As good a music & drinking mashup as it gets.
Live music and no-frills drinking are, of course, best friends and Charleston’s entry into that conversation is no doubt The Empty Glass, a city institution since 1985. Just a few blocks from the Kanawha River that winds through Charleston, the Empty Glass exterior is largely nondescript, but inside lies a live music oasis that has hosted bands as diverse as Chuck Berry, The Avett Brothers and Gov’t Mule.
The structure that today houses The Empty Glass Charleston began life elsewhere, relocated to its current plot during a 1970s flurry of highway-related construction. The structure was jacked up after arriving on the site, the bricks that now make up the lower portion of the structure added to match the bottom of the legacy building to street level. The Charleston dive bar’s second floor has served a number of roles over the year, including residence and dressing room location.
After stints as lunch counter and pool hall, The Empty Glass was originally opened by bartender Jimmy Kaysar in 1985, taking its name from the 1980 Pete Townshend album named, you guessed it, Empty Glass. Ownership changed hands a number of times over the intervening years, ultimately coming to rest with current owner Chris Chaber who changed little upon taking control of the dive bar in 2001. Chaber did amp up the live music reputation of The Empty Glass beyond its already strong roots, instituting a live-music-every-day policy that persists today (cover charges are required most nights).
Supplanted by weekly open mic nights and a flurry of local acts, national touring bands routinely make The Empty Glass a convenient on-the-way stopover, creating a long list of well-known acts that have played the Charleston dive bar. The stickers, posters and photos that can be found affixed to almost every surface inside The Empty Glass recount the bar’s live music history well. This rich, music-layered environment sits behind what can otherwise be called a fairly basic exterior that includes bricks, basic windows and a sticker-laden front door.
But inside is where live music reputation and dive bar drinking collide, wood paneling ringing a snug, well-aged footprint with original floors and just the right amount of frayed furniture. Opaque glass blocks let in a scant amount of light even during daylight hours, the more traditional windows covered by beer and live music posters. Many of the bar’s historic photos can be found in the epoxy-covered tables that make up the bulk of the venue’s seating. These low tables are sometimes convened to create long, communal tables and sometimes moved out of the way to accommodate larger live music crowds.
The stage is, of course, the star of the interior Empty Glass Charleston WV show, its backdrop an amazing mosaic underneath a script version of the bar’s name. Stickers cover many portions of the Charleston dive bar and the stage is no exception, layers of stickers slowing encroaching upon the performance space. What started as a set of speakers perched on cinder blocks decades ago is now a professional-grade sound system that includes the ability to record concerts. For those visiting outside of live music hours, a number of gaming machines ring the space to provide additional diversion.
Not to be outdone by the live music reputation of The Empty Glass, the beer selection here is impressive, upward of 65 varieties offered. Weekday happy hours extend the affordability of most selections, including an always dive bar-friendly $1 PBR special. The full food menu is available throughout opening hours, even late night, centered around dive bar staples pizza and wings.