Top 10 Clubs and Pubs to See Live Music in Raleigh, N.C.
The Raleigh area has enjoyed a reputation for outstanding live music for decades, going back to the days of The Pier, The Bear’s Den and The Brewery, which helped to launch the careers of stars like Jimmy Buffett, R.E.M., Sheryl Crow, Hootie and the Blowfish and Ryan Adams. Today, Raleigh is host to nationally-renowned music festivals like Hopscotch Music Festival and the PNC presents Wide Open Bluegrass because we’re fortunate to have an array of venues that suit every taste, every genre and every mood. And it’s also the destination with the most live music in N.C.
Here are 10 of Raleigh’s top clubs and pubs featuring live music!
Lincoln Theatre originally opened as a downtown movie house in 1945, and the character it has acquired over more than 70 years is alive and well. Converted into a live music venue in 2001, Lincoln Theatre features some of the best national and regional touring acts along with great tribute bands and local artists. The terraced levels downstairs, combined with a wrap-around second-floor balcony, provide unencumbered views, with plenty of room on the main floor to boogie down.
Lincoln Theatre has welcomed the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Primus, Franz Ferdinand, Chris Stapleton, Old 97s, Black Uhuru, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Robert Earl Keen and more favorites.
For 20 years, The Pour House Music Hall has anchored the Moore Square district with a mixture of homegrown acts and national touring bands. Today, as the elder statesman among the bars, bistros and party dens comprising the downtown Raleigh nightlife scene, The Pour House curates a rotation of live rock, soul, jazz, hip-hop and Americana, showcasing a variety of music and attracting a diverse clientele.
Known also for excellent cocktails and dozens of draft taps—with a focus on N.C. craft brewing, The Pour House serves up an iconic Raleigh entertainment experience. Last year, more than 1,000 bands from all 50 states took the stage.
KINGS, the venerable, alternative rock clubhouse, is in its second incarnation in Raleigh, having relocated from S. McDowell St. to its current home on W. Martin St. in downtown's Fayetteville Street district. Owned by Raleigh music and restaurant impresarios Paul Siler, Cheetie Kumar and Ben Barwick, KINGS is a large, open room with outstanding acoustics and a monthly offering of live bands as eclectic as the bar’s cool, kitschy décor.
Denizens of KINGS have seen the likes of The Avett Brothers, Kurt Vile, Archers of Loaf, Sharon Van Etten, Deerhoof, Corrosion of Conformity, The Love Language, The Rosebuds and Megafaun. Art exhibits, film screenings, spelling bees and stand-up comedy have also dotted the calendar.
Dark and divey, Neptunes Parlour (also a Cheetie Kumar spot) occupies the subterranean depths below KINGS. With an effortlessly-hip vibe, this is Raleigh’s version of an East Village hideaway. At the bottom of the stairs off W. Martin St., Neptunes is an oasis of superb craft cocktails, local beers, vintage arcade games, DJs spinning dance-worthy tunes and bands that pinball across the musical spectrum.
Don’t be surprised if you pop in and find the legendary Dexter Romwebber, godfather of gorgeous guitar fury, making magic on his Silvertone DuoJet.
Imurj (a portmanteau of Immersion into the arts and Emerging Artists) is a creative space for all artists, musicians and patrons of the arts, located across from Nash Square in downtown Raleigh's Warehouse District, just a few blocks from the Raleigh Convention Center. When not being used for private events, Imurj is bustling with working artists during the daytime and is packed with crowds for open mic nights and comedy jams in the evenings.
Niall Hanley, owner of the Hibernian Restaurant & Pub in the Glenwood South downtown district, was booking local bands in his straight-outta-Dublin Irish saloon long before fire destroyed the original structure, and the current two-story version was resurrected in its place. Local singer-songwriters, including contemporary and traditional Irish music, can be found at Hibernian, adding to the spirit of a favorite Raleigh watering hole that is already long on atmosphere.
Downtown Raleigh’s longest-running live music venue, Slim’s, has just enough history, grime and gusto to give any rock club in America a run for its money. Long and narrow, dimly lit, festooned with tour stickers and appropriately loud, this is the place to discover up-and-coming acts and reconnect with established bands who inevitably return to play the small stage in the back of the bar. With a capacity of only 100, you’re always close enough to the music to feel it. Slim’s has a large patio out back and an upstairs lounge with a pool table for when you want to dial the volume back.
A short drive from downtown, tucked away behind car dealerships and Costco, is The Ritz, a 12,000-square-foot rock temple that has recently undergone an extensive facelift thanks to parent company House of Blues/Live Nation. Live Nation keeps the pipeline filled with touring acts that can pack a large club like The Ritz, showcasing acts like Chance the Rapper, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, fun. and The Strokes. Upstairs, visit the Stella Artois VIP Lounge for a little rock ‘n’ roll elegance.
With the old Longbranch long gone, City Limits Saloon carries the torch as Raleigh’s country music hall and party headquarters. Located on W. Morgan St. on the edge of downtown, CLS presents touring artists, local bands and after parties following national acts in concert locally. We’re talking mechanical bull, line dancing, girls on the bar and drinks in a boot, so hang onto your hat.
The Berkeley Cafe has downsized since it closed the larger performance space adjacent to the cafe, but not to worry—they’ve moved the music into the restaurant. Country, folk, honky-tonk, bluegrass, Americana and the occasional act that defies categorization are frequently on tap, along with N.C. craft beers and top-notch grub from the grill.
Photos: City Limits Saloon photos, Chris Richman; "Live Music and Concerts" link, Joe Scarborough