The Daily Gamecock

Rockafella's to Jake's, the evolution of Five Points through 2112 Devine St.

<p>The front entrance of the now-closed Rockafella's. The space was a live music venue before becoming Jake's Bar &amp; Grill in the early 2000s.</p>
The front entrance of the now-closed Rockafella's. The space was a live music venue before becoming Jake's Bar & Grill in the early 2000s.

If these walls could talk, they’d sing.

Jake’s Bar and Grill sits at 2112 Devine St., in a building that’s been around since the 1940s. Though Jake’s is a relatively recent addition to the neighborhood, those same bricks have borne witness to eight decades of change in Five Points. 

Venues come and go, but one thing stays the same: Five Points remains a cultural hub, and nowhere knows this better than 2112 Devine St. 

Built in 1942 as Riley’s Department Store, the building lived as a clothing store for more than 30 years.

When Riley’s opened, Five Points looked very different than it does today. The district was almost evenly split between retail, service and hospitality businesses, according to City Directories of South Carolina, which are available at USC’s Caroliniana Library.

By the 1980s, the building sat vacant after a series of short-lived bars. In 1984, Scott Padgett and Steve Gibson  said they convinced the landlord to let them lease the property, and the famous music joint known as Rockafella’s was born. 

“It was one of those lifetime dreams,” Padgett said about opening the club. 

Padgett and Gibson had already been working in Five Points for some time before they became partners. 

Gibson came to the area in 1973, when his family opened Gibson’s Peddler Steakhouse, or simply “The Peddler” to locals, also in Five Points.

Padgett attended USC, worked for the college radio station WUSC and wrote a music column for Osceola, a now defunct “alternative newspaper” run by none other than Dick Harpootlian, currently a state senator. 

Through countless dinners at the Peddler, the two bonded over their love of music and their frustration with the lack of live performances in the area.

They started with booking local bands on the weekends, until eventually Padgett found a way to bring in national acts, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hootie and the Blowfish played its first off-campus gig at Rockafella’s. 

“We figured out with the promoters that we could take opening acts for major acts in big cities,” Padgett said. 

When he wasn’t managing the club, Gibson served as president of the Five Points Merchants Association. He said the association didn’t have a problem with bars in the area, but they tried to fill vacant spots with retail first. 

“It was just a matter of trying to preserve the neighborhood. We didn’t want to become a place where the kids came and took over on the weekends. All the little funky shops and different interesting people that ran them, that was much more interesting,” Gibson said. “It ain’t hard to find a place where there’s a lot of bars.” 

Padgett and Gibson stepped away from the business in 1992, and it closed a couple years later after 13 years.

“It was the same thing that befalls everybody in rock and roll, I think,” Padgett said. “The bill came due and we didn’t have it.” 

By the time Rockafella’s closed, Five Points had grown to include more businesses. Though it remained a retail-heavy area, it included more restaurants and there was a marked decrease in personal services such as barber shops and drycleaners. 

While 2112 Devine St. had converted from retail to restaurant and bar years ago, it was around the time when Rockafella’s closed that the rest of Five Points was moving in that direction. This was the very beginning of a trend toward hospitality businesses. 

The number of retail spaces drastically decreased between the late 1990’s through today, and those spaces were overtaken largely by restaurants and bars, according to the 2019 City of Columbia directory.

Richard Burts, a property developer and business owner known locally as the “Mayor of Five Points” opened his first business in Five Points in 1988, immediately after graduating from USC. Since then, he’s been involved in countless projects and beautification efforts in the area. 

“If you think of anywhere, any community, as an ecosystem, and I’ve said this for many years, then you have to have a balance. And when you get out of balance … you can lose an area,” Burts said.

City of Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann agreed with Burts that Five Points once functioned as a harmonious ecosystem.

“Oh, you know, I think there was a time that it was really like that, I think that kind of broke down over the years,” Rickenmann said. “We’ve been doing the same thing for a decade now, and it hasn’t really worked.” 

After Rockafella’s closed, the building sat empty again for some years. Still, its legacy lived on. Some say Hootie and the Blowfish rented the vacant space to record an album while the building was empty. In the early 2000s, it became Jake’s Bar and Grill, which was shuttered after a few years. Chris Davis restored the building and re-opened Jake’s in 2011.

“It’s just the best bar in Five Points,” Keith Johnson, who has served as the general manager since it reopened said. “If you pick this property up and put it anywhere in America it’s going to be the best bar wherever you put it.” 

Jake’s keeps the spirit of Rockafella’s alive by showcasing live music, but Johnson said the main appeal of Jake’s is its outdoor space. 

With a capacity of 350, it’s the largest outdoor area of any bar in Five Points. Jake’s also runs specials such as Pint Night on Wednesday, and its signature “Yappy Hour” on Tuesday and Thursdays, when patrons can bring  their dogs. 

Burts said the move from a retail-dominated area to a hospitality-heavy area was the “biggest shift” over the years.

“Personally, I feel like we hit a tipping point where we got a little bit too bar heavy,” Burts said, quick to point out he was in the bar business himself. 

“Bars and entertainment are important,” Rickenmann said, who worked as a bartender at Elbow Room while he attended USC. “But it doesn’t need to be the only thing that’s there. Because that’s not an ecosystem. That doesn’t work. And we’ve proven that.” 

Both Burts and Rickenmann agreed the biggest challenge to bringing retail to the area is finding ways to increase foot traffic during the day. 

In 2019, the Department of Transportation (DoT) granted $4.8 million for improvements to Harden Street that would make it safer for pedestrians. The stretch from the Blossom Street intersection to the Gervais Street intersection is the most dangerous stretch of road in the state for pedestrian safety, according to the DoT. These changes are expected to improve safety, but making Five Points more walkable is also one way to attract more types of business. 

Though there are disagreements about what Five Points needs and how to achieve that, there’s certainly not a lack of interest in making it the best it can be. 

“It's the most iconic neighborhood that we have,” Rickenmann said. “And to me, if Five Points doesn't build back up, and we don't invest in it, then that affects every other neighborhood.”