The back room of the Crocodile Cafe had grimy chandeliers and foam sheep and other impossible-to-recall-exactly crap hanging from the ceiling, on top of all of which was a layer of dust so marvelously thick and unperturbed that you had to wonder if, in the time since the club's opening in 1991, it had ever been touched. The cafe area had dangling papier-maˆché beehives. The room where you watched bands had suspended snakes and a famously inconvenient post in its center. Last Thursday night, walking through the renovated club—now just called the Crocodile—during a preopening party, it was hard to recall what all had been in those rooms or even, honestly, where those rooms had been.
Many walls have been knocked down. The false ceiling in the main room is gone, revealing hidden skylights and enough extra space to comfortably fit a proper mezzanine with a bar. The capacity of the club has gone from 381 to 560. The stage is in a different place. The old cafe area is gone. The walls have gone from pale green to a dark, flattering red. There's a long main bar along the south wall, where the wall of windows looking out onto Blanchard Street used to be. That wall of windows is gone, but there is a high, unbroken, two-foot-tall horizontal stripe of windows on that wall now, looking out into treetops and Belltown roofs—referencing the windows that used to be there, giving the room depth, granting the crowd privacy, and reminding you that you're in the middle of the city. The famously inconvenient post is no longer in the center of the room. (It's been preserved, for hilarity's sake, but it's off to the side.) There are new bathrooms, gleaming white, with marble countertops. The build-out, done by GHL Architectural Millworks, is gorgeous. Maybe too gorgeous.
"Oooh, it's too pretty in this bathroom," a guy said as he walked into the men's room last Thursday, surely remembering the falling-apart bathrooms of yesteryear, which were covered in posters and stickers and graffiti. He added, "That'll change."
Out in the main room, the Crocodile's booker, Eli Anderson, was saying to someone who'd just asked about the bathrooms, "We want things to make people go, 'Wow.'" Anderson used to work behind the counter at Sonic Boom Records, once had an internship at The Stranger (he points out that he was an intern at the same time Robin Pecknold, of Fleet Foxes, was an intern), and had been employed as the assistant/local booker at the Crocodile for a year when it abruptly closed its doors in December 2007. He's 27, affable, and unpretentious. Someone at the party asked him for his philosophy of booking, and he mentioned the recent New York Times obituary of failed-composer-turned-arts-booster Schuyler Chapin and quoted Chapin: "If you know you don't have talent yourself, you try to acquire the talent of recognizing talent in others." Anderson continued: "Dude, that's like my life in a quote."
The food at the party was pizza from Via Tribunali, which now occupies what used to be the Crocodile's back bar. The pizza seemed extra delicious, each pepperoni a little pond of salty greatness, and watching Tribunali employees bring it out was like a science experiment in how quickly matter can disappear. (The pizzeria is separated from the concert area by a door that will remain closed. It happened to be open, though, and I stumbled back to find black, high-backed, rounded booths, which look very cozy; a tiled wood-fired oven; and, secreted away in the middle of the premises, a private room that looked built for committing ritualistic murder.)
The party began privately with an impromptu set by Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 (Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and Bill Rieflin), after which the doors opened to the public for a bill that began with the Quiet Ones. Before going on, one of the Quiet Ones muttered something about being nervous playing for "all these celebrities in the room." Attendees included Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), John Roderick (the Long Winters), Nate Manny (Murder City Devils), and Scott Plouf (Built to Spill). Many of the club's owners, including Sean Kinney, Susan Silver, Peggy Curtis, Eric Howk, and Marcus Charles, were present. Charles, who also owns a stake in Belltown's Juju and the Capitol Hill Block Party, will manage the Crocodile's daily operations.
Before much time had passed, the bar was out of alcohol and the party was effectively over. By Saturday, the Crocodile's official opening and first ticketed event, the alcohol scarcity had been remedied and the club was packed. Sold out. Wasn't really my thing (a hippie/bluegrass hybrid) and I left early—the first real party, clearly, will be the dance-plosion headlined by U.S.E on March 28—but on my way out, I stepped into the men's room to take a leak and was pleased to see a lonely little sticker stuck to the clean white wall. It hadn't been there Thursday.