acts that can fit in the 300-capacity room, New Brookland Tavern is the musical hub of Columbia as far as I’m concerned. I’ve had the pleasure of gracing the stage a handful of times as well, showing that the venue is also an important place for local bands in surrounding cities. If you’re looking for a place to start your quest into Columbia’s music scene, start here. Before or after the show, be sure to check out State Street Pub, a true dive a couple doors down that also hosts music every so often. For food, walk just over a block to Cafe Strudel and grab some cheap eats and a homey atmosphere.
While New Brookland is over the river from the “main” part of Columbia, arts-focused venue The Space Hall is right in the heart of downtown. Located in the basement of Tapp’s Art Center, Space Hall is currently run by young adults who stepped up from the local DIY art and music community. With all ages shows that can feature professional sound, lighting, and projections, Space Hall is the most artistic and out-there established venue in the state. While this is my personal favorite venue in Columbia, it’s worth noting that the crowd tends to be a bit younger, and that the business-within-a-business structure keeps the band payouts a bit lower than other venues. Performing with such authentic individuals running things, and having trippy projections cast onstage, makes it well worth it to me.
There’s plenty to do in the vicinity around Space Hall; the best ice cream at Sweet Cream Co, a bomb vegan restaurant Good Life Cafe, or popcorn, beer, and artistic movies at The Nickelodeon Theatre. A short walk will also land you at The Whig, one of the most interesting bars in town. Definitely check it out.
You might have heard about Five Points as the center of USC nightlife, or for it being one of the most recent places to undergo gentrification in Columbia. Either way, it holds a plethora of music-related businesses, and is always the final stop of my nights in Columbia. Firstly, Papa Jazz Record Shop is one of several music stores in town, but supports local music better than any other shop in the state. Besides hosting a plethora of live performances for both fans and Scene SC videos, Papa Jazz gives almost 100% of every local music sale to the local musicians. Fuck Yah.
There are several places to catch live music nearby, but the most notable is recently re-opened The White Mule. The shotgun-style venue hosts tons of shows ranging from local to touring, and feels the most big-city of all the South Carolina venues. If you like coffee, a couple doors down is Drip, the chillest coffee shop in Columbia.
Last but certainly-not-least is Bar None. This late-night destination is just a bar, which is part of why it’s so great. Oh, and the fact that they stay open WAY PAST 2am every night except Saturday. If you hang out here long enough, you’ll see all sorts of local musicians and artists walking through the doors. They also serve food, including barbecue, but if their kitchen closed before you’re ready to hang it up, there are food carts all around.
So, if you find yourself in Columbia, or if you’re planning on making a trip, do yourself a favor and see some live music. There’s plenty of venues to choose from, and things to do around all of them. Rock On.