A history of the Village Underground in Raleigh, NC

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Red train mural as it appears today | Photo via Goodnight Raleigh

Raise your hand if you remember the Village Subwayand no, we’re not talking about trains

From 1971 to 1984, this complex of shops and music venues (also known as the Underground and named for a train mural that decorated the space) drew talents including the Ramones, the Police, Iggy Pop, Pat Benetar, Merle Haggard, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington + Jimmy Buffett… to name a few.

Reader Marilyn M. shared with us, “In the early ‘70s, we saw Bette Midler there as she was just starting out — with Barry Manilow on the piano. We even chatted with her after the set. It was memorable.”

Underground shops and music venues | Photo via Village District

Originally constructed as a bomb shelter during the Cold War, the 20,000-square-foot space that housed the Underground was located in Village District, on the ground floor of the building that was then occupied by the Boylan Pearce department store — and is now The Fresh Market.

“That was the place to be for a good time,” said reader Vickie B. “You could listen to music at the Pier, Café Deja Vu, and the Frog & Nightgown and dance to your heart’s [content] at the Skyline Disco. The place would be packed on the weekends, as no place in Raleigh offered as much of a variety of live music and a place for young people to go and dance. It was the first of its kind, and everyone enjoyed going there!

In fact, the Village Subway was home to 30 nightclubs and shops. The Frog & Nightgown — Raleigh’s only jazz club at the time — was one of the earliest tenants and was owned by local musician Peter Ingram. 

“My husband and I went three times in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said reader Judy C. “We saw Lily Tomlin + Carol Sloane, a local jazz singer who moved to Boston.” 

Many of the shows that came through the Underground were for then-relatively-unknown artists. R.E.M., for example, played at the Pier in 1980, during the band’s first tour outside their home state of Georgia. Local photographer Chris Seward’s photographs of the band were a key part of the City of Raleigh Museum’s 2018 exhibit, “the Underground.”

Concert marquees | Photo via Goodnight Raleigh

The Pier also served as the recording venue for Sonic Youth’s track “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Want to see a list of concerts and set lists that played there? 🎸Click here

One of my fondest memories is when I was at Enloe High School in 1981, and me + a group of friends, along with my brother, were in an Airband competition at the Bear’s Den,” said reader Don W. “I was blown away at the atmosphere and group of young adults. We came in second place, but that night really opened my eyes to the scene in the Underground. It became one of my favorite destinations when it was my time to hit the party scene.” 

In 2018, Smedes York — former Raleigh mayor and president of York Properties, which owns Village District — teased a revival of the Village Subway space. A new jazz club is expected to be developed for smaller shows + while construction was initially slated for 2019, the project has currently stalled without further details. When we hear more, you’ll be the first to know, and in the meantime, you can get a sneak peek at the space and learn more about the Underground’s history here.