2322 second, 441-5823 opens Thurs., April 4 grand opening Fri., April 12
DOES GOD JUST hate us? Or should we blame escalating rents, anti-cultural ordinances and poster bans, earthquakes, and fires for the fact that so many of the clubs that made the Seattle scene famous have been lost?
The new millennium fell on Seattle like a giant toilet, flushing venue after venue into the void. Belltown, in particular, has been devastated over the past year. Gibson's, the Frontier Room, the 211 pool hall, the Speakeasy Cafe—all gone. Rumors claim the Lava Lounge and the Sit & Spin are in danger of disappearing as well.
But now for some good news: The Rendezvous is coming back.
The Rendezvous, with its Jewel Box Theater, first opened in 1924, when B.F. Shearer opened the space at 2322 Second as a screening room/restaurant where movie distributors could schmooze theater and studio owners into buying their movies. During Prohibition, movie moguls and celebrities like Jimmy Durante would play cards at the speakeasy in the Rendezvous basement. The place was a mainstay of Seattle's Film Row until Shearer closed up shop in 1972.
The establishment changed hands several times during the next two decades, even operating for a while as a porno theater. Wayne Schwartzkopf, the most recent owner, opened the most beloved incarnation of the Rendezvous in 1988, but after 14 years, he got tired of it and decided to shut down last November. Enter the new owners: Jerry Everard, Jane Kaplan, Tia Matthies, and Steve Freeborn.
Around the time Schwartzkopf opened the club, Matthies and Freeborn were newlyweds with a vision. They thought Seattle needed a place where musicians and artists like themselves could congregate. "There was a thriving music scene here before the whole grunge thing, but it seemed like there were a bunch of different little factions," explains Matthies. "I really wanted to have a place where those groups came together." Eventually, they opened the OK Hotel.
Many of Seattle's now famous grunge bands got their start at the OK. Nirvana played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time there. But last year's earthquake brought the roof down. Matthies and Freeborn were thrilled when they heard that their friend Jerry Everard was going to take over the Rendezvous.
Everard is a lawyer-turned-club-owner from way back. He was one of the partners who started the Crocodile Cafe at around the same time the OK opened. He went on to build Moe on Capitol Hill. As electronic music began to mirror the dot-com boom that was transforming Seattle, he decided to hand Moe over to the ARO.space crew. When he got a chance to revamp the Rendezvous, he jumped at it.
The new owners want to save this piece of Seattle's history and revive the Jewel Box as a platform for independent film and performance. Jane Kaplan, a freelance theater director who once took acting classes in the Jewel Box, is doing the booking. They've got plans to host SIFF events, the silent film with live music Shining Moments productions (first scheduled for April 19 and 20), a Harry Smith film festival, and events for the Independent Film Project. Though their primary focus will be on film, they will have occasional music and an eclectic mix of performances, including a burlesque show by ROLVULVAS, a collaborative show by Bill Frisell and Jim Woodring, and a reunion performance on April 12 by Dodi, a band named after the legendary Rendezvous bartender.
The restaurant itself has been renovated to the point where it's barely recognizable, with sultry red walls, crystal chandeliers, and plush seating upstairs—and even the bathrooms will no longer help induce vomiting. Looking in from the new front window, one might fear this is just more of the yuppification of Belltown, but the new owners hope it will remain a neighborhood hangout. "This place was once way nicer than we have it now," says Everard. "We've tried to remain cognizant of all the different eras that it's been through. Hopefully, we've done a good job of staying connected with that." Six months ago, you might've gotten thrown out of the Rendezvous for using a word like "cognizant," but they still plan to serve Miller in the can, and the food and drink will remain affordable.
So, in the shadow of countless new condominiums, old-school Seattle has regained a small foothold that may help it retain what once made this town so interesting. As Everard puts it, "What we're doing here is exactly what we do no matter where we go: art, music, and preserving old spaces."