Casbah to close January 1, reopen as "bar with games" in 2014

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Casbah, the 288-capacity music venue that opened its doors on Durham’s Main Street in late 2010, will close its doors on Jan. 1. The room is being transformed from a rock club into Social, a “bar with games.” Proprietors Jana and Fergus Bradley realized the rock club business wasn’t what they’d hoped.

“This is a really tough industry, more so than people realize, I think. Although things have gotten better, we’ve been struggling. We knew earlier this year that it was really a make-it-or-break-it situation for us,” says Jana Bradley. “It was a hard decision to make, but it’s the best one for our growing family.”

Tess Mangum Ocaña took over duties as the weekend talent buyer for the club in June; two other booking agents had previously worked to put the space in the black. She reports that plans for the transition had long been in the works.

“They were forthright with me in the beginning before I even accepted the project, and told me about the possible timeline,” says Ocaña, who left The ArtsCenter in Carrboro nearly a year ago. “It’s been great fun because it’s a club—it’s not a performing arts center, it’s not a festival. The tickets are inexpensive and people kind of let it all hang out.”

The wide range of acts and shows to which the club catered will be missed, offers Ocaña: “It’s pretty good one day to be talking about a drag show and the next day be talking to an agent about a national touring band. Having that flexibility really speaks highly of the people of Durham.”

Indeed, the venue kept its doors open to an array of options, playing host to songwriters’ circles, photography slideshows, women’s arm-wrestling bouts, multimedia reviews from Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and hip-hop summits, to say nothing of folk, indie, experimental and rock shows. During the last year, Duke Performances has often used the space to host jazz, dance and classical bills. The move leaves the Bull City Metal Fest and Crispy Bess’ Instro Summit without a home.

In January, three partners—Bradley’s husband, Fergus, along with Mark Cromwell and Jason Sholtz—will begin a set of renovations to change the room’s layout and function, and they’ll bring on new partners to bolster the concept. She believes the space will be more viable without live entertainment.

Casbah’s transfiguration is only the latest move in a turbulent year for the Triangle’s music venues. Local 506 is for sale from longtime owner Glenn Boothe, and Broad Street Café shut its doors in July. The Cat’s Cradle has opened a back room, while Motorco has added a restaurant and regular movies to its roster.

Patrons have just over a month to enjoy a sound system Ocaña says she’ll miss a lot. Peter Lamb & The Wolves claim the last night of music at the Casbah with their annual New Year’s Bash. The celebration will feature the Lamb quintet’s brassy jazz, th’ Bullfrog Willard McGhee’s new band Bullfrog and the Connoisseurs, and a midnight champagne toast. Tickets are $15 and on sale now. Visit CasbahDurham.com.

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