‘A Corner Tavern Full of Locals of All Stripes,’ Keeps the Music Playing

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Nash Street Tavern has a number of monthly and weekly music shows that keeps Hillsborough nightlife exciting

By Hannah Lee  |  Photography by Beth Mann

It’s the neon pink, 2-foot-tall flamingos near the stage and around the bar that newcomers notice first. There’s plastic bats, wings spread, hanging from the ceiling amid string lights illuminating tiki-inspired decorations. Passersby peek curiously into the door’s window.

But it’s not a party – it’s just another Sunday evening at Nash Street Tavern, a Hillsborough bar and live music venue where eclectic meets old-fashioned, customers sport blue jeans, and the stage decor can change on a whim.

“There have been some pretty outlandish designs [over the years], and the bands and patrons really seem to get a kick from them,” says Scott “Paz” Pasley, one of the tavern’s founding members.

The decor is a highlight, but it isn’t the main draw for regulars. Paz opened the bar in 2015, a year after his other South Nash Street music venture next door, The Depot at Hillsborough Station, closed. “The venue attitude came naturally,” he says. “Amazingly, the room already had good acoustic qualities, and musicians, sometimes as many as eight, will happily squeeze onto the stage to play. We regularly get feedback that our room is a favorite for bands to play in the area because of the small-room vibe.”

Mike June and Jess Klein
Mike June and Jess Klein moved to Hillsborough from Austin, Texas, three years ago to settle down and build a local fanbase.

Husband-and-wife duo Mike June and Jess Klein were drawn to the tavern’s ambience when they moved to Hillsborough from Austin, Texas, three years ago. The couple approached Paz about introducing monthly performances called “First Sunday Music Review.”

“We’ve both spent a lot of time on the road,” says Jess, a nationally known singer-songwriter, “and we felt that it was really important to both of us that we build something locally where we live. Mike’s whole idea was that it would be really low pressure, just a fun thing where we could let loose and try different stuff with our band. Nash Street seemed like the perfect place for that because it has a good, mellow, easygoing vibe.”

During the first Sunday in December, Mike and Jess performed a bluesy-rock show complete with original songs from Jess’ latest album, “Back to My Green.” The couple and their band have had a residency at the bar since March and draws a consistent crowd.

Crowd at Nash Street Tavern
Almost every seat was filled for Jess and Mike’s Sunday performance in December.

As they began their first set, music traveled through the walls, outside to the corner of Eno and South Nash streets. Mike danced his fingers along the guitar and nodded at familiar faces trickling into the bar.

The excitement of the music amid the calm, relaxed mood, the friends and the family, the beers on tap and the dartboards waiting to be played – this place is home for many.

As for those funky decorations? Well, they were recently installed by the venue’s sound technician, who goes by “Rainbow Cabbage.” “She evidently felt that a luau was appropriate for the post-Thanksgiving weekend,” Paz jokes. “Most of the time we are just a corner tavern full of locals of all stripes, enjoying a conversation with old friends or someone new, playing darts after work, watching a game or just chilling out with a friendly bartender.”

That’s just who they are, pink flamingos and all. 

According to Paz

What to expect when you visit Nash Street Tavern:

  • Regular shows on Friday and Saturday nights (8-11 p.m.) “We’ve had weekend shows without fail since day No. 1 and intentionally feature bands so that folks can have a good time listening, dancing and socializing.”
  • Acoustic-style shows on Tuesdays (8-10 p.m.) “[Tuesday night] definitely has more of a listening room vibe and was born out of so many inquiries from singer-songwriters who are quite abundant in the area and are always looking for a fun place to play.”
  • Bluegrass Jam every second and fourth Sunday (4-6 p.m.) “It has evolved into a really great crew of regular and rotating players and fans all happy to pack chairs and stools onto the stage and share in a long-standing part of our musical community in North Carolina.”
  • Mike June & Jess Klein’s First Sunday Music Review (4-6 p.m.) “They are super talented local folks! They keep the shows fresh by bringing in other local and touring artists to play with them and adding different themes as well.”
  • Beer and Hymns Community Sing-along every third Sunday (7-8 p.m.) “One of the coolest monthly celebrations. I was a skeptic, but amazingly the room fills to capacity with smiling, happy people and a string band second to none, and an hour of pints and singing locals!”

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