Hundreds gathered to bid farewell to the site of an iconic venue that played a significant role in the growth of the industrial and goth scene – as well as the LGBTQIA+ community – in Raleigh.
The little brick building at 2 S. West Street in downtown may not look like much on the outside — but its basement holds decades of memories for those who attended The Fallout Shelter or FLEX. Soon, that building will be gone.
As part of the farewell event, Steve Halberstadt, the DJ who originally put together the industrial dance nights the venue became known for, worked to bring The Fallout Shelter back to life in its original location for one final night. More than three decades since its doors closed, more than 250 people lined up to dance to those youthful memories once again.
Photos show guests dressed in fishnets and leather, posing in front of the iconic Fallout Shelter sign.
“It blows my mind that three decades later people still want to gather and remember,” Halberstadt said. “It felt like stepping back in time.”
Remembering Raleigh’s industrial and Goth scene
Many who attended industrial nights at Legends may not realize the origins can be traced back to The Fallout Shelter.
The Fallout Shelter opened its doors in 1985, but it would be a few years before Halberstadt brought his famous dance nights there.
He was throwing industrial goth dance parties in the clubhouse of his apartment complex.
“I would put up a bunch of flyers and invite people to come dance to music. I wasn’t hearing anywhere else,” he said.
He expected maybe 20 people to show up – and was floored when more than 120 guests arrived. One of the guests was a person from WKNZ, who happened to be familiar with The Fallout Shelter. Seeing an opportunity for collaboration, Halberstadt was invited to spin industrial music on Monday nights at The Fallout Shelter.
“At the time, there weren’t any other clubs playing Industrial music. It was new,” Halberstadt said. “It spoke to the younger crowd that we tended to pull – college-aged.”
He said the music spoke to the angst of current political situations of the era, and provided a way to “dance away your anger.”
‘Everyone felt safe: ‘A place for people who felt like misfits’
Even in 1989, Halberstadt described the crowd was also super inclusive and hugely diverse.
“There could be preps, or people dressed in their best goth outfits. Punks, LGBTQIA+, old people and young. Everyone felt safe there,” he said.
That, perhaps, is why even three decades later people hold such fondness for The Fallout Shelter.
“You could be a little bit of a misfit – because you’re surrounded by other people, who may not be the same kind of misfit you are, but they are a misfit in their own way,” he said.
Because of the extreme spirit of welcoming and openness, Halberstadt recalls The Fallout Shelter drawing a very diverse crowd.
Because there was no internet, this kind of music and community was spread by word-of-mouth.
“You had to seek out something like this – and when you found it, it was like a gold mine you had found,” he said.
Around 1992, The Fallout Shelter peaked in its numbers. Grunge music became the new popular scene, and there weren’t as many new bands coming out that fit into the industrial genre.
“That’s when the owner decided there was time for change,” Halberstadt said. “And after five years of having immense success with the DJ nights, I was ready for a break, too.”
That’s when Legends took over the torch, picking up industrial and goth nights.
“On that final night, someone even drew a little map showing people how to get to Legends, in case they wanted to keep dancing to industrial music,” he said.
FLEX nightclub provides safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community
A few years later, FLEX took over the basement area and began providing a gathering space for Raleigh’s LGBTQIA+ community.
Just as The Fallout Shelter’s industrial nights moved to Legends, FLEX is also shifting some of its programming to Legends, at least temporarily.
According to FLEX’s website, it plans to reopen in a new space this autumn and will provide updates on the location.
In the meantime, FLEX also honored the memories of its time in the soon-to-be-demolished site by hosting a ‘Last Night in the Basement’ party.
Thirty years later, The Fallout Shelter opens one last time
Three decades later, The Fallout Shelter’s final night proved its spirit hadn’t changed much.
“Since it’s a basement, it’s stayed mostly the same. It’s underground,” Halberstadt said. “Which is why it was so awesome to have a final reunion party in that space.”
This was the sixth reunion party he’s thrown over the decades – but he said it was magical to have the final reunion in the same space as where they started.
Even though life has changed in the past 30 years, he says it felt incredible to see so many familiar faces.
“People who went to The Fallout Shelter are now in their 40s and 50s. We have careers and kids. Going out on a Monday night isn’t something we do as much anymore,” he said. “But so many people made arrangements and came out – and it warms my heart there’s been such an impact.”
Halberstadt says the magic of the old days were resurrected on the dance floor, which was packed for more than five hours.
“The reviews of people reminiscing have been glowing – and I’m just so proud I was able to make available the atmosphere, but it’s the patrons who always made the magic and they did it again,” he said.
In memory of those days, Halberstadt has re-created the original Fallout Shelter T-shirts. He had personally created 100, but they sold out that night. House of Swank agreed to create a second run of the shirts, but they will only be available through Aug. 3.