I'M NOT SURE why I'm here, since the Milk Bar isn't a bar and, for that matter, doesn't have milk. Yet. "Burke's girlfriend said we'd better have milk, and we probably will later," says Ian Templeton, 23, a co-founder of the no-drink, no-smoke, no-profit, and therefore seemingly no-fun club. It's, of course, an all-ages live music venue that Templeton, a UW student and research tech in analytical chemistry, started with L.A. rock musician Burke Thomas, 27, a Loyola Marymount grad.
The Milk Bar also doesn't have a home but has landed this night in a mellow, glowing old concrete-block building on 12th Avenue in First Hill—next to a burned-out abandoned house and just a short dash to freedom from the juvenile detention center. To get here, I meandered along a street of jacked-up cars, a rightfully busy taxi body shop, and an immobilized man perched on a bench in the Friday night mist. He was folded over on his cane, hat pulled down on his head. He appeared to have recently died. I stopped and gingerly nudged him, expecting to feel stone. He didn't lift his head or move a finger. But a muffled voice asked: "Any change?"
Things are livelier at the Milk Bar, where they're preparing to break out the Mountain Dew. "We worked a deal with Dew," says Templeton "They got us ad space on 107.7 [The End] and will be here later to do some drink promos." You also have a choice of Fey Rey or Dorkweed, which are two of the bands on the card with the Cripples, Sushirobo, the Pinehurst Kids, and Ms. Led (you know, the artist formerly known as Lesliwood?). Some are fresh out of the rec room, here to play for gratis and posterity.
The Milk Bar is a collective of local musicians run for local musicians and touring bands seeking exposure. It's part of the Templeton/Thomas mini nonprofit empire called Echo Siberia (run by a "board of volunteers"), which includes their label of sorts, the Baby Bok Choy Record Club. To promote struggling bands, they tape Milk Bar shows and sell their Mystery Sampler CDs for cost at local record stores. While some bands are making their debuts, others have done club dates at Graceland and the Crocodile. The Milk Bar actually has a waiting list of willing players (sign up at www.echosiberia.com).
Thomas says Templeton is "logical and responsible. I'm a dreamer." Among his fantasies is a permanent site—like the one the all-ages Vera Project just leased on Fifth Avenue. The city's long-debated and now-approved teen dance ordinance makes it easier for clubs to exist, and the Milk Bar is one of several all-agers in search of a lasting address. For now, Templeton and Thomas improvise, offstage and on. A drummer and guitarist, Thomas will play with Pinehurst tonight; the other night at I-Spy, he played in three of four bands on the bill. "It's going to be loud," Thomas cheerily warns as he darts about hooking up equipment. The airy, low-lit room with white partitions and a stage area is rented from Secluded Alley Works (SAW), which operates this and a second sky-lighted building across the courtyard. SAW, a nonprofit artists group, turned the eyesores into efficient studio, gallery, office, and performance spaces. Milk Bar works a deal for two nights monthly.
In a little Q&A sheet the club puts out to interested bands, Templeton and Thomas note that "there are two scheduled shows per month with six bands on each bill. Shows start at 6 p.m. sharp and noise stops at 11 p.m. sharp. Each band gets a 45-minute set." Milk Bar charges $7 admission to defray costs. Their Q&A also notes, for anyone thinking of sneaking contraband inside, "Don't do it. We're not kidding. That's the excuse the politicrits use to take away your all-ages venues. Use your head." Adds Templeton: "There are plenty of other places to go smoke and drink if that's the goal. A smoke-free atmosphere is also easier on the bands and on the people watching." (Their target age is somewhere around 14 to 24; a number of young parents with little kids in tow also show up this night).
As fans begin to push in, Thomas crosses his fingers. "Tonight's going to be the payoff night, I hope," he says. When Dorkweed stops their noise near midnight, more than 70 ticket buyers have come and gone. "We were able to pay our rent for the space as well as take a chunk out of our debt from previous shows," Thomas says afterward. "We're almost in the plus."
The next Milk Bar show is 6 p.m. Sat., Nov. 16 at the downtown YMCA, 909 Fourth Ave.