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Originally published January 31, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 7, 2008 at 4:47 PM

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R.I.P.: Dead nightclubs of Seattle

Welcome, again, to the Dead Clubs Club, where we tour many of Seattle's deceased nightclubs.

Seattle Times staff reporter


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Watch your step, mornin', watch your step, nice hat, watch your head, mornin', step up — sit anywhere, people ...

Welcome, again, to the Dead Clubs Club, where we tour many of Seattle's deceased nightclubs.

To all you out-of-towners — when we say "club" in Seattle, we're not talking about Studio 54. Here, it's more like Studio Drunk-on-the-floor. Most of these places we're going to visit and pay our respects to and learn a little something about are just glorified, grungy — in both senses — dive bars. They put up stages and amps and started hosting the thousands of bands that have sprung up like urban weeds around Seattle in the last 25 years.

Used to be, you couldn't throw a guitar pick without hitting a live-music joint. Not so much, these days.

You've heard of "pushing daisies"? You could say the clubs we'll be visiting are "pushing condos." While few if any of them were actually taken over by condominiums, many club owners say the higher rents incited by the condo craze forced them out of business.

We'll be making our tour in this authentic 1985 Dodge van, rumored to have been owned by Nirvana's first roadie. Enjoy your complimentary can of Rainier beer, and please share the window, and remember, this van may not be luxurious or pretty smelling, but it's historical.

Since many of you just finished the Underground Tour, let's start right here in Pioneer Square. Which, before it became a big frat party, used to be the center of Seattle's live-music scene.

See that rug shop over there? Used to be the Colourbox. Nothing fancy, but a fun little place to see bands. On the other side of the street, see the fancy clothing store? They sell kilts, believe it or not. Used to be a joint called Old Timer's Cafe, another spot for Seattle bands in the '90s. Local folks also used to rock out next door at Doc Maynard's, but that bar is closed. Sorry, Doc.

As we work our way south, back on the west side of First Avenue, now we're passing the posh new Crimson C restaurant and lounge, which used to be Larry's — for years home of the blues, until it switched to hip-hop.

Hold on everyone for these two quick right turns. ... Now we're underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and right here is the O.K. Hotel. Anybody see "Singles"? Concert scenes filmed right here. Nirvana played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" here for the first time. Mudhoney, Tad, Mother Love Bone — all the grungers jammed out here. But the music died with the big 2001 earthquake, and it's now the O.K. Hotel Apartments.

I think I can make this light. ... All right, we're back on the east side of Pioneer Square, quickly passing what used to be the Fenix/Fenix Underground — lots of crazy Goth, metal and just-plain-rock bands played here, but it's now a piano bar. Woo hoo.

A quick left and a right. ... OK, now we're passing what used to be a wonderful all-ages music club called the Velvet Elvis. The Rapture played an early show here. Murder City Devils and Zeke — regulars. It closed in '99 due to, and I quote, "a sharp rise in real estate and development in Pioneer Square." Now the space has become part of Trinity, a dance club that was once the Bohemian, a reggae/hip-hop club.

From here you can look straight up the street to Fifth and Jackson. There was a place called Gorilla Gardens. Anyone ever hear of Guns N' Roses? Three words: first show ever. But don't hold that against Gorilla Gardens — there were some great bands that played there, like the Ramones and Sonic Youth. And our locals like Soundgarden and Green Pajamas — "Kim the Waitress," anyone? Anyone?

Getting back to the Fenix — it moved out of Pioneer Square south to Sodo, taking over from the failed Premier. The Fenix 86-ed itself last year, and it's now the Showbox SoDo.

The Showbox itself? Excellent question. No, it hasn't closed, but the longtime owner just sold to A.E.G. Live, a music giant from Los Angeles. Sign of the times, people.

Let's head downtown. As we take Virginia Street across Westlake, on your left lies what used to be the 700 Club, a gem of an underground joint back in the '90s, when it had funk and hip-hop musicians and vocalists. It's now FareStart, which helps train homeless folks to work in restaurants.

Onward to the grave site of RKCNDY — Pearl Jam played this all-ages dive, many times. I think some cat named Jeremy worked the door. Little band from England played here back in '94: Radiohead. Botch, Blood Brothers, Built to Spill, Blood Circus — I could go on and on; those are just a few of the Bs.

RKCNDY is now a SpringHill Suites Marriott hotel. I'm sure there's irony, here, but it's lost on me. Moving on. ...

Here on Fifth Avenue, under the monorail, we're passing what used to be the grunge spot Weathered Wall, then later was I Spy, another hot spot for Seattle rockers and hip-hoppers. Now? Mixed-use office and retail space. ...

And now, Belltown. This corner of Second and Stewart here, believe it or not, used to be a scary little joint called Gibson's, where all the punk bands used to play. It was put out of the neighbors' misery by the quake in 2001, and then became an ultra-fancy restaurant and lounge called Qube. Braised lamb shoulder, anyone?

Quick right here on First Avenue — see that hair salon on the east side of the street? Pretty hilarious that a former hangout for gnarly grunge bands is now a place called Vain. Used to be the Vogue — Alice in Chains "would" play here all the time. Mudhoney's first show, right here. Nirvana played here six times. Good times, my friends. ... The Vogue — originally a New Age-club called WREX — moved to Capitol Hill and last year went down in a hole, permanently.

As we head south on Fourth Avenue, we're coming up on the old Sit & Spin, a Laundromat-cafe-rock club where bands like Voyager One, Saeta, Critters Buggin and Faith & Disease entertained us in the late '90s. It's now a sports bar.

Looping back and heading south, let me double park here for a moment, as we end our tour here at Second and Blanchard. And folks, here I ask for a moment of silence. ... Thank you. There it is, the reason we mourn, once glorious, now covered in graffiti. The Crocodile Cafe. I won't even go into all the great shows this place had — it literally makes my knees buckle. Born in 1991, the Croc died suddenly in December. Apparently, it's been sold to some software company called Groupee. No word yet on whether they're going to continue to have music here, or turn it into a chat room.

All I know for sure is this: The old Crocodile has stamped its last wrist, bounced its last stage diver and given its last call. Ever.

I could take you up to Capitol Hill to visit places like Moe's and Squid Row, but it's too depressing. Plus, this van doesn't like hills. Better to end the tour right here at the newest — and perhaps greatest — member of the Dead Clubs Club.

Thanks again for joining us, and if you're going out tonight and sampling what's left of Seattle's night-life scene, remember: If you're drinking, please don't karaoke.

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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