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The Golden Spur, Russell House USC: 1984   35 comments

Posted at 6:44 pm in Uncategorized

The Golden Spur was USC's on-campus, University sanctioned (and run) bar. That sounds odd now, but before 1984, there was a quaint notion that you should punish people for public drunkenness or drunk driving, not forbid them access to the means beforehand.

Anyway, the Spur was on the second floor of the Russell House at the top of the stairs that ran from the row of phonebooths on the ground-floor sidewalk all the way to the third floor if I recall correctly. I think the stairwell area was semi-segregated from the upstairs fast-food area by swinging doors and that there was some sort of trail-mix kiosk across the space from the Spur.

I wasn't a drinker, so I only went one time to the Spur that I can recall. They often had lounge acts in there, and I went to see some young female blues singer. The only thing I can recall now is that she sang Bessie Smith's "Gimme a Pig Foot" -- the first time I had heard that song.

In 1984, the federal government (which acknowledged that it had no right to raise or lower a state's drinking age on its own) passed a law saying that highway funds would be withheld from states which did not raise their drinking age to 21. South Carolina gave in to this bit of extortion, and suddenly the majority of college students were too young to drink. The Spur closed as a bar during this period. I believe various things were done with the space, but I don't recall any permanent re-purposing by the time I left grad school.

When I went to check on it recently, I found that the whole upstairs food-area of Russell House had been completely revamped. Gone was the collection of ARA burger & pizza windows and now national brands seem to provide all the upstairs food. The space has been completely remodeled as well, and the old seperate Golden Spur area has been torn out and is copmpletely gone except that a new "private" meeting-room/dining-room occupies the area I'm pretty sure it once did.

The name lives on though. I found that in Carolina Underground the dim and depressing failed retail mall that is in the basement of the Russell House, a new Golden Spur has been set up, as a game room where you can "Wii for Free":

Written by ted on October 8th, 2008

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35 Responses to 'The Golden Spur, Russell House USC: 1984'

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  1. man, i had me some fun times at the spur and the ballroom. much of the time is forgotten, however. i started at usc in '81, and there were tons of bands and movies to see.

    having lived in columbia since '81, i really enjoy this site. thanks for providing it.

    marc cardwell

    8 Oct 08 at 6:51 pm

  2. Yep. "The Police" came to the Russell House ballroom. I couldn't afford a ticket, but they were there. I did see George Thoroughgood & The Destroyers when he played the ballroom, and The Duke Ellington Orchestra (conducted by his son by then, but still with many of the old guys).

    You're welcome!


    8 Oct 08 at 6:57 pm

  3. I saw Leon Redbone (a regular on SNL in the 70s) there and the Grass Roots. Jerry Garcia played there with his solo band too. I may be wrong but I think REM played there in their early days.

    I remember going there often on Friday afternoons and literally staying there for hours with my friends. One of the biggest jokes on campus was about the spur glasses being indestructable. They were also a favorite "souviener" of many students.


    9 Oct 08 at 12:27 pm

  4. Forgot to add, the Police played at the spur for $1000. They used to display their contract in the CPU office. Other bands that played there included Steppenwolf and Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band with the Rootettes, the latter probably holding the record for the longest name of any band to play there.


    9 Oct 08 at 12:28 pm

  5. I heard Keg of Nails on Rosewood closed. Any truth to this?


    9 Oct 08 at 5:37 pm

  6. Hmm. Well, their phone has been "temporarily disconnected" -- I'll have to go have a look.


    9 Oct 08 at 5:41 pm

  7. For a while in the interim, the Golden Spur space was available for student orgs to rent for various events. It maintained it's tacky decor and split-level floor design, as well as, the best I can remember, a stage with very gaudy lighting. We held the first BGLA semi-formal dance there ca 2001. It was remodeled in 2004, right before I graduated.


    10 Oct 08 at 2:35 pm

  8. The Golden Spur - a young Steve Martin played there...THe Ramones also did the Russell House Balroom...A friend and I spent all day with Johnny Ramone. He was the nicest "star" I've ever met. Marky Ramone basically stayed in a locked room with 2 girls, Joey & Dee Dee were fun and very interested in gong through the music library at WUSC-FM , pucking out their faves and we'd play the Ramones' requests on the air. I remember Joey had written a song on the Holly & the Italians album.
    Anyway pitchers of beer in my day at the Golden Spur were $1. Friends a I would catch a good late afternoon buzz and play pinball and chinese checkers.

    Captain Dave

    20 May 09 at 9:04 am

  9. When I was there, professors were known to hold their Friday afternoon classes there - and pay for all the beer. Mr friends and I entered a "broom guitar" contest there one night while highly intoxicated - placed 3rd, and the Spur paid our tab!


    30 Oct 09 at 8:13 pm

  10. To show how times have changed, when I was a freshman at USC (1980) I had a professor that took the whole class to the spur and bought us pitchers of beer. (Now thats a great teacher.)


    6 Jan 10 at 12:12 pm

  11. Al Franken and Tom Davis did a show in the Ballroom and re-did many of their skits from SNL. A friend of my who was their chaparone told me that Davis was nice but Franken was a prick.


    6 Jan 10 at 12:18 pm

  12. Jane, you ignorant slut.
    That Franken and Davis show on campus was one of the funniest I have ever seen. I don't find Al Franken at all funny any more.


    7 Jan 10 at 6:14 am

  13. The Spur closed the spring before I got to USC. I remember only that the area went unused during my tenure at USC. I went in there once - surreptitiously - with a couple of friends just to see what was in there; there was an old sign with stick-on plastic lettering which seemed to be the message board for those of us who managed to make our way in there. Other than that - it was just dark, dusty and dismal.


    28 Jan 10 at 11:38 am

  14. The Spur....saw Leon Redbone, the Swimming Pool Q's, Glenn Phillips Band, the Vectors, the Killer Whales and 10,000 Maniacs there (1983-84). I thought the place was cheesy beyond cheesy, with the quarters on the bar encased in 400 coats of polyurethane. I remember the "air guitar" and "air band" competitions there. Anyone remember "the hand" in the little courtyard behind the Russel House?

    Scott Johnson

    29 Aug 10 at 10:23 pm

  15. I am one of those lucky enough - or unlucky enough - to be of the age to remember when you could drink at 18, and boy, drink we did at the Golden Spur. I would like to relate some fabulous anecdote or mention a band that played there, but for me it is pretty much a whirled blur. The only two things that stick with me aside from being able to drink beer in a college sponsored bar at 18 years of age, are the New York City style soft pretzels and the time I looked up from a urinal in a haze to find the blind blues harmonica legend Sonny Terry to my right doing what I was doing. He was at the Spur playing with his musical partner Browny McGhee, both blues legends. What can you say to a blues legend in a case like that? Well, for one thing, YOU DON'T SHAKE HANDS! That wouldn't work in this case even if you did shake hands at the urinal, because HE WAS BLIND! All I could think of to say that wasn't too obvious was, "Dig your harp man." He thanked me, and I walked off after briefly rinsing my hands in the sink next to where his bodyguard/assistant was standing. If the bodyguard hadn't been standing there watching me the whole time, I probably would have walked out without the sink side-trip. YIKES! You know it's true.

    Michael Taylor

    29 Aug 10 at 11:23 pm

  16. I was at USC from 76 to 79 and LOVED The Golden Spur. The only two bands I REMEMBER seeing there are The Marshall Tucker Band and Mother's Finest. I'm sure we saw plenty more but those days are pretty fuzzy in my brain. LOL.

    Don Garman

    16 Oct 10 at 8:39 am

  17. Those were some good concerts. Another band that played on the patio was the Goose Creek Symphony.

    Terry Edwards

    18 Oct 10 at 3:58 pm

  18. Saw Brownsville Station there in the very early 70s . I remember the singer made some comment about american indians and there happened to be an indian girl in the crowd . She stood up and railed him . It was like letting the air out of a baloon . he was highly embarresed


    10 Jun 11 at 9:49 am

  19. I was there from 78-80. Was fortunate to see Steve Martin and George Thorogood w/ The Destroyers. Both $5 cover and nickel beer. Cheap Trick also played the Cola Coliseum and the radio station was begging people to call in and get free tix. We called from the dorm and they asked how many you need ? We told the 12, they said we can give you 20 if you can find more friends. One of the best shows I ever saw.


    12 Jun 11 at 9:18 pm

  20. Rusty, Cheap Trick rarely disappoints! Great story!


    13 Jun 11 at 9:19 am

  21. Didn't Andy Kaufmann play their back in the 70's?


    13 Jun 11 at 6:37 pm

  22. Those were the days... (1982) I met a witch in the Spur one night who provided us with a little magic as we prepared to see the Back Doors concert in the Russell House ballroom...


    23 Jan 12 at 10:43 pm

  23. and I was a bartender there...1977 and brother later joined me in 78...had a blast


    7 Mar 12 at 1:58 pm

  24. Ha! Was there in '83 and of course '84 when it closed. As one of the above posts mentioned, I remember Leon Redbone and also the Swimming Pool Q's. The Spur was our gathering spot before heading to 5 Points (Vista didn't exist back then). Nice cheap pitchers and they even had MTV. I saw several bands there, just can't recall...again, nice cheap pitchers!


    28 Aug 12 at 1:20 pm

  25. If you want to see the Q's in action, click here..


    28 Aug 12 at 1:49 pm

  26. I worked at the Golden Spur from 1980-1983. Lots of good times there. I've been trying to find some of my former co-workers to say hi. Yes, The Swimming Pool Qs. Glenn Phillips, the Killer Whales and the concerns in the Russell House ballroom. It's strange how different college is now.

    Bruce Ritchie

    4 Nov 12 at 7:41 pm

  27. Today i reflect on the passing of the brilliantly talented music promoter/enthusiast Art Boerke and our time at The Golden Spur Lounge. Thank you Art. You were instrumental in the developement and support of the Columbia music scene in its day. The previous posts can be verified through the numerous posters and flyers i saved during my time at The Spur. REM 10/04/83 $6 students $8 public, The Police in the Ballroom, Michael Jackson :Thriller: debut on the widescreen, Koko Taylor, Nighthawks and more. Great memories!

  28. I was at USC from 76 to 80. I went to the GS a few times. I think I saw the Zassoff Boys there with a group of friends. They were a bluegrass band with a rock and roll side, and it was a wild crowd. I remember a girl dancing on the table we were at. I don't remember how I got home.

    You never know what you have until it is gone. Some of the yearbooks from that time have photos of the place.


    21 Mar 13 at 9:11 pm

  29. Saw The Police at Russell House.Ears rang for three days.


    8 May 14 at 8:21 am

  30. I have "the hand" statue. The bronze statue that was in the corner between a brick wall and a rail wall. Stole it late 1988 or early 89. We used to get high and do all kinds of weird shit in front of that thing. I was at USC from 1984-89. When I was making what I was sure to be my last visit to what we called the "acid sculpture," my friends and I found the statue pulled away from its corner, needing only a the pull of three 20 year olds and it was disconnected. The rail was stuck in the hand and the back of the statue was covered in bricks. It had to have weighed 300 pounds. So we carried it to my Blazer, somehow got it in the back even with the 8 foot railing still clung to the hand. The story goes on and on, but anyway, I've got what used to be the coolest statue from USC campus from that era. If anyone knows what i'm talking about, chime in and i'll give more info.


    23 Jun 15 at 1:04 am

  31. Yep, I remember the hand statue. Very random.

    Midnight Rambler

    23 Jun 15 at 10:24 am

  32. Cool info... thanks for the entry, Ted!

    I was at USC from '82-'86. Glad I had a chance to enjoy the Spur before it shut down. Though I didn't go as frequently as a lot of folks, but I did go a number of times.

    I remember the Leon Redbone show that's been mentioned a few times. I was station mgr at WUSC so I was given the choicest table... right in front of Leon. It was like personal performance. Very cool.

    I also remember seeing singing comedian Tim Cavanaugh there (got a lot of airplay on Dr. Demento and Bob & Tom). He gave out cans of SPAM as "prizes" to some audience members and autographed mine after the show. I probably still have it somewhere.

    The Spur was also the location for a number of WUSC fundraisers and I think we even had our staff holiday party in there one year.

    It was a relatively small, intimate venue so it's surprising to think they got entire bands in there. I suspect anyone who was there regularly is probably suffering hearing loss now.

    I also remember seeing Art Clokey -- the creator of Gumby & Pokey -- do a presentation in the RH ballroom, where he showed original claymation shorts and behind-the-scenes footage of how they did it. At the end of the program he gave away a few autographed Gumbys and Pokeys.

    Around that same time, the RH theater was showing "Polyester" and handing out scratch & sniff odorama cards (10 different scents) to use when prompted during the movie. But I digress.


    23 Sep 15 at 12:53 pm

  33. Was at USC in mid 70's and while leaning on the bar in the GS I looked to my left and there was a dude with long black hair and shades standing right beside me. It was John Kay....lead singer for Steppenwolf. Had a concert at Coliseum. Told him I liked the segue between Magic Carpet Ride and Hey Lawdy Momma on the live album and the conversation went from there. Big yine for a college kid. DP


    2 Oct 15 at 11:05 pm

  34. That was a great concert, DP. Steppenwolf and Gypsy. I passed on the school prom to see/hear loud rock. Good times.

    Joe Shlabotnik

    3 Oct 15 at 5:49 am

  35. I've lived in Columbia all my life, taken classes at USC, been up one end of Green Street and down the other, eaten at the Capstone House, pretty much been all over the campus of USC. Even walked the under ground electrical tunnels between buildings on Green Street, but have never been in the Russell House.
    One interesting note, In 1974 when I was just 17 years old,
    a song called 'The Streak' by Ray Stevens was popular.
    Students at USC were going to streak one night on Greene in front of the Russell house. Word spread quickly around Columbia.
    My girlfriend and I went to check it out.
    There were THOUSANDS of people on Green in front of the Russell house that night. Students were hanging out of the windows of the student housing building across from the Russell house. So many people we were standing shoulder to shoulder.

    After several hours of waiting it happened, over 100 people streaked down the middle of Green street. Most were wearing some kind of mask or another to keep from being identified but THATS ALL they were wearing. A path opened up just enough for the Streakers to pass, they the went right down the middle of Greene Street and the circled back and ran through the Russell House. Everyone was cheering, drunk and having a great time.
    Damn the 70's were fun.
    Only problem I had was it was roughly a mix of 70% dudes and 30% chicks. Rather see more chicks than swinging D!(ks.
    Hope not to offend anyone with my last insinuation in this great land of the offended.


    3 Oct 15 at 4:32 pm

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