As the 110-capacity Belltown Yacht Club fills up with avid dancers, impressive sweat stains start spreading on shirts, blouses, and dresses at January's Wig Out!, a 1960s garage-rock, R&B, and soul dance party. The DJs—Maxwell Edison, Kevin Fitzgerald, Michael Chrietzberg, and Mike Nipper—drop a selection of obscure, high-energy 45s, and though the music is five-plus decades old, punters youngish and middle-age-ish return their energy in spades. The vibe here is so un-21st-century Seattle—and that's part of its appeal.
Belltown Yacht Club—which occupies the large space adjacent to the two-year-old Screwdriver Bar, located in the basement of the historic Barnes Building—was spawned from the minds of that establishment's three owners: Chris Jones, Dave Flatman, and Bryan Krieger. The trio have extensive nightlife experience from the (old) Comet Tavern, Crocodile, and Neumos. They're part of a new wave of artsy entrepreneurs who have migrated from Capitol Hill to Belltown, along with the owners of Jupiter Bar, Neon Boots, Black Cat, and others. Together, they're shifting the locus of coolness to a part of Seattle that, in recent years, had become a playground for the rich and culturally obtuse. "We're a bunch of misfits, so we are all taking care of each other here," Krieger says.
BYC's bosses wanted to fill the void left by the loss of Second Avenue Pizza and other gritty venues. "We love this neighborhood, and it is just a shame to see things disappear," Flatman says. "So we wanted to have something that is here to keep promoting the Seattle music and artistic scenes in that community... to try to hold on to a little bit of why we fell in love with Belltown."
Toward that end, they've decked out the space like a rock-and-roll fanatic's rec room. No matter where you look, you'll see manifestations of the owners' musical obsessions. Jones is mostly responsible for the visual splendor: stone walls; framed LP covers (MC5, Velvet Underground, Chuck Berry, etc.); a Kurt Cobain painting; a Jimmy Page cutout; bars, ledges, and tables with hundreds of 45 adapters, 7-inch singles, CDs, and even a (rock) lobster encased within. And the jukebox is loaded with the bosses' own singles. That is sacrifice for the greater good.
While Flatman proclaims that BYC is primarily a rock-and-roll bar, they're open to hosting techno (like the January 26 show with Golden Madonna), hiphop (January 30 with Chong the Nomad), metal (Skelator, X Suns, and DemonHammeR on February 23), and a monthly poetry and prose open mic.
After a shaky opening night with live goth-oriented electronic music in December, BYC has improved its sound system (featuring old Mackies with robust bass capabilities), and has enlisted experienced audio experts Nick Fenton, Ross Albrechtson, and Ian LeSage to work the controls. Musicians from Seattle and elsewhere are clamoring to get slots there.
Because it's below street level, BYC eludes what Flatman calls the "crazy Belltown drama" to which the neighborhood is prone. The owners praise their cool clientele, with Flatman stating that "the ethos behind everything we do is pushing the community forward." Krieger adds, "If you are a tourist, if you are working for Amazon, if you are in a band, if you come down here, you are part of the community. You are going to be treated with respect and love, and what we give out, we are lucky enough to get that back."