Music dies at renowned Crocodile
The Crocodile Cafe, a legendary Seattle rock club where many local up-and-comers played before launching into the national spotlight, has...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Crocodile Cafe, a legendary Seattle rock club where many local up-and-comers played before launching into the national spotlight, has closed its doors, said Eli Anderson, the club's booking agent.
The Belltown venue, at Second Avenue and Blanchard Street, shut down abruptly this weekend after more than 15 years — apparently leaving behind a legacy that stretched from Nirvana to Death Cab for Cutie.
One member of Death Cab, guitarist/producer Chris Walla, reacted to the news Tuesday.
"It's a little bit of a punch in the gut," Walla said via e-mail. "I grew up at the Crocodile, in a way. If its plot ends up as yet another beautifully designed condominium, there's one less place for those city dwellers to go on a Friday night, or eat on a Saturday morning. The Showbox is next... Just think of the view the western-exposure units in that condo will have.
"Our first Seattle show was at the Crocodile, on January 23, 1998."
Anderson, the booking agent, said he received the news in a voice mail from owner Stephanie Dorgan on Sunday.
"She said 'I have to close the Crocodile immediately,' " Anderson said Monday, adding that the locks had been changed. Anderson and other Croc staffers were permitted to go to the club Monday afternoon to pick up personal belongings, he said.
Chairs were up on the tables and countertops at the locked club, though the club is normally dark on Mondays. Efforts to confirm the closing with Dorgan were fruitless; calls to her at the club were not returned.
"Everybody that got fired [Sunday] got together and had drinks," Anderson said. One of his former co-workers heard the club could reopen under new ownership. "But from what I was told, it sounded permanent."
Bands set to perform later this month at the Croc were already rescheduling shows: Tullycraft's holiday concert at the Croc scheduled for Thursday will now be at El Corazon; and Square Peg Concerts announced that shows from January to May 2008 at the Croc had moved to other venues.
The news came as a shock to many in Seattle's rock music circle.
"I think it's a blow to the scene," said David Meinert, a local promoter and publicist, "part of the side effect of the mayor's downtown development plan, which seems to have no room for live music in it. ... Keeping a venue open as long as the Croc has been, through all the changes the music scene has been through, is a very difficult job. I feel for any club owner trying to make it in Seattle."
Local musician Chris Martin, a guitarist in local rock band Kinski, called the Crocodile Cafe "the most exciting club to play in town."
"There was something about walking out on that stage that we always found really exhilarating," he said. His band had its record-release shows at the club, he said, adding the sound in the room was "always top notch."
John Richards, a DJ for KEXP who met his wife at the club, said he was devastated by the news.
"It's one of the landmarks of music in this city ... that place is Seattle music," Richards said.
Rumors that the Crocodile was up for sale have been making the rounds in recent months, and heated up in early December, when booking person Pete Greenberg quit the club. But Anderson, the remaining booking person at the club, had recently told The Times: "The Crocodile is not closing. The Crocodile is not for sale. All rumors. Hearsay."
He said the club's restaurant had closed for renovations and "to figure out how to make it profitable."
The Crocodile Cafe was opened in 1991 by attorney-turned-businesswoman Dorgan and quickly became a local music-scene fixture.
It opened that spring, just in time to ride the grunge wave. But it had a hearty life after the demise of grunge, and the Crocodile helped launch the likes of Modest Mouse and Death Cab.
Nirvana, Sunny Day Real Estate, Band of Horses and just about every other Seattle band that has gone on to national prominence played the Crocodile. It was also a prime venue for touring acts, landing the likes of the Strokes, Sparklehorse, Badly Drawn Boy and Cheap Trick.
The club's last show was Saturday — solo efforts from David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) and Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes).
Pecknold reacted via e-mail on Monday: "I'm pretty shocked ... I knew things were weird there with paychecks bouncing and some booking shuffles, but I had no idea this would happen. As a kid growing up in and around Seattle, I thought the Crocodile was the coolest place in the entire world and I freaked out every time I got a chance to go there. It's by far my favorite place to play in town."
But another local singer, Dita Vox of Thee Emergency, said the end of the Croc was just part of a natural cycle.
"It's definitely sad," she wrote in an e-mail. "But the truth is ... they haven't been able bring in the quality acts for the better part of two years ... Since Neumo's opened [on Capitol Hill], most of the national acts that come through have been opting for that venue because it has nearly twice the capacity of the Croc, but still isn't as daunting as the Showbox."
The next scheduled show was Old Man Winter today, and the Crocodile's calendar shows bookings through April.
Years ago, Dorgan had a falling out with her original two partners.
According to a Seattle Times story earlier this year, partners Jerold Everard and Erickson Shirley sued her in August 1992, accusing her of failing to maintain proper accounting records.
In September 1992, Dorgan's attorney informed the court that a settlement had been reached. He then obtained an order to seal the case documents, arguing in court papers that Dorgan and her then-husband were attorneys and that the allegations "present risks of substantial negative effects to their personal and professional reputations."
The case was later unsealed at the request of The Seattle Times.
Dorgan later married Peter Buck, the R.E.M. guitarist, who became a partner in the Crocodile, and often played there with his other band, the Minus 5. Dorgan and Buck divorced last year.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Christina Siderius and Marian Liu contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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