"If you don't like it, you don't have to work here." Those words—allegedly spoken by Crocodile Cafe owner Stephanie Dorgan—incited Peter Greenberg, the venue's primary booker, to quit on November 28. During a weekly staff meeting, an argument between Greenberg and Dorgan over a catering contract for an upcoming industry party quickly devolved into an all-too-familiar battle of wills. This time, Greenberg decided he had enough. He tossed his keys on the table and walked out.
"She and I never got along," Greenberg told The Stranger the next day. "The respect isn't there—I don't respect her; she doesn't respect me. With the exception of not having a paycheck, it feels good. I don't regret the decision."
Greenberg's departure has been accompanied by the usual recriminations from an unsatisfied employee. However, it's also dragged conjectures about the health of the Crocodile's business into the public eye. Greenberg told The Stranger about bounced checks, Dorgan's "reactive" business strategy, and dissatisfaction from current and former employees about Dorgan's commitment to the community role the Crocodile plays. Dorgan did not return repeated requests for comment, but others say the business is doing fine.
Dorgan has owned the Crocodile since it opened in 1991. Her husband, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, had a hand in the business; they divorced earlier this year. Greenberg has booked bands there for almost four years, originally as assistant booker and then, starting earlier this year, as primary booker. He spent less than a year in the coveted position before reaching his breaking point, calling the venue Dorgan's "vanity project."
"These problems were there before me," he says. "I spent months last year with every paycheck bouncing." In fairness to Dorgan, The Stranger wasn't able to see the bank statements by press time. "And I'm not the only one who had their paycheck bounce. She's not making the right decisions for the business. [Shutting down] probably is not too far off."
Music publicist Joan Hiller held Greenberg's position for several months in 2003. She sees Dorgan as an absentee owner. "It seems like she doesn't really care about the club in the same way that a lot of the employees do and the patrons do," Hiller says.
Portland rock duo Viva Voce received a bad check from the Crocodile after their gig at the end of April. Drummer Kevin Robinson wasn't fazed. "I figured it was some accounting fuckup, so there wasn't any weirdness at all," he says. "I called Peter [Greenberg] and we cleared it up and he gave me another check and that's it."
Indeed, Eli Anderson, who assumed Greenberg's position as main booker last week, confirmed that there was a period of bad checks at the beginning of the year, but says none have been passed since then.
It's possible that business isn't as bad as Greenberg and Hiller make it seem.
"The rumors are just rumors," says general manager Kevin Watson about the public speculation of the club's imminent demise. "I've been working here for 12 years and I've been hearing rumors the whole time. I've heard that about every club in the city." Watson was promoted to general manager eight months ago. Along with the promotion, Dorgan offered him 20 percent ownership of the club, which he accepted.
"For someone like her to give me a chance to own part of the Crocodile, to be part of the history..." Watson says. "I look at her as a mother figure. Nobody knows these little things that she does. It's a long story between her and Pete [Greenberg] but I don't know much about it."
The across-the-board woes of the music industry are no secret, and Seattle—undergoing head-spinning development and an influx of residents—faces its own unique challenges, including anti-nightlife mayoral ordinances and the increased competition that comes with consolidation. Neumo's in Capitol Hill— a direct competitor to the Crocodile—began booking Chop Suey back in June, essentially partnering with a former competitor. Since then, Neumo's has gained national prominence: It hosted the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame party a few weeks ago and was recently nominated as one of America's top 10 venues by the indie-oriented PLUG Awards.
The Crocodile is a functioning landmark of the homegrown grunge scene of the early '90s, and it continues to incubate local music, providing headlining spots and top-notch sound production to smaller Seattle bands (the sold-out Fleet Foxes/Cave Singers show on November 30 is a perfect example). Between Greenberg's departure and the financial viability it brings to light, there's reason for concern for its future.
Watson says the venue is set to reopen its food service by the beginning of next year, and as Greenberg begins the search for new employment, Anderson is looking forward to his new role as primary booker. "It's still the Crocodile and stuff is still coming in," he says. "No matter who's booking here, people still love the club and wanna book shows."