Chaye Alexander knew from the start that she needed a new space. Chayz Lounge, the smooth-leaning jazz and R&B joint she opened in June 2017 in the back of the Vista restaurant Nonnah’s, is packed pretty much every Friday and Saturday night. The success came in spite of a space she says gets mighty crowded when it hits its max capacity of 80 onlookers.
“On a packed night, which is every Friday and Saturday night, it’s a challenge,” she explains. “It’s a challenge for the wait staff to navigate through the room to serve people. It’s a challenge for people to really sit comfortably.”
She looked all around downtown Columbia for somewhere that was both suitable and affordable. But after nearly a year and a half, nothing had emerged.
“We just didn’t have any luck. Real estate in downtown Columbia is expensive,” she says. “And one day, that little voice just said to me, ‘Hey, go check out West Columbia, just go right across the bridge and see what you can find.’ And about two blocks in from the new Brookland development, about two and a half blocks in, I happened upon a space that was for rent by owner.”
Chayz Lounge will transition into that new spot at 607 Meeting St. sometime in the next few weeks — Alexander hopes to be in by the end of April, but promises it’ll be no later than the second week of May.
The new location is about twice as big as her current Nonnah’s nook, but much of that will be taken up by the kitchen and office. The new performance space won’t seat many more people, but Alexander says it’ll do so more comfortably.
“This space, it’s actually 84, plus a small dance floor,” she tells Free Times. “I’ve been looking to incorporate a little bit of dancing. That’s just what people want to do. If the music moves you, then by all means, get up and dance. Come have a good time. It’s not a nightclub. By any means. But, if the band is playing your favorite song and you want to slow dance or just shake a leg, whatever, this will afford us the opportunity to create that little bit of real estate for them to do that.”
Changing the vibe, she assures, is not her intention.
“I still like the intimate feel,” she says, “the up close and personal feel.”
Alexander couldn’t afford a full kitchen, so the new location will focus on small bites along the lines of tapas and signature cocktails. But the West Columbia spot is an upgrade in two other crucial aspects.
“We have our own parking lot,” Alexander laughs. “As much as the Vista’s great — it’s vibrant, it’s the happening area — but because of that, parking is limited. My clientele, they range anywhere from 25 to 85. At any point, you’ll see a lovely lady coming in with her walker to sit and tap her feet to some good music. Parking is important to them. The first question is, ‘Do you have parking?’”
“Another part of the issue we had with where we were was people finding us,” she adds. “I called us ‘Columbia’s hidden gem’ because it was a hard place to find. With no signage, I constantly tell people, ‘Come to Nonnah’s and you’ll find us.’ But now, you can’t drive down Meeting Street without seeing the big, lighted sign that says, ‘Chayz Lounge.’ It’s there. It’s up. That put a smile on my face.”