There’s an oft-mangled aphorism from Mark Twain that goes, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
As it turns out, that’s true of The Cave, the venerated fifty-year-old bar and club that was set to close for good on Monday, April 30, as we reported last week. But suddenly, it’s in the process of being sold to a new set of owners who hope to reboot The Cave in the coming weeks.
Leading the charge are Melissa Swingle and Autumn Spencer. Both are longtime bartenders, and Swingle is a fixture in the local music scene with bands like Trailer Bride and The Pneurotics, which played one of The Cave’s “funeral week” shows.
Mark Connor, who bought The Cave in 2012, and his business partner, Slim’s owner Van Alston, had been searching for a buyer for several months, but nothing had come through. Even on The Cave’s penultimate night of business, it seemed the closure was a done deal.
“I had heard that The Cave was for sale, but we didn’t know that it was so dire that The Cave was actually going to close,” Swingle says. “When we found out that it was really dire—that The Cave was actually going to close for good—that’s when we went into crisis mode and were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to do something.”
During the funeral shows, Spencer and Swingle started to scramble to make that something happen. Those efforts are crystallizing this week as they continue to navigate the necessities of their purchase, including acquiring a liquor license. The pair has signed a lease with Julie Jennings, who owns The Cave’s space and its upstairs neighbor, Uniquities, an upscale boutique that has four locations in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Huntersville. Jennings says that she hasn’t been heavily involved in the business’s transfer, but she’s met with Swingle and Spencer and seems to have a positive outlook on her new tenants.
“I think they’re very passionate and they have the experience and they’re locals. And I think Franklin Street as a place is very specific about the types of businesses and things that do well here,” she says.
Swingle and Spencer want to maintain The Cave’s stature as a music venue while elevating its profile as a community watering hole. Swingle, for her part, is excited to have a hand in keeping a renowned institution afloat.
“We didn’t want to save The Cave just to be nostalgic. It’s not [only] a sentimental thing,” Swingle says. “We hope to make The Cave a thriving place again and a profitable place again.”
As of press time, the sale isn’t finalized—there’s still some paperwork to finish up. There’s no set re-opening date, but according to Swingle, they’ll likely throw another big party to celebrate the next chapter once all the ink is dry. The Cave’s pending resurrection feels like a rare underdog win for the Triangle’s rowdy weirdos, one that, hopefully, is a long-term success.
That is, unless they decide they’re closing again as soon as we go to press.