Erin Tyler's local watering hole Tin Roof has been a staple in Charleston's underground punk scene | Photo by Ruta Smith

Columbia-native Erin Tyler moved to Charleston in 1999 to earn a bachelor’s degree in media studies at the College of Charleston. She didn’t want to pursue a job in her field right away when she graduated, so instead she traveled and waited tables — which proved to be the best career move she could have made. 

Tyler told the City Paper that it was during this period of uncertainty when things inadvertently coalesced for her to be able to establish a one-of-a-kind bar and music venue in West Ashley. This month, her audacious indie enterprise, the Tin Roof, is celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Tyler said it all goes back to a night in 2006 when she ran into an old friend. Their conversation veered in the direction of “What would it be like to open a bar?” and it developed into an idea that lingered. 

She had seen the business side of things up close while working for her friends Alex and Vanessa Harris at the Charleston Pour House for over a year, so it wasn’t a completely unfounded thought. 

“Over the next few months, things started to come together quickly,” Tyler said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was learning as I went. I learned that The West Ashley Bait and Tackle was for sale. After seeing it, I felt that it was the perfect quirky spot with a ton of character for a neighborhood-artsy-dive-bar. I definitely didn’t have money to buy the space, but I convinced the owner to rent it out.”

Once the location was secured, Tyler began to customize it to suit her preferences. “I changed it a lot: paint, murals, new fixtures, updating building materials, etc. The stage and soundboard didn’t come until later.” After all, Tyler didn’t know then that it was going to become a music venue.

Tin Roof is known for its diverse pop-ups like karaoke nights, drag brunches and vinyl parties | Photo by Ruta Smith

Tin Roof opened in November 2007. While it was less known for hosting bands in the early days, she said, it did earn a reputation right out of the gate for being a welcoming place with a killer hot dog menu.

 “Two great local venues, Cumberland’s and The Map Room, closed within a year of Tin Roof opening,” Tyler said. Her timely response was to build a stage and book more bands. 

“Even though I didn’t set out for it to be a music venue, with the closing of those two important sites, I thought it was important to provide a space for the more alternative indie-punk-arthouse scene,” Tyler said.

This shift in focus proved to be quite an undertaking for Tyler and her small team. “I’ve handled the majority of booking myself over the years. I had no clue what I was doing in the beginning. I just had to dive into it. I’ve been given some good advice from others in the business, worked with fantastic touring and local bands, had a little luck and learned from my mistakes. I’ve also had help from local promoters and managers. Tin Roof’s staff and regulars have also contributed to booking great bands and planning unique events just by sharing their interests, ideas, creativity and talent. It’s really been a collaborative effort.”

It would be impossible to list all of the amazing acts that have come through the Tin Roof since its inception but some of Tyler’s favorites shows include: Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Legendary Shack Shakers, Deer Tick, The Queers, The Slackers, The Toasters, 7 Seconds, Red Clay Strays, and one special evening with legendary punk rock journalist Roderick Edward “Legs” McNeil.

As part of the 15th anniversary celebration Nov. 12, Tin Roof hosted local screamo-death metal favorite Guardian’s Warlock’s farewell show with special guests Hybrid Mutants, Super Runaway and Obvious Liars.

Guardian’s Warlock frontman PJ Steven was thrilled to be bidding adieu from that precise vantage point and wouldn’t have it any other way. “Tin Roof was one of the first venues I played, and definitely the first venue I ever went to see a show in Charleston,” he said. “The stage is terrific and it really does feel like the best dive bar you’ve ever been to.” 

Even though by now what Tyler has created has become an institution for imbibing and an island for misfit musicians from all over the world, she still insists that “it’s not an easy business.” 

“I made my fair share of mistakes in the early years, and I’m very proud to still be here and making improvements and growing financially,” Tyler said. “I’m operating on my terms with an incredible staff that is so helpful, creative and supportive. Our regulars and local music and comedy scene are fantastic as well. We wouldn’t be anything without them.”

For her, success is measured by shared experiences, meeting new people and telling stories. 

“My absolute favorite thing about owning the Tin Roof is when patrons tell me about a life-changing show they attended as a fan or about meeting their [romantic] partner for the first time on a blind date, or a member of a local band telling me how they opened for one of their musical heroes here.”

At the end of the day, for Tyler and everyone else involved with Tin Roof: “It’s a home and the people in it are a family,” she said. “My hopes for the future are simply to continue being us, an eclectic venue where all are welcome for years to come.”

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