Friday, September 30, 2011

Seattle's Comet Tavern: Music and Shenanigans Abound

This iconic sign beckons drinkers and rockers to venture inside. (All Cat Rose photos)
By Andy

Seattle's Comet Tavern is the punk-rock version of "Cheers."

A friendly, rockin' spot on Pike Street on Capitol Hill, it oozes alcohol, banter and plenty of fond memories for those who either belly up to the bar, work the door or crank out their tunes to the sloshed crowd.

"This is my living room... it's a lot of people's living rooms," said Lynn (last name withheld), who's been frequenting the Comet since 1988 or so. "This bar is always open to whoever wants to come in. There's no dress code, no income level required. Old, young -- rich, poor."

Doorman Shane Browning first visited the place 13 years ago when he accompanied his friend during his move to Seattle from Houston, Texas. First thing on the agenda? Grab a beer at the Comet, of course.
"Drove in -- first place we came to and been coming here ever since... I fuckin' loved it immediately," said Browning, who used to play in a pop-punk band called Blueprint and moved to Seattle soon after. "It feels like home. I grew up in bars when I was young, and also playing old punk-rock music and stuff like that, and automatically, I just fell in love with the bar."

Stag guitarist Ben London
On a recent Saturday evening, Daniel G. Harmann and the Trouble Starts, Stag, Western Haunts and In Cahoots were on tap music-wise, but while the beer was flowing out of the tap and into Jeb Steel's pitcher, he was talking Black Sabbath.

Turns out that back in the '60s and '70s, his mom cut quite a rug to the sounds of Ozzy and the boys at the Comet.

"I was listening to a Black Sabbath tape, and she was like, 'Oh when that first came out, we'd go and listen to that and dance.' Literally dance around... like pre-slam dancing. It seems weird," he said with a laugh.
"I've always come here since I started drinking... It's the most old-school place I could think of. This is one place that has survived all the eras, since before I was alive," Steel added.

The Comet's actually been standing for quite some time, according to Lynn, the tavern's resident historian. During her studies, she found out that workers started putting the building together in 1910 and finished a year later. The place has been known as the Comet since either 1938 or 1948, but she can't put a finger on it -- perhaps the history documents are a bit soiled in booze and thus forgetfulness on the forefathers' behalf.

For awhile, the Comet's next-door neighbor sold boat and auto parts before the tavern acquired the entire building and sent those businessmen sailing. In the '70s, the place attracted hippies, was decked out in lava lamps and the windows were covered in black to protect the public from the wild goings-on inside, Lynn said with a wink, hinting at alleged wacky-weed usage.

One mainstay at the Comet are the dollar bills tacked to the ceiling with messages scrawled on them.
"A lot of travelers, they want to leave their mark," Lynn said, adding that it also gets personal and sentimental with the $1's. "There's lots of joy: birthdays, wedding anniversaries, babies being born....

"But a lot of them are for friends and family who have passed away. It's like they're looking over you every time you walk in the bar."

Christina Cramer of power-pop unit In Cahoots.
It was only in the last decade or so that live bands began gracing the Comet's corner floor, and now stage. However, Lynn says the tavern has always attracted a rock-n-roll crowd, like Jason Finn (Presidents of the United States of America), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) and a host of others; Mia Zapata (RIP) of The Gits was also a frequent visitor.

Cat and myself first came to the Comet on vacation in the mid-'90s, and it was our kind of place. So, since we moved up here, we've spent countless hours playing pool, pinball and drinkin' within these walls. Some of the bands we've rocked out to: Magic Christian, Boss Martians, cousin Eric's Clay Wheels, Black Breath, Adam Franklin and the Bolts of Melody and even a raucous book reading by pal Eugene Robinson. (After most gigs, we treat ourselves to a delicious snack from the sausage guy outside -- you can't help it after you smell the aroma wafting through the joint.)

A dude checks out Harmann and crew from above.
Browning, who has worked the door for four years, said he's witnessed raging gigs by Vultures 2012, Black Breath and countless others. (On this night, Black Breath's bassist Elijah Nelson gave the Addams Family pinball game a whirl.)

"Are the bands gonna be good? You don't know, but there's always a good time here, and it's not just because I work here," Browning said. "There's never a dull moment, I'll say that. It's always like a full moon here, you never know what you're gonna get, man."

Up on stage, Stag singer Steve Mack lets out a "Yeah" in between songs and then goes into his own spiel about the Comet: "We love the Comet for its history. I remember putting a lot of dollars up there."

And then, the topper: "If you haven't thrown up yet at the Comet, you haven't lived. So get fuckin' busy."
Stitches be damned! Mack rocks despite mic-stand incident earlier in the week.

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