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Originally published Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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King Cat Theater finds a new life

King Cat Theater is open again, at 2130 Sixth Ave. in Seattle, with business meetings, concerts, film festivals — as well as showing of Indian films like "Sarkar Raj," and live music with XIL Records.

Seattle Times staff reporter

If you go

King Cat Theater

2130 Sixth Ave., Seattle (206-448-2829 or www.kingcattheater.com). Entertainment highlights:

Every Thursday: Rock fusion, featuring blues, jam, reggae, folk, acoustic, 8 p.m.

Every last Thursday of the month: Music networking meeting, 6 p.m.

Third Friday of each month: XIL Records summer-concert series, 7 p.m. Friday, July 18 and Aug. 15

'Round these parts lately, arts venues have been dying, closing or moving. Crocodile Cafe, Capitol Hill Arts Center and the Odd Fellows Hall were all victims.

So, it's nice when one is resurrected.

The King Cat Theater is an anomaly — back on its feet as a place for arts and entertainment, after the last five years or so of intermittent activities.

The theater, in downtown Seattle at 2130 Sixth Ave., has been home to a hodgepodge of activities. Opened in 1974 as a movie house, its early cinema credits included "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," shown in 35mm. For a while in the '80s, the King Cat closed, but as a concert venue later, the stage held Seattle grunge stars like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. And after years of concerts, it became a site for church events.

Now, the old theater is revived — but the King Cat in 2008 is encompassing a lot of its past variety, too. As an all-purpose venue, it's fit for business meetings, concerts, film festivals and also available for rent.

"I want it to be a place to gather for all sorts of entertainment for Seattle," said new owner Arif Amaani. "Everybody will have something to see."

To give the almost 18,000-square-foot space a modern face-lift, Amaani says he spent around $130,000 in upgrades, decorations and cosmetic changes. The old concessions area in front of the theater — with its cheesy faded faux art-deco style — has been updated to a glitzy nightclub lounge. The new bar is surrounded with funky teal lights and white leather chairs.

And true to his word, Amaani next month will present variety: The upcoming lineup includes local rock bands and a showing of the Indian film thriller "Sarkar Raj" featuring Bollywood queen Aishwarya Rai.

Amaani is the only cinema owner showing Bollywood films in Washington and Oregon. It's an informal thing: He's been working in the Indian cinema business for the past 14 years and has built relationships with the Indian producers and distributors, and that gives him access to the lavish, musical Bollywood movies. In his past, 35-year-old Amaani helped popularize Naz Cinema — an Indian movie theater in the Bay Area — and for the past seven years, he's run Kirkland's Totem Lake Cinema, which shows primarily Indian films.

But for King Cat, he wanted to expand from Indian-only entertainment.

"I wanted to grow, and also go toward the mainstream," said Amaani. "It looked like a perfect location and venue. It's not huge and not small. It's actually perfect for me."

His brother, Sohel Azhar, calls King Cat Amaani's "passion project."

Originally from Bangladesh, Amaani attended Seattle's Nathan Hale High School, Seattle University and University of Washington. But after graduating with a business communications and political science degree, he wanted to do something different.

Movie production intrigued Amaani. He loved how films brought folks of different communities together, smiling.

"My passion is to see people of all communities get together, just to see their smile. ... It makes me happy," said Amaani.

This attitude explains why Amaani can't name a favorite film. "Every film is a good film, depending on who is watching it."

The King Cat Theater where Amaani will screen films is essentially unchanged. Massive golden drapes still open to the movie screen. And the seats look well loved, at a capacity of 896.

In addition to films, the theater will showcase live music — another element of King Cat's past brought back to life. Amaani has been discussing a lot of tribute shows — Bee Gees and Neil Diamond, along with the possibility of being the closing venue for the Seattle Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

And King Cat's grunge past is back, too. Through Seattle-based XIL Records, grunge-like rock rings through the King Cat Thursday nights, when local bands are featured.

Brandon Smith, of the Tacoma grunge-rock band Dash Pointe, hopes the venue will give his band the push it needs. And Smith said his dad is proud to see his son perform in the same spot where he saw the Cardigans years ago.

Levi Lyon, vice president of XIL Records Productions, said: "A lot of bands from the grunge era got their start at King Cat, and we hope we get a repeat of that."

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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