After 16 years as Bellingham's primary source for underground rock music, the fabulous 3B Tavern is shutting its doors on New Year's Day.

The bar has been a small but important focal point of the Northwest music scene since its inception, helping transform Bellingham from a sleepy college town to one of the most vibrant small-town scenes in the nation. In addition to being a favorite stop for such touring acts as Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, and the Flaming Lips, the venue has give starts to a number of major-label Seattle bands, including Death Cab for Cutie and Idiot Pilot. Garage-rock revivalists Estrus Records grew over the years in part because of the 3B's support. It was a place to hold the label's internationally renowned Garage Shocks, which ran from 1993 to 1999 and included the Hellacopters, Zen Guerrilla, the Quadrajets, and Man or Astroman, to name a few. Bellingham's music scene even graced the pages of Spin magazine in a 2003 profile of music in college towns.

Over the last five years, the 3B has been committed to developing the local scene, giving smaller bands a place to play—Death Cab for Cutie had their first bar show at the 3B, and more recently, Black Eyes and Neckties and No-Fi Soul Rebellion have built large draws and confidence in their live shows there.

But as the local rock music scene has developed, so has the real estate market—a reality that is steadily encroaching on the local music scene's success. The building that was home to the 3B was recently sold and is being renovated to construct downtown apartments in light of growing housing needs—an all-too-frequent happening in downtown Bellingham.

The bar's relationship with its property management company became rocky over the last year. Problems first surfaced in the fall when bar owner Aaron Roeder found the doors to the 3B chained following a rent dispute. Though the conflict was resolved, it became apparent that Roeder would be forced to leave the building once his lease was up at the end of 2005. Amid all of the growth in Bellingham, after 16 years in business, the worth of the 3B did not compare to potential development revenues, according to Roeder.

Over the last six months, Roeder (who was also the drummer of the Mono Men for years) has conducted an exhaustive search for a new home for the bar. After several spots fell through—due in large part to neighborhood noise complaints from growing downtown apartment complexes—he knew it was time to shut the doors on the club for good. "In October, I saw all these articles about 18-story apartment buildings going up and knew I was in trouble," Roeder says. He announced the bar's closure in November.

With the 3B closing, a mixture of panic and impending doom hovers over the music scene. "It's going to completely change things," said Joel Myrene, the 3B's booker over the last year and a half as well as the bassist for punk gods 84. "The types of bands that are going to come through are going to be much smaller scale. It's going to turn the city of subdued excitement into the city of no excitement."

Along with the 3B closing, Bellingham is also losing live venues the Nightlight Lounge (at least temporarily) and Tequila Rocks—leaving only a handful of places to see live music, none of which has the capacity or clientele of the 3B. To their credit, Chiribin's and the Rogue Hero are picking up some of the slack, but they're both smaller venues.

The closure of the 3B will also take its toll on Seattle bands, offering one less out-of-town venue for up-and-comers to play. The 3B was always a welcoming place for groups like the Briefs, Zeke, the Divorce, the Makers, the Valley, and Big Business, all of whom have played there within the last six months.

But it's the local bands, of course, that are going to have the hardest time. "Playing at the 3B was something new bands worked for," said Black Eyes and Neckties guitarist Josh Holland. "You knew that the patrons there were real music fans. Without that, bands don't have that 'thing' to strive for."