When Amos’ Southend owner John Ellison shocked the local music scene in 2016 by announcing plans to close his venerable music club, he posted a reasonable but rather generic explanation on Facebook.
“The expansion of the business and retail corridor in South End is presenting many new challenges to successfully run a music venue,” he wrote, “and I feel we will not be able to continue to operate efficiently and properly serve our customers moving forward.”
Today, he’s happy to be more specific.
“The biggest and the only reason” Ellison decided to shutter Amos’, which routinely packed more than 1,300 concertgoers into its confines, “was because I was losing the parking lot across the street. … I think if you have a venue that large, you’ve got to have some type of parking that you’re pretty assured of.”
This week, almost exactly two years after Amos’ was shuttered, Ellison is reopening the club on the same property.
And while the parking situation hasn’t improved — the former lot across the street is now the site of the gleaming, eight-story RailYard development — he’s hopeful that the new version of the club will fit more easily into the changing landscape of South End than the old one: Amos’ Southend, cut into what was the back of the old club, is now a smaller but more polished space suitable for about 600 people. (The front part of the old club is now occupied by the Gin Mill bar and restaurant, which is also owned by Ellison.)
The first show in the new space was Tuesday night and featured a performance by L.A. electro-pop band The Black Queens. But fans had to settle for bottled water and soda as refreshments, since the liquor license hadn’t come through yet. Ellison got it Thursday, in time for tonight’s Killakoi concert.
There are two other events on the calendar for this weekend, including “Purgatory: Red & Black Formal” on Saturday night and the Philadelphia rock band Nothing on Sunday. In all, more than three dozen events populate the website’s upcoming calendar.
We tried to anticipate what questions you might have about Amos’ return. Here are a few, along with answers that Ellison helped to shape.
Q. I thought it was supposed to open last month. What was the hold-up?
There were indeed several delays, most as a result of permitting issues — including an unexpected plumbing and electrical problem and a fix he needed to make to get the exit doors current with the Americans With Disabilities Act. On top of that, Ellison had trouble getting the building inspector to sign off on his new sound system because, he says, it was missing a required safety sticker. And yes — convinced the stars would align, Ellison had booked 11 shows in February, but was ultimately forced to cancel all of them. He says canceling them cost him a total of about $40,000.
Q. So what’s the new space like?
The previous version of Amos’ took up the whole building at 1423 S. Tryon St., covering about 14,000 square feet. After it closed, the Gin Mill moved over from next door into a redesigned space, walling it off from the back half of the old club and adding a kitchen and a rooftop patio. The new Amos’ is about 7,000 square feet, and in terms of the layout, it’s pretty similar: The stage will be to the back of the building instead of to the front, but there’ll still be a mezzanine area and there’ll still sometimes be seating set up.
Meanwhile, the decor has been updated significantly. The color scheme is more modern, stained-wood trim has been added, there’s vinyl flooring that resembles fine hardwood upstairs, and the bathrooms have been upgraded to include granite countertops and tile floors. Ellison also bought a two-year-old Meyer Line Array sound system from a church in Atlanta that he says is “one of the best sound systems around.”
Amos’ official address is now 1423 S. Tryon St., Suite B.
Q. What’s the parking situation?
“Sucks,” Ellison says, laughing. Since the RailYard parking deck isn’t available, it’s basically everyone for themselves. The parking lot for Tavern at the Tracks and The Brickyard and the lot for nearby Hot Taco, All American Pub, Oak Room and Slate Charlotte are available to people patronizing those establishments, but otherwise concertgoers will have to find legal street parking or use pay lots within walking distance. If you can use the light rail, scooters, bikes or Uber/Lyft/taxis, that might be less hassle. “I mean, it’s not gonna be the easy thing where you just park across the street and walk over. But I don’t know any place in Charlotte anymore that’s that easy to get to. … It’s a big town now, so that’s just the way it is,” Ellison says.
It should be easier than it was toward the end of Amos’ old days, though: “It’s one thing to have a venue that holds 1,300 people and have no parking as opposed to having a venue that holds 600 and no parking.”
Q. What changed Ellison’s mind / Why did he decide to reopen?
“I really had no intentions of getting back into the booking-bands game,” he says. But “the landlord had a couple tenants that were supposed to go into the back of the building that fell through. And then he was having a hard time finding a tenant, and he offered me a really good rate to reopen Amos’ back there. I thought Amos’ back there would be a good fit because it would bring more business to all the businesses in the area. The restaurants. Before shows and after shows. That was the biggest reason. And I kind of missed it a little bit.
“From talking with people, they seem to feel like there’s really not a place for a lot of local rock bands to play. And … (Live Nation venues) The Fillmore and Underground (at the AvidXChange Music Factory) are pretty corporatized. And that’s where I got the idea that I should reopen, because I had so many bands tell me, ‘Man, we really miss playing Amos’. We wish you’d reopen somewhere.’ They all just told me it’s just a different feel playing there as opposed to going to a corporate-type venue place.”
Q. Did he consider moving the club to another part of the city?
“I looked at a couple other places. But when you look to invest in a business, you look to see how quickly you’re gonna get your money back. If I was 40, I would have probably reopened Amos’ in another location with a venue just as big. But it probably would have cost me a million and a half to do it. At 60, I’m not waiting 10-12 years to get my money back. I mean, I’m looking to retire in seven or eight years. So … it’s something that I can get my money back in a few years, and then sell to somebody or let somebody else run it.”
Q. How does the philosophy for this club differ from the old one?
“Well, we’re hoping we can do more (shows), because it’s a smaller venue. When an agent calls you about booking his band, if your venue (holds) 1,300 and he only thinks it’s gonna draw 300, he doesn’t want to put his band there because it’s not right for his band. But there’s a whole lot more bands out there that draw 200 to 500 people than there are bands that draw over a thousand people. And there’s a lot of bands up and coming. So we’re not gonna hit a whole lot of home runs, but hopefully a lot of singles and doubles. …
“I’m not trying to compete with The Fillmore anymore as far as shows. I’m just looking to bring the bands that are up-and-coming. And then the tribute bands, and the hair-metal bands, and Purgatory … and all the other promotional things that we did before.”
Q. Who IS (or was) Amos, anyway?
Thirty years ago, when Ellison was making plans to open a bar and bistro with an old fraternity brother in the Park Road Shopping Center, he wasn’t interested in putting his name on it. Instead, they used the fraternity brother’s father’s name: “We said, ‘Hey, we’ll call it Amos’ Bar & Bistro and that might entice him to invest.’ ” It worked. The joint was there for eight years, from about 1990 to 1998. Ellison and his friend eventually went their separate ways, but Ellison kept the name.
In 2000, he used it again when he opened his music venue in South End. After Amos’ closed in 2017, Ellison says he got calls from people interested in buying the name from him. “I actually had a quarter-million dollar offer, but I turned it down — because I didn’t want somebody else to take that name and ruin it.”