So what do actor Tom Skerritt and Sub Pop General Manager Megan Jasper have in common, besides residing in Seattle? They both--along with 21 other investors--happen to own a stake in the Belltown nightclub formerly known as I-Spy.

Yes, formerly--as in no longer in business. This will serve as news to many who frequented the popular Fifth Avenue venue that featured rock, hiphop, and rap shows, as well as local and touring DJs. In fact, the news was so abrupt that most of the bands scheduled to play at I-Spy last weekend had no idea their shows were canceled. But many members of the local music community had long speculated that the club was going belly-up, especially after I-Spy's second-level Nation--which featured more DJs and a restaurant offering multicultural dishes at inexpensive prices--stopped serving food. Before that, patrons could dine and take in works made by local artists before heading downstairs to see a show at I-Spy. But even cutting out the cost of staffing a restaurant (the kitchen remained open to meet liquor license requirements) wasn't enough to sustain the struggling club. Two days after a New Year's Eve blowout featuring DJ Spooky and IQU, Operating Owner Sandy Kolbeins and partner Chris Roberts (a local filmmaker who is also a partnership owner of the Alibi Room) announced to employees that I-Spy was closing down, effective immediately.

The Fifth Avenue space had its heyday in the early '90s as the Weathered Wall, when local music promoter/activist Dave Meinert handled the booking, and live shows and promoter nights like Lemon Twist ensured a packed house.

The venue changed hands in 1995, but Meinert notes that by then the scene had changed in that far fewer music fans went to shows in order to discover and support local bands. "Every night, every club was packed with people coming out to see bands like the Gits and Seven Year Bitch," he recalls. Alternative radio stations like KNDD, which had been hugely supportive of local music, became more focused on national acts, and coincidentally crowds began to dwindle and a general lack of enthusiasm for going out became apparent.

However, if ennui was the sole explanation for why I-Spy failed, then Seattle would be a city without live rock clubs altogether, and spaces like the Showbox, the Crocodile Cafe, and Graceland would also be in serious jeopardy of shutting down. According to Kolbeins and Roberts, Graceland's prosperity is directly at fault for I-Spy's failure, even though the two business partners, along with Chris Beno and Joey Visque, are part of the general ownership of that club as well. And that's where things get messy.

When I-Spy first opened in 1999, Chad Queirolo, who left his job as talent buyer at the popular Capitol Hill rock club the Breakroom, booked the 500-capacity club. At the time, Kolbeins, Roberts, and Beno wanted Queirolo to book both I-Spy and Graceland (formerly the Off Ramp), and run the clubs out of one office. When Queirolo moved on to the Showbox, Kolbeins brought in talent buyer Jason Lajuenesse (who booked Vancouver's Brickyard, another venue of which Kolbeins had been part owner until it was sold) to work at Graceland, and Queirolo's assistant Steven Severin moved over to I-Spy, where he would become head booker. A couple of months ago Severin announced he was leaving I-Spy for Chop Suey, a fledgling club situated in the old Breakroom space.

As to whether Beno perhaps placed more effort into making Graceland a success, Roberts answers emphatically, "All of [his efforts went there]. I have no qualms saying that. I've been struggling with that guy for the past three years, and we've been shut out of anything having to do with Graceland. Basically, resources that I-Spy needed were funneled into Graceland, and [Beno], who is president of the general partnership, became impossible to deal with no matter how hard we tried." Kolbeins says he quit hanging out at Graceland altogether because he was so frustrated with being shut out of its operation.

Says Kolbeins, "The reason why I-Spy couldn't weather the storm is because it didn't have the resources to deal with unforeseeable events and the economy. In the beginning, the two clubs were supposed to have a common booking agent, and now we have a situation where the clubs are competing against each other, and that definitely hurt us."

Beno says he resigned from the partnership in I-Spy last spring, but claims to have stopped participating in day-to-day dealing with the club in early 2001. "I was there for the first year, but it soon became apparent that we had different visions as to what the club would focus on." Beno wanted a rock club, and the Graceland is suited for nothing but live rock shows, so he put his energy there but did not take back his investment in I-Spy. He notes that neither Kolbeins nor Roberts placed any capital investment into Graceland, and that the club's state-issued liquor license lists him and Visque as sole owners of the business.

"In January of 2002 we assessed the situation at I-Spy because it was noticeably struggling, and every year I like to make a report for our investors explaining how business is going and how we could make it better," says Roberts. "We realized we weren't going to make it. We tried to make the best of it, suck it up and make it through the year. By the time October came around, we were beginning to wonder, 'How are we going to get through this?'"

"We looked at the calendar for January 2003 and said there's just no way we can do it anymore," adds Kolbeins. Roberts laments, "We are really disappointed and have been disappointed for quite a while, and feel very sorry for our investors, and all the people who put their heart and soul into the club.

"Not to complain too much, but I-Spy had its share of hard knocks," says Roberts. "We opened during WTO, and then Mayor Schell closed down New Year's Eve and told people to stay away from downtown. Then we had an earthquake, 9/11 affected us and everybody else, and then the final hit was the shooting that took place outside the club in October, but still caused a negative impact on our business due to association. [The club had hosted a night featuring Unexpected Arrival, Cool Nutz, Gangsta Nutt, and Skuntdunna--most of whom are rap artists on Sea-Sick Records, owned by Ghetto Prez. One person was killed.] We'd been closed for 45 minutes when the shooting occurred.... It wasn't just random violence outside our club, and thank God no one else was hurt. But how it had a negative influence on the club besides that was that we had to cancel shows. We had a hiphop show scheduled the night of the funeral, so we canceled that out of respect for the family and our own fear for our staff, who we didn't want to subject to anything that might happen as a result of the situation."

"I-Spy was too far gone when that happened anyway," admits Kolbeins. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, by October, I-Spy was toast.

So it's all over but the crying, and Kolbeins and Roberts hint that a legal battle with Beno will ensue. Whether they have a legitimate case remains to be seen.