Sinan Raouf & Johnny Puke

A Local Entity Winds Down

Longtime music venue Cumberland’s will be missed

Home of the one dollar mystery beer and Monday night heavy metal karaoke, popular King Street venue Cumberland’s earned a reputation as one of the busiest and most supportive live music venues in Charleston. For over 15 years, the club aggressively booked a wide variety of original rock, punk, ska, indie, and jam bands and local acts. After a lengthy dispute with their landlord, things are coming to an abrupt end.

Owner/manager Sinan Raouf and longtime booking agent Johnny Puke announced the closing of the club earlier this month. According to Raouf, he and the current owner of the building had difficulties with a complicated lease arrangement. When he and most of his staff from the previous location we moved out of the Cumberland Street spot in 2004, they knew they were going to move to the current spot at 301 King Street — a long, high-ceilinged room with a glass facade and a small kitchen area. For three years, they subleased it from Granny’s Goodies, which used to occupy the entire first floor before squeezing into the back end of the room. Granny’s closed suddenly last May.

“We took time to get permits and started building here,” says Raouf. “Granny’s Goodies had the main lease on the building, and they sublet it to me. Then they disappeared. The last time we moved, I kept everyone in employment the whole time between moving from one space to another. They helped with the renovations and everything. I didn’t want to let anyone go. This time, I wish I didn’t have to let anyone go.”

Raouf says he and the landlord discussed a variety of proposals to continue either on month-to-month leases or over a lengthier period of time. Lawyers discussed details. Replacement lawyers stepped in. The negotiations dissolved. New Year’s Eve will be their final day.

Raouf says he and the staff are hurt badly by the news. “No one has made any plans for after New Year’s,” he admits. “Everyone is just sort of stunned. I don’t know what I’ll be doing.”

Open for lunch and dinner, Cumberland’s has been a longtime downtown favorite watering hole for college kids, townies, and King Street food ‘n’ bev folks. They boasted one of the tastiest greasy hamburgers in town. More importantly, perhaps, they consistently supported live music of all types. Puke, in particular, gave many up-and-coming local acts their first gigs and encouraged them to work on their material and build their followings. They hosted annual events for the Charleston Comedy Festival, the Lowcountry Blues Bash, Piccolo Spoleto, and Puke’s own birthday showcases as well.

They maintained the weekly “heavy metal karaoke” series for over three years. The “Metal Monday” house band, nicknamed “Haireoke,” featured members of Jump, Little Children, Slow Runner, and Playlist. They played rock classics and metal hits to throngs of regular fans, many of whom became local rock stars each week, singing lyrics on the mic on stage with the band behind them.

“We wanted to spend most of December celebrating the legacy of the club,” says Puke. “We have a handful of great local bands on the schedule. Live Oak will perform two sets on New Year’s Eve and the heavy metal karaoke band will play one last show on Sat. Dec. 29 … Metal Monday on Saturday!”

As a cool music venue, laid-back watering hole, and local entity, Cumberland’s will be sorely missed.