August 2007

Rock On at Riders Lounge

Author: Craig Hysell

On the corner of Palmetto Bay Road and Target Road, across from the Publix shopping plaza on the south end of Hilton Head, sits a behemoth of a building that more than likely passes unnoticed during the day. It sits there, napping in the shade of palm trees and oak comfortably, like one of those hammock-riding old-timers who has lived so vibrantly that he isn’t really impressed with much anymore—just spends his afternoons resting and watching. Waiting.

Riders Lounge, formerly a movie theatre, opened in April 2003. Using the building’s reputation as a live music venue which previous establishments at the location had garnered, owners TJ Niehaus and Joel Risbara decided to turn it up to eleven. They built a bar where the stage used to be and a stage where the bar used to be. The building was back to its theatre feel—the show would happen along the back wall of the building, and the crowd would stand before it. Not just ready to rock, but needing to rock.

As Riders grew, so did its reputation for fun, enthusiasm and borderline insanity. The first Halloween party consisted of grown men/employees in diapers wielding gas-powered chainsaws behind the bar and the untimely demise of one television set. There were the bikini beach bashes, the lingerie parties and the toga gatherings. These were the times when being 21 or over was the combination, laughing with one another was the key and enjoying life made the doors swing wide open.

Local and national bands poured across the stage. The walls rocked with the likes of Hot Action Cop, 2 Live Crew and even a Paranoid Social Club video shoot for the song, “We All Got Wasted”. The Martin Lesch Band, Silicone Sister, The Gnomes, Trainwrykk, The Pop Tart Monkeys, The Movement, Rosco, Angie Aparo… the list of acts that pass through the door and put on great shows grows each year. Of course, as with most of life’s successes, that one guaranteed inevitability eventually follows along and picks up a guitar: change.

Amid all the raised glasses and rockin’ salutes, Riders was growing, evolving from sophomoric shenanigans to a business intent on sticking around. Spreadsheets and accountants replaced chainsaws and pimp and ho parties. Sometimes people who wanted to be mean rather than laugh had to be asked to leave. The bottom line no longer became which bartender could drink his beer the fastest, but who could make the most drinks in the shortest amount of time. The smiles were still there, the jokes just happened to be different.

As Riders Lounge became a legitimate and established business on Hilton Head Island, Joel Risbara decided that he had taken his dream as far as he wished to go and wanted to move on to the next chapter of his life. In the fall of 2006 Michael Iaquinta, a savvy local businessman with an easy smile and the wherewithall to seize the opportunities before him, decided to invest in Risbara’s portion of the business. Riders evolved again.

Under Neihaus’ and Iaquinta’s partnership Riders has expanded its base of operations throughout 2007. They have built a partially-covered deck on the side of Riders that is more aptly described as an entire new building than simply a deck, complete with two full-service bars, plasma TVs, satellite radio, shaded and un-shaded seating and the base of operations for a cozy little happy hour starting at 5 p.m. The deck’s size, design and character have provided much fanfare and enjoyment to revelers long into those sweet and sultry South Carolina evenings. A newly renovated kitchen now serves food from 5-8 p.m and 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., and bands still play cover-free shows every night inside.

As Riders Lounge continues to grow and change, there are somethings about it which remain the same. Ninety-nine percent of the customers come ready to laugh, rock out and enjoy life with one another. The bands come ready to bring the noise and sometimes, just sometimes, one of the employees might be running around shirtless, chugging a beer and wearing a diaper. After all, if one is ever going to have any stability in life, one can’t betray his roots.

If you’re going to spend your days lounging in the shade waiting for something, it might as well be waiting to have really good time. Call 842-7433 for details.

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