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From the trolley to the light rail, Crown Station is back on track

 By Sarah Terry Argabrite

April 16, 2018

Crown Station was originally opened in March of 2011 on Elizabeth Avenue by two Appalachian State college friends Billy Dail, a 12-year Charlottean Promoter/Audio Technician, and Mike Dawson, who works in insurance sales and has been in Charlotte for 27 years. They both held jobs in the hospitality industry in the past, and Dail had experience working with clubs through the events he promoted.

In the early days, Crown Station became a hub for a blossoming underground hip hop scene in Charlotte with their popular “Monday Night Mic Fights” hosted by Eric Brayman and “Off the Wall” for almost four years. There was karaoke with Bryan Pierce and the “Southern Fresh Intelligent” monthly party with Justin Aswell. They had “Taboo Tuesdays,” a comedy night they hung onto from when the venue was previously SK Net Cafe. One of Crown Station’s most memorable events from this location was a Block Party where they were able to get Elizabeth Avenue blocked off; a feat that would be nearly impossible today.

Mike Dawson and Billy Dail, owners of Crown Station and “Cash” (dog) Photo: Alex Cason

While they built up their following and got situated, they anxiously awaited the streetcar project coming to Elizabeth Avenue. There were lots of projects that were also slated to come in, most notably a Whole Foods store. The streetcar came but unfortunately the other projects were pushed back in the aftermath of the housing crisis. “That really hurt us,” said Dail. The Gold Line didn’t give them the boost they were hoping for, as the stops on the new streetcar line were not located close to Crown Station. They tried to stem the bleeding by tapping into the overflow from Double Door and Visulite. Dail and Dawson also realized they were attempting to run a music venue from a coffee house space, which presented its own challenges.

Around March 2016 they were informed they had to move out of the Elizabeth Avenue location and CPCC bought the building. It was an unexpected blow to a young business just getting its wings. They tried to fight the move but “ultimately, it ended up being a kick in the right direction,” said Dail.

They began looking at spots for a new location right away. One space they considered was in South End and another was off of East Boulevard.

Photo: Alex Cason

Dail and Dawson brought in another college friend, Charlotte native Kyle Heath, whose most recent business endeavor had been the successful bar “The Library” in Chapel Hill. Together, they eventually settled on a space on the outskirts of NoDa (at the bend in North Davidson Street, past 36th street going away from town) and re-opened in September 2017. “It took us almost eight months to find the new location and eight months to get it ready,” said Dail. They stuck with Magnolia Coffee in the new location, and developed their cocktail selection. The location was ideal because the Blue Line was being installed nearby, and it sat next to an active freight train line, which fit with the Crown Station name.

Photo: Alex Cason

Dail and Dawson have been working hard to keep the same feel of the original Crown Station, while taking advantage of the spaciousness of the new spot. “We now have more of a music venue that also has coffee,” said Dail. The new location has big garage doors that can be pulled open to make the bar feel like an outdoor music venue. There is a large patio area and a long glossy bar with a length of railroad track for a footrest. Dail books DJ events and keeps the calendar filled. Bar Manager Ryan Armstrong books rock/indie bands, and Bar Manager Kelly Hicks started “Jazz Jam,” a coffee and jazz event on Monday nights. There’s also “Crown City Comedy,” an open mic comedy night hosted by Mimi Benfield on Wednesdays, and “Open Mic Thursdays” for musicians. On Sunday afternoons they have a house DJ. “We still have a really strong DJ culture and following,” said Dail, “and the comedy crowd has been good to us.”

Photo: Alex Cason

Crown Station has put down its roots and plans to be around in NoDa for the long haul. They want to be known as a meeting spot and are very open to working with the community to host or create new events. “We see a lot of development coming this way and there is a lot of room in this area to grow. We’re very happy to be a part of the NoDa community,” said Dail.

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