Oh, the Comet Tavern. The ol' graffiti pit was there for the worst bands you've ever seen, the best bands you couldn't believe were playing there, your first show, your fiftieth show. A place to start your night with a shot of whiskey with a couple grizzled regulars. A place where a hazmat suit should have been provided before entering the bathrooms. A place where tales of drugs, drunks, and debauchery were never in short supply. Love it or hate it, the Comet, which weathered well over 60 years on 10th and Pike, seemed as much a fixture as the Pike/Pine corridor itself.
Then, out of the blue, on October 2, 2013, the Comet shut its doors. Rumors of water bill and lease issues swirled, followed by more serious (and accurate) discoveries that the Comet's owner was having serious financial troubles. The sad and strange saga came to an end when the owner secretly removed the sound system and other items of value from the venue and changed the locks, leaving the corner dark for the first time anyone could remember.
The following month, it was announced that Lost Lake partners Dave Meinert and Jason Lajeunesse had taken over the lease. They plan to reopen the new Comet at the end of March, spiffed-up and clean, and, for the first time in the Comet's history, with a food menu. Live music will still happen, but on a scaled-back schedule. Will you get a staph infection from the toilet seats? Probably not.
To pay our respects, or lack thereof, to the old Comet Tavern, Stranger writers, musicians, and notables around town vomit up their good, bad, and grimy old Comet stories.
MAMMA CASSEROLE (Comet booker Michelle Smith): I wish I had kept a diary. I know I am forgetting so many highlights—this is just off the top of my head: September 11, 2009, Akimbo performed a Black Flag tribute night with Tad and Black Elk. The Comet was probably 100 people over capacity, and it was a very warm evening, so the window behind the soundboard was open. The sound person was not at his perch, but helping the band onstage. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple of underage skate rats jump through the open window and creep into the crowd. I let one of the door guys know, and he and I ran into the crowd, grabbing these kids. We managed to get them outside in a few minutes, where they started pointing and screaming "bitch" at me. I laughed and told them how when I was 17, I snuck into the Channel club in Boston and hid in a crawl space over the toilets for three hours so I could see the real Black Flag and had gotten away with it. I told them how lame they were for not even being able to sneak into a Black Flag covers night properly! Later, Nat Damm told me how hilarious it was to see me running all over the Comet showroom after these kids, that it had reminded him of a farmer chasing pigs in a pigpen!
• Monotonix leading a parade outside the Comet, during their show, to Broadway and back, bass drum on fire.
• Faust (complete with cement mixer and chain saw, and a nice pinch in the ass from band leader Jean-Hervé Péron).
• Blow-drying Blondie drummer Clem Burke's hair before his Magic Christian set (also featuring Cyril Jordan from the Flamin' Groovies).
• Booking bands like the Black Angels, the Head and the Heart, Fleet Foxes, the Cave Singers, and Das Racist before they hit it big.
• Hosting debauched after-hours parties called "Mamma Camp" in the loft with Explosions in the Sky, Swans, the Dandy Warhols, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Andy Rourke from the Smiths.
• Meeting Sam Yoder, my partner for the last five years, through a mutual musician friend, and then having to re-meet him as I forgot who he was several months later, which obviously had no negative impact on our ending up together.
• Having John Sinclair ("Kick out the jams, motherfucker!") do spoken word at a daylong festival that had some of the most talented and underappreciated Seattle rock and jazz musicians, from Rose Windows, Diminished Men, Monktail Collective, and more.
• Minus the Bear doing a barely publicized yet still overpacked show in support of Referendum 74.
• Being present at the Comet for the celebratory announcement that Obama had been elected and we wouldn't have to suffer through four more years of a moronic and regressive GOP asshat as president. As a bonus for the last election, La Luz played a raucous set!
• I was also in my element the night Master Musicians of Bukkake did a fusion set with Skerik for Noise for the Needy—rebranding themselves as Nalgas Bukkake!
JEFF LEONARD (Hate City, former Comet bartender): I came in to open the joint one morning and was greeted by the owner, who was losing his shit because his laptop was missing. He was so pissed off, I thought I was about to get fired. Then we remembered we had security cameras, where we found footage of some joker sneaking into one of the bar's four creepy and infamous closets (creepy 'cause they're filthy, infamous because of all the regulars who had nasty sex in them) around 6 p.m. That summer evening had been unusually hot—90-some degrees, and that closet had to be at least 10 degrees hotter because it had a bunch of machinery in it. Dude hid in this blazing hot tiny room for almost 10 hours, waiting for the bar to close so he could try to rob the place (I say "try" because there wasn't ever anything in there to steal). We laughed as we watched him on the video, materializing from the shadows, slowly crawling around on all fours like a dog behind the bar for more than two hours, trying to get the register open, visibly sweating his ass off. Then he went digging through drawers full of drink coasters and lost keys—finding only a few filthy quarters. He eventually settled for an old busted guitar, the boss's laptop, and a pocketful of skuzzy loose change. The video took a really comical turn when he realized he was locked inside. You could really see the panic. What a terrible thief. Our bar manager recognized his shoes a few days later. He turned out to be a fairly trusted regular, which made it pretty awkward when we had him hauled off to jail. I think he did about a year's time. Even more awkward, dude is my neighbor now.
CIENNA MADRID (The Stranger): I once found five dollars in the women's bathroom that had been vomited on, and after debating for a second, I picked it up, wiped it off with toilet paper, walked to the bar, and used it to buy myself a drink. That is my favorite memory from the Comet. That same night, I made out with a hand model who wouldn't let me touch his hands.
KERRI HARROP (KEXP): The thing about Michelle Smith is that she's smart, politically aware, and has a gigantic heart. Under her guidance, the Comet became a reliable venue for benefits, activism, and whatever good cause needed a boost. Mamma would always help. Always. She was one of the very first promoters to get on board with Music for Marriage Equality. The little ol' Comet Tavern raised a ton of money for the gays to wed—more than almost every other bar or venue in the Pike/Pine corridor. The place was a dump, particularly in its later years, but man did it have big balls and a strong heart. Plus, it's the only place I've ever done shots of port.
EMILY NOKES (The Stranger): Where to begin. Those filthy tables, the tiresome drug folk, the amazingly fun shows, the fact that their calendar was updated only on MySpace right up until they closed. What a headache. I boycotted playing the Comet so many times. We all did. It would get so annoying with the jackass surly door dudes and their uncanny ability to demand an ID from you while you were loading in with the largest piece of equipment. It'd be like 7 p.m.—"Oh, you're in one of the bands? You got a bass amp there and you're about to fall over? Need to see your ID, RIGHT NOW [chews gum with mouth open, studies ID for 15 minutes]." Ugh. But we always gave in and ended up going back eventually. "Okay, we'll play one more show, but no more!" Of course the shows themselves were usually pretty wild. The addition of the stage was nice, but I really just liked the ground-level playing—people getting right up in your zone, everybody dancing and yelling and not giving a shit. The bathroom was also a treat. I got into my first graffiti war since high school in that bathroom. And you just couldn't beat that location.
TRENT MOORMAN (The Stranger): In the room behind the stage, one time a guy almost pissed in my kick-drum case. I said, "Hey, what are you doing?" He said, "I'm pissing, what does it look like I'm doing?" So I nudged him into the men's room, which was right there, aiming him at the urinal. We made it just in time. He pissed like a fucking racehorse.
LARS FINBERG (The Intelligence): I hate the Comet Tavern. It smells like peed-out old beer that's been re-dranken and re-peed out onto the mushy linoleum/duct-taped-Budweiser-box bathroom floor. I'm frightened of the street gang that hangs out there and throws firecrackers at the opening bands. We "sold out" the place once, and they didn't give us one extra penny, though I did hear that the street gang (who also works the door) let extra people in for $20 a pop. I like that part.
LARRY MIZELL JR. (The Stranger, KEXP): I actually loved doing rap shows at the Comet. You'd think since it was a punk-rock bar, they wouldn't wanna deal with rappers in general—actually, that's how most venue staff make you feel—but they were always straight with me in there. I loved that crusty British soundman dude—I heard he was in KMFDM? He was hella gruff at first, but once he saw us, he was a super sweetheart. Most places, the sound guy or the security, or the people running the whole show, just hate you no matter what you're doing. Don't Talk to the Cops!/Mash Hall always loved playing there. I helped put Das Racist in the Comet for their first Seattle show, and it was insane! It was packed to the gills in there, as was the whole corner outside. Underage kids jumping in through the windows, and the bouncer scrambling to toss 'em out. Incredible night. Maybe it's just me, but I never felt excluded out of that spot, which means a lot. Shout-out to Mamma Casserole!
KELLY O (The Stranger): I have countless crazy Comet memories—headbanging too close to a band called Demon's Claws and getting my hair caught in the neck of a guitar, accidentally getting locked inside after closing time one night, fleeing the Stranger offices to nervously watch the news on TV (and slam a couple beers) directly after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake...
I think my favorite all-time memory, however, was an early afternoon Spits show, one Sunday in 2006. It was a birthday celebration for both Sean Spits and professional prankster Hate City Jeff. I was there with a new pal—an amazing Australian lady with hot-pink hair named Kylie—who was visiting Seattle for the first time. It was a sunny summer day, someone set up a barbecue outside on the sidewalk, and everyone was getting real silly. Right before the Spits went on, Jeff quietly squirted a mix of dish soap and water on the Comet's old wooden floor. When the band started playing their rowdy Ramones-like punk, the crowd closed in to rock out, and suddenly everybody started sliding around. Beer was spilled, making the floor even more slippery—and then people started dropping like flies. I've never seen so many people fall down in my whole life. And I know it's really rotten and unkind of me to say this—but WATCHING PEOPLE FALL IS FUNNY. Kylie and I laughed and laughed until tears ran down our faces. When it was over, she said the Comet was the best bar she'd ever been to anywhere.
BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT (The Stranger): One balmy Seattle summer night, I was walking around Pike/Pine with my crazy friend Rudy, who was visiting from San Francisco. It was near the Fourth of July, and he'd stopped at a reservation while driving up, so he had the trunk of his car completely packed full of illegal fireworks... but that's actually another story. We encountered a person wearing a gigantic matted-fur costume head—he looked like a demented version of the creatures in Where the Wild Things Are—so naturally we followed him. He made a beeline (as well as a person who can't see that well out of their gigantic matted-fur costume head can make a beeline) for the Comet, so naturally we paid the cover and went right in after him. He immediately took the stage, still wearing the crazy-head, and proved to be the drummer for an earsplitting band called Steaming Wolf Penis. Within the first 30 seconds of the show, the entire audience started moshing, and one person's entire pint full of beer was rocketed directly onto me, from the top of my head down. I was too hot anyway. Steaming Wolf Penis were great. I love the Comet so, so much. I still wish my friend Rudy lived here.
TRAVIS RITTER (Writer, DJ): I first stepped foot in the Comet the second night after moving to Seattle in August 2006, for a pre-func drink with a buddy who put us on the list for a show across the street at Neumos. My out-of-state license was expired, and Neumos made me go to the all-ages balcony, which sucked. We ended up going back to Comet because they didn't seem to care who they were serving. But this isn't even my fondest memory, just my first.
My fondest memories include:
• Walking into the bathroom to take a piss and being exposed to the guy from [redacted] getting a blowjob from some gal while he was doing blow off the top of the toilet.
• The Faust show during which chain saws tore through large pieces of Styrofoam against the wall, showering the audience with Styrofoam snowflakes. Power tools were triggered, fires were started in trash cans, and the nihilistic spirit was channeled by anyone and everyone who was in that room, totally losing their minds to the great krautrock legends.
• My friends throwing what could have been the first ever "rave" at the Comet for a friend's birthday. I dressed up in a neon jumpsuit and wore furry raver legwarmer things and danced like crazy to some acid and electro that Frankie [Crescioni] was DJing. The staff seemed to hate it, but everyone who came was having a blast.
• Throwing a Wayne's World–themed party on Halloween night 2011 with some of my favorite dark synth and post-punk bands in Seattle. Thank you, Baby Guns, Perpetual Ritual, and Feral Cross for making the night as wicked as I had hoped.
• A good chunk of 2009 was spent at the Comet, and I had gotten to know the staff pretty well. Well enough that I got to hang out in the Comet after closing time on occasion, hiding in the back room drinking and chain-smoking cigarettes as though the indoor smoking ban/2 a.m. serving cut-off time didn't exist. Those were some dark days—but man, did I have fun.
• There were never such things as hand soap or paper towels to dry your hands.
• Oh yeah, and then there was the Black Flag cover night, looking over at Larry Mizell just losing his goddamned mind as I was throwing fists and getting shoved around in the turbulent crowd while Akimbo did those classic songs of my youth complete justice.
DEREK ERDMAN (The Stranger, Sub Pop): I was always baffled about how all of that money stayed stuck to the ceiling. That place was always so full of creeps, why didn't any of them try to scrape it off?
KIM WARNICK (The Fastbacks, Cali Giraffes): Oddly enough, the Fastbacks never played the Comet. I actually had to ask Kurt [Bloch] if that ever happened. I mean, we've played some of the weirder venues in this town since 1979, but no Comet. That being said, I sure have seen a lot of awesome bands there, and my other band, Cali Giraffes, actually got to play with Evan Dando there. My bandmate Mikey Davis threw together an impromptu gig with us, Australian sweethearts Street Chant, and Evan/acoustic. It is always an honor to play with a hero—especially in such an intimate place, although he sounds good anywhere. Damn him! Glad it is gonna keep on keeping on. Even though I no longer live in Seattle, it must be weird having that corner dark. Sounds like that area of town really needs to stay punk at this point. Cheers, Comet! See you sometime!
BENJAMIN THOMAS-KENNEDY (Lesbian, Fungal Abyss): The soul of the Comet was its booker, Mamma Casserole. She created an atmosphere of complete freedom and took care of her bands. She gave Fungal Abyss a monthlong residency there a couple of years ago. Each night we turned up as loud as we could, filled the room with smoke, wore ridiculous costumes, and had tons of our favorite bands, DJs, and visual artists collaborate with us. It was a delightful excess that we couldn't have gotten away with anywhere else. There was a liberating diversity to what went on during Mamma's watch.
LANCE WATKINS (This Blinding Light, Hypatia Lake): I would say the most interesting memory I have from there was a time when This Blinding Light were playing, and I noticed this strange-looking man in the audience staring at me angrily while I was playing. He was gangly and out of place. At the end of one of the songs, he walked past me and hit the PA speaker and it fell on one of my pedals. I remember remarking on it to the audience, and people looking kind of confused. Apparently, I was the only person who had seen this happen. A ghost of the Comet's past, I imagine, not too happy I was trying to banish it? Or just too much LSD as a teenager? You decide.
DAVE SEGAL (The Stranger): The Comet—national-disaster-area men's room and all—will always have a special place in my DJ bag, er, heart, as I had the good fortune to be booked for many a record-spinning gig there over the years (thanks, Mamma Casserole!). Besides that and seeing countless great shows there (Faust, CAVE, Master Musicians of Bukkake, Blues Control, Fungal Abyss, Lumerians, etc.), I also had the distinction of meeting former Spacemen 3 legend Sonic Boom of Spectrum at the Comet. No matter that he was a rude asshole. He looked great for a 44-year-old ex-junkie; turns out, heroin is the elixir of youth. That same night in 2010, I met my girlfriend, whose Sonic Boom fandom even surpasses mine. Guess what? He was a jerk to her, too. Perhaps the most indelible memory, though, came last April at my 50th birthday celebration, where I got too stoned to deliver a coherent thank-you speech (a first!) and witnessed an awesome night of live music, climaxing with Particle Being Ensemble's powerful cover of Can's inspirational jam, "Halleluwah." I feel extremely fortunate to have enjoyed a landmark experience in such a notorious Seattle landmark. I won't miss the godforsaken men's room, though.
CHRIS MARTIN (Kinski): I heard musicians complain about a lot of things when playing the Comet. And many were justified. Yet bands would always play really well there. The audience was right on top of you, the stage was cramped, you couldn't hear your vocals in the monitors, and for a few months you would get shocked by the vocal mic. It took months for them to fix it! Months! But the tub of beer upstairs helped you forget about that. (Note to clubs: A tub of cheap beer costs virtually nothing but keeps the bands really happy. The two-drink-tix thing does not cut it, nor make for a good show!) Things change—the douchebags took over stumbling around Capitol Hill anyway—so we'll have to move on to a new shitty club in some other part of town.
EMILY POTHAST (Midday Veil, Hair and Space Museum): For some perplexing reason, all the larger venues in town slept on booking krautrock legends Faust, so my favorite memory of the Comet (and quite possibly of any show I've ever been to) was watching Jean-Hervé Péron carve up an eight-foot block of Styrofoam with a chain saw and then take an angle grinder to a cement mixer in the middle of the room, sending a shower of sparks into the packed audience. My second favorite memory of the Comet was one time when we were about to play and our old drummer Chris discovered that someone had barfed on his floor tom on the way to the men's room.
MICHAEL STUBZ (Deadkill, former Comet bartender): To be an accepted "regular" at the Comet, especially at the end of the bar or the "center of the universe" as it was sometimes called, was "earned ground." This was true of pool, too—and to be allowed into the "secret card game" with the old-timers at the lower pool table was double earned. To be a bartender at the Comet was wasn't easy, either—you had to put in your time on the drinking side first, then work the "swamp" shifts, then slowly work your way into the better hours. There was a vetting process to make it at the Comet. You didn't just walk in like you owned the place—you had to earn your place. That's what I loved about the old Comet.
Remember the Comet in photographs at Cometta Vern: A Photographic Tribute to the Comet Tavern on Thurs March 6, Sole Repair, 6 pm–midnight, free.