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4 min Read
Published July 18, 2013

The Raleigh Underground: An Epic Era Sealed Beneath Cameron Village

When I sat down on Saturday to write about the Village Subway, I had no idea the kind of magic I was tapping into. Nor did I ever imagine that less than a week later, I’d be invited to venture down into this urban exploration paradise – to bring you new pictures, WRAL news coverage, and a definitive collection of images, videos, and quotes from the people who spent their youths Underground.

When I first heard about the mysterious underground mall, lying dormant beneath the bustling streets of Cameron Village, I dreamed of going down there. I scoured through the few articles that described it, hunted down pictures, and searched for stories, trying to piece together a snapshot of what remained in this ancient wonderland from another era in Raleigh history.

The Village Subway is alive again. You want to explore the legend of this incredible place? Start here.

Since Saturday, hundreds of people have reached out, trying to do the same.

  • How do I get down there?
  • Who do I contact to make a documentary?
  • Is there any way we can do a Kickstarter fundraiser to revitalize the Underground?

People want to go down there. People want the Village Subway to return. Dozens of documentarians and entrepreneurs and urban explorers want to know more. There is even a Facebook group dedicated to sharing memories of the Pier. I wanted to learn more. That’s why I wrote the initial piece.

Magic seems to be the keyword to describe the Underground. I wrote this piece on Saturday, and by Thursday I found myself transported underground, to explore this piece of history for myself. I was walking through the legendary Village Subway, touching those yellow walls I thought were forever beyond my reach. Forever beyond Raleigh’s reach.

Until the population of Raleigh stepped in, two hundred fifty thousand readers strong, and brought the Underground back into the light.

Make no mistake, readers and Raleigh-ites, you have revived the Village Subway.

Through your comments, the Bear’s Den, the Pier, the Frog and Nightgown, the old Arcade – these places live again! The younger generation is all-ears, hungry for information, stories, and pictures.

The generation who danced and grooved in the Subway, well, you’ve reminded everyone about this amazing piece of music history with your personal tales and memories! Thank you for your comments and pictures, videos and stories! Thank you for a response that was so strong, it got local media invested in the story.

WRAL covering the story is just the beginning. Now we have York Properties’ attention. You want to explore those yellow-walled catacombs, touch those iconic poster paintings? Keep the media involved. Keep sharing your stories. We can make a call for a documentary! For more professional photographers to go take historic images! Some people are even calling for a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to bring it back. Who’s to say it wouldn’t work?

After all, I never dreamed I’d actually end up walking through the Village Subway. Or hearing all these incredible stories about the Bear’s Den, the Pier, and the Frog and Nightgown. In a way, I feel like I’ve been there. I hope after reading and exploring this slice of a long ago era, you’ll feel the same way.

Enjoy our compilation of photos and quotes sent in by readers. Experience the Village Subway for yourself.

The Underground as it appears today

candid slice village subway epic era - 1 candid slice village subway epic era - 2 candid slice village subway epic era - 3 candid slice village subway epic era - 4 candid slice village subway epic era - 5 candid slice village subway epic era - 6

This place, decades old and abandoned beneath our city, has come back into the light. It’s brought people together who hadn’t seen each other in years, finding each other in the comments section of Candid Slice.

RELATED: Raleigh Underground: An Abandoned Mall Beneath Our Feet.

This place, the Village Subway, the Raleigh Underground, it brought people together in the 70’s, and even hollowed out and un-used, it continues to hold some magical spark even today. You want more? I say we kickstart it back to life.


The Underground as it was in the 1970’s

The Pier, Bear’s Den, The Frog and Nightgown, Elliot’s Nest, and Cafe DeJa Vu were sensational live music venues of Raleigh during the 70s and early 80s. The Raleigh Underground or the Village Subway, was also home to commercial stores and an arcade.

The Underground’s lasting legacy is the imprint it left on those fortunate enough to have experienced it first hand.

The Raleigh Underground is also credited with having a significant impact in kick starting many notable bands, along with playing a leading role in launching the punk era on to America’s mainstream music scene.


Notable Pictures from a Remarkable Era


Great period photos from photographer Malcolm Riviera, first up is Byron McKay and Jerry Williams of Th’ Cigaretz, kicking it old school 1979.


Next up, Kim Cartner, Alex Erickson, Nana Smith, Marek Bireline (leaning over) and Janelle Simmons (now Oconnor). On the floor is Ms. Debra “Knob” DeMilo of the Fabulous Knobs.

Alex, Marek and Janelle, under various pseudonyms, put out the fanzine Blind Boys Gazette.

They would sell their “rag” at the local shows, sometimes walking around with white canes with red tips in imitation of sight-impaired folks, knocking people obnoxiously on the leg to get their attention. Great times!


The Print

Great memories in print. Shout out to “Design by Raiter” and his tribute to Bob Raiter, who designed and printed dozens of flyers for Th’ Cigaretz, Raleigh’s original punk sensation, in the late 1970s. Included is an R.E.M print, advertising their Pier appearance. That October, R.E.M again appeared at the Pier, where their entire performance was captured live , as was this great performance by Arrogance.


The People

Our readers who were lucky enough to dance, work, and play beneath Raleigh at clubs like the Pier, the Bear’s Den, Cafe Deja Vu, Elliot’s Nest. and the Frog and Nightgown, have painted a picture of the rich and magical history of the time:


John Custer shared:

  • I played there, played there hundreds of times, got my start down there, saw amazing, amazing shows down there… and I always assumed it would be there, operational, forever…

From Mark Darden we got an insider’s perspective:

  • We played at the Deja Vu many, many times as Nevermind, The Boat Rockers, and other names. Th’ Cigaretz were very influential during that time too. Some of us opened for the Ramones once. Arrogance was still around then too. They were a great band that almost hit the big time. You could go from bar to bar down there and hear Muddy Waters in one bar, Jimmy Buffet in the next, and the Ramones in the next. Unreal. The Deja was a very, very cool place. It seemed to last the longest down there. The Frog was my first restaurant job. I was hired as the dishwasher (just graduated from State) but they also made me cook side orders that Friday night.

Mark Wells describes a vivid sensory experience:

  • I also went to the Cafe Deja-Vu a few times. Ahh, I remember when you opened those double doors to the stairs, the smell of cigarettes and stale beer greeted you, and you knew a bar or two was close by.

Pam Wenning added to the tapestry, saying:

  • As a child, my parents took me to what seemed like the most magical place I could imagine….The Underground. Yes, the entrance was close to the Fresh Market. As I grew up The Pier was a place to be – would let you in at 16 and order anything you wanted. Brice Street was the best cover band around and always played there. It was another world, like walking through the sidewalks of another city. You could hear the echoes of people talking, but back then, we weren’t scared at all. It just felt familiar and like home. What I would give to go back for one night. Magic.


The Clubs & Stores

  • Cafe Deja Vu
  • The Pier
  • Frog and Nightgown
  • Elliot’s Nest
  • The Bears’ Den
  • Skyline Disco
  • Infamous
  • Midnight Express
  • Boogie Shoes
  • Back Street Leather
  • Battle Stations Fun Arcade
  • Soundhaus
  • Sam Goody
  • Two Feet Under
  • Burton’s Fashions
  • Tyler II
  • Happiness Boutique
  • Troy’s Stereo Center
  • Tin Penny Nail
  • The Fine Line
  • The Garden of Eden
  • Pier 3 (Gifts and Antiques)
  • Solomon Grundy’s
  • Nowell’s
  • Intimate Book Shop
  • Carolista Jewerly
  • Wagon Popcorn
  • Bee Ties
  • Garden of Eden
  • Sam Bass Camera


The Bands & Performers

  • Doc Watson
  • The B-52s
  • The Roaches
  • Red Clay Ramblers
  • Asleep at the Wheel
  • Beetle Barbour
  • NRBQ
  • David Allan Coe
  • The Ramones
  • John Kay of Steppenwolf
  • Iggy Pop
  • The Replacements
  • Fabulous Knobs
  • R.E.M.
  • Dixie Dregs
  • Barry Manilow
  • Charlie Byrd
  • Chic Corea
  • Herman Miller band
  • Bette Midler
  • Marian McPartland
  • Mike Cross
  • Glass Moon
  • Dennis Miller
  • Tumbleweed Band
  • Eddie Money
  • Pat Benatar
  • Nantucket
  • Super Grit Cowboy Band
  • Merle Haggard
  • Dave Bromberg
  • Dr. John
  • Larriat
  • Sam Milner
  • Arlo Guthrie
  • Carole Sloan
  • Muddy Waters
  • Commander Cody
  • Carol Sloan
  • Dizzy Gillespie
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Jimmy Buffet
  • Th’ Cigaretz
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • X-Teens
  • Busboys
  • Dead Kennedys
  • Bowie
  • Go Go’s
  • Sonic Youth
  • Leon Redbone
  • The Roche Sisters
  • The Back Doors
  • Baby & The Pacifiers
  • Arrogance
  • Control Group
  • Wet Willie
  • Delbert McClinton
  • The Stimulators
  • Oliver
  • Steve Earle
  • Rootboy Slim
  • Bad Brains
  • Fabulous Thunderbirds
  • Joan Jett
  • Hard Times Jazz Band
  • Dixie Dregs
  • The Snap
  • Tim Weisberg
  • Oingo Boingo
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • The Flys
  • 999
  • Crush
  • Harley Flanagan
  • The Bad Checks
  • Butchwax
  • Slow Children
  • Commander Cody
  • Jerry Jeff Walker
  • John Prine
  • Lester Flatt
  • Head East
  • Elvin Bishop
  • Grinderswitch
  • Black Flag
  • Circle Jerks
  • Pylon
  • Driving and Crying
  • Marian McPartland
  • Charlie Byrd
  • Maynard Ferguson
  • Duke Ellington
  • Jimmy Buffett
  • Mose Allison
  • Pressure Boys
  • Peter Ingram
  • Lily Tomlin
  • Teddy Wilson
  • The Four Freshman
  • Woody Herman
  • George Shearing
  • Lionel Hampton
  • Taj Mahal
  • Garland Jefferies
  • Driver
  • Rolly Gray & Sunfire
  • Chicken Wire Gang
  • 3PM
  • Morse Code
  • The Pedestrians
  • Jeff Lorber Fusion
  • Sea Level
  • Gold
  • Substitute
  • EMP
  • Warren Zevon
  • Hog Bear
  • Don McLean
  • Papa John Creach
  • Thelonious Monk
  • Plimsouls
  • Terra Nova
  • Elmer Gibson
  • Arhooly R & B
  • Mose Allison
  • Amazing Rhythm Aces
  • Clover (Huey Lewis)
  • Sutters Gold Streak Band
  • Bill Lyerly Band
  • J.J. Cale
  • The Gregg Allman Band
  • Singletree
  • Heartwood
  • Jesse Winchester
  • Steve Young
  • The Nighthawks
  • Juice Newton
  • Louisianna’s LaRoux
  • Lariat Sam
  • Pat Benetar
  • Skeet Kelly
  • Tom Waits
  • Pegasus
  • Jean Luc Ponty
  • The Bluegrass Experience
  • Frog Level
  • Subliminal Surge
  • Skatin
  • Little Feat
Slice of the 1970's captured by Malcolm Riviera, overlaying the same spot as it appears today.
Slice of the 1970’s captured by Malcolm Riviera, overlaying the same spot as it appears today.

My previous article on the Raleigh Underground generated hundreds of comments, but judging from the popularity of this subject, I’m sure there are many more stories to be shared. I’d love to hear from some of you who remember the Raleigh Underground or the Village Subway, or who have pictures from back in the day, so please keep commenting and sending in your pictures! Who knows, if this article is as popular as the first one, I may do a reboot part 3 on the Underground!

  • heather

    Heather Leah

  • I sincerely believe that through the power of storytelling, I can make history and social issues become more than a set of statistics. My expertise is in community leadership, non-profit work, event coordinating, networking, and storytelling. All my articles.

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