Berkeley hotels

Uncertain future for the beloved Berkeley Cafe

RALEIGH, North Carolina — A rezoning request for just under an acre of land in downtown Raleigh has left the city council stuck between a rock and a hard place, and the beloved Berkeley Cafe in danger of being demolished.

What do you want to know

  • A plot of land directly across from Nash Square on West Martin Street is currently vacant except for a small plot in the corner, which happens to be the historic Berkeley Cafe
  • The rezoning request would double the height limit allowed for the land – from 20 stories to 40
  • The developers currently have no plans to preserve or incorporate the building the cafe currently rents

The Berkeley Cafe has been a downtown Raleigh staple for more than 40 years, and the building it’s in has been around for even longer – housing various restaurants for 100 years. But a request for rezoning by a developer has jeopardized the future of the café in its current space.

Lisa Lewis takes an order over the phone at the Berkeley Cafe. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

“It’s the new people who are going to make the purchase who can say whether we’re staying or going, and they’ve already said, we want you out,” said Lisa Lewis, one of the owners and bartender. . “I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”

Lewis has seen firsthand the impact the Berkeley Cafe has had on the community and all who have passed through its doors. The unassuming brick building has been Raleigh’s home for live music since the 1980s, and its staff and patrons can’t imagine saying goodbye now.

“We only have office buildings, condos and hotels under construction, and I know there is a need for hotels, but there is a need for things for the citizens of this city,” said Lewis said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the city council opted to table the rezoning application, pushing back the vote for another two weeks – during which time they asked for discussions to take place between the current owners, developers and the Berkleys on a way to extend their current lease. and preserve the building.

“Our hands are tied, we can’t do anything, it’s just sad,” Lewis said. “We have two weeks to breathe and then we’ll go to the next town council meeting and see what happens there.”

One of Berkeley’s most popular lunch items, their Reuben sandwich. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

Raleigh’s Historic Development Commission recommended approval of the zoning application by a 7-2 vote, and the planning commission unanimously approved the plan, citing that more development in the area will reduce reliance. to vehicles and therefore carbon emissions – all in line with helping the city tackle climate change. This leaves it up to the city council to approve or deny the zoning request.

During the city council meeting, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin spoke of “memory of place” — the fact that Berkeley is a gathering place for everyone who has called Raleigh home for decades.

“We have so many people coming to visit us. They moved out of state, and if they come here, they’re still going to come here and reminisce,” Lewis said.

This nostalgia surrounding the café has led to the impossible question: is it the attachment to the restaurant or the building in which it resides? Lewis, however, said you can’t have one without the other and all of this would be nothing without their customers.

“We thank them, and we love them, we thank them for all the support they’ve given us now, and all the support they’ve given the Berkeley over the years,” Lewis said. “We’re still going to swing, we don’t have much wiggle room but we’ll definitely make our voices heard.”

As of now, the Berkeley still have to vacate that space by the end of November, but they said that even if they were forced to move, they would not close for good.

“We will never replace this building, but we will find another place to go and take the community with us,” Lewis said.