A staple of the local live music scene is redefining itself.
The new venue—Social Games and Brews—will take the space formerly held by live music venue Casbah, which closed in early January. A fixture on Main Street since 2010, Casbah was home to a wide range of musical acts and varied special events. After renovations and rebranding, the club will reopen as a game-based bar that will include activities like old-school arcade games, skee ball and pool.
Casbah’s closure could indicate limited demand for small-scale live music in Durham. Mark Cromwell, one of the partners involved in establishing Social, cited an over-saturated market as one of the primary factors behind the decision.
“Motorco opened at the same time as Casbah… and sort of split the Durham music scene in half. That was a big part of it,” he explained. “It was just kind of time. Casbah wasn’t necessarily doing poorly, but it wasn’t really going in the direction the owners wanted it to go in.”
Although downtown Durham has been revitalized in recent years, the closing of Casbah may illustrate that the market for live music is fragile. Nightlife spots that combine other amenities with live music, however, seem to be more sustainable. Devine’s, a restaurant and bar that frequently hosts live acts, is one example.
“Small business has to be versatile and has to do what it takes to stay open,” Devine’s Manager Brad Fortier said. “Other venues like Motorco have done such a good job that it is hard to compete.”
Although people may be sad to see Casbah go, Social will be a unique addition to Main Street. It will offer 32 craft beers on tap and focus on providing fun activities for patrons. Fortier is enthusiastic about the new direction Social is going in.
“I do like entertainment and I fully support bringing another bar to Main Street and making this an entertainment area,” he said.
The concept behind Social has successful precedent. Cromwell envisions a fun and relaxed environment in which customers can enjoy a variety of games over beer and cocktails.
“One of our big inspirations was Barcade in Brooklyn, which was the 2011 Bar of the Year in New York. We’re not copying that, but it was an inspiration,” Cromwell said. “There’s not a great spot, especially on Main Street, where you can go and have the option to have a drink and do some sort of activity. Social will provide that.”
A number of Duke students are open to a new bar that could serve as a change-of-pace to mainstays like Shooters II Saloon and Devine’s. Junior Alex Kunycky said he likes the idea, and plans on going once it opens.
“There aren’t too many places with a really good selection of beer and activities besides dancing,” he said. “I would definitely be interested in checking it out.”