Off Broadway — Enjoy The St. Louis Music Scene Like a Local

Jul 2, 2024 | Stories

By Kallie Cox

Off Broadway has been a staple within the St. Louis music scene since the mid-1980s. Local and regional musicians have cut their teeth playing its stage and some have even gotten married at the venue.

The small brick building at 3509 Lemp Ave doesn’t have much — there’s a stage in a large concert room, a small area with a bar, and an outdoor patio — but it offers a more intimate way to enjoy music and support local artists than many of the city’s larger venues.

Steve Pohlman, who grew up in St, Louis, and his wife Kathryn Kellison bought the venue in 2006 filling the void left by its previous owners, Sauce Magazine reported at the time. 

When they first bought the business, they had no idea what they were doing, Pohlman said in a recent interview. After leaving a career in corporate management Pohlman and his wife were eager for a change and up for the challenge. The couple had a rough few years as they learned the business, but the St. Louis music community rallied around them and encouraged other bands to play the room as well, he says.

Since then the couple has operated the business for nearly 20 years, managing to keep it alive through even the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down the venue for almost two years. 

Over the years Pohlman has witnessed countless talented musicians play and in some cases graduate from his music room. 

“Some of them are on their way up and you’ll see them once,” Pohlman says. “Mumford and Sons played here when they first came to America, sold the place out and everybody in the audience knew the words to every song.”

The Dixie Chicks (now known as The Chicks) also played the room, along with Turnpike Troubadours, and American Aquarium who had four people show up to their Off Broadway show and now have more than 200,000 monthly Spotify listeners.

The venue also sees its fair share of artists that aren’t necessarily popular but are influential, Pohlman says. This includes Uncle Tupelo, Gillian Welch, and Townes Van Zandt.

Many of these artists have since graduated and moved on from playing at Off Broadway, others are still looking for their big break, Pohlman says.

Beyond the music, Off Broadway offers a unique sense of community. Some even opt to get married at the venue. 

“It’s almost always people who are connected to the venue in some way. So either they were in a band that played here, or they came to shows here,” Pohlman says.

One couple is commemorated on a plaque near the stage that says: “From ‘Hello’ to ‘Yes’ to ‘I Do’ 01.03.11, 09.18.11, and 09.15.12 at Off Broadway. Michael & Tabitha 4-Ever.”

“That’s the thing that happens with venues this size more frequently. Because these are people who, they’re not passively receiving music,” Pohlman says. “They are people who are into music and they have eclectic tastes, and listen to a really wide variety of music. And this is where they have to go see those things.”

The venue has changed with the times. Where it once boasted 100 types of beer, it now has a much smaller selection. And, as more and more younger patrons have stopped drinking or prefer not to consume alcohol, Pohlman has adapted by stocking the bar with mocktails, non-alcoholic beer, and cannabis seltzers. 

More than the bar has evolved and now, concerts that may have once felt aggressive or exclusive to some, have found an inclusive community within Off Broadway’s walls. The venue used to host bands that mostly played Americana music and it rarely showcased metal or country bands. Now with a new community of concertgoers and a new talent buyer, they’ve become home to a variety of genres.

“The weird thing about metal is, we didn’t do much, originally for a couple of reasons, one we didn’t have the right kind of PA, and then we just never did well with it,” Pohlman says. “It was usually a lot of guys and girlfriends of the guys in the band were pretty much the only women who were here and it was sort of — not really aggro, but not really warm and outgoing and friendly — and now it’s completely different. It’s really trans and gay friendly, and there’s women at the show and everybody’s really cool.”

Bigger rooms don’t have the same sense of community as a venue the size of Off Broadway does. Here, people are more willing to mingle, meet people, and strike up conversations about music, Pohlman says.  

That environment keeps people coming back show after show.

Pohlman and Kellison have owned the venue for nearly 20 years now, and Pohlman has his sights set on retirement. 

While they don’t plan on letting go of the venue without a new owner and aren’t ready to let go just yet, Pohlman says he isn’t sure how long they will stay in the game. He says if they sell to anyone, it will likely be someone with a connection to the room who understands what Off Broadway does and values.

“That’s down the road,” Pohlman adds. 

Off Broadway is open show nights only and some of these upcoming shows include: Lamont Landers on July 3, Pallbearer on July 11, Katy Kirby August 2, and Ruby Waters on Oct. 13, among dozens of other artists, bands, and tribute bands.

More information, including how to purchase tickets, can be found here:

Kallie Cox is a former staff writer at the Riverfront Times. They began writing freelance content for the in June 2024.

Photo Credit: Craig Toney