For 13 years the Cha Cha Lounge and Bimbo's Bitchin' Burrito Kitchen have kept countless local musicians off the dole and their hipster clientele in Bitchin' burritos, cheap beer, and tequila shots. Now the development of high-rise condominiums imminently looms over the entire block they helped to develop. The driving force of this Seattle rock cornerstone, co-owner Jeff Ofelt, is moving his babies out of the way of the wrecking ball, and is reopening them east of Broadway. So rest easy—even when the block is gone, there will still be a Cha Cha to provide half the city's bands with "day" jobs and a place for those between them to drink street Sparks in front of.How and when did you come to lay the first brick that began the institution that is now Bimbo's/Cha Cha?
Jesus, I guess it was in 1994, when I had a vintage clothing store called Righteous Rags that occupied the whole space (Bimbo's and Cha Cha). I was burned out with that, so [co-owners] Wade [Weigel], Rebecca [Olson], and myself decided to open a restaurant. I shrunk down the clothing store, and we opened up the to-go side of Bimbo's. A year later, I shrunk Righteous Rags again, and we opened up the dining room. For the next few years we did the same, and the Cha Cha was born.
As an epicenter that Seattle's rock community has orbited around over the years, what about it draws that contingent of people to the place?
It just evolved into sort of a clubhouse for Seattle's rock community. The atmosphere is inspiring, the music is great, and our family of employees have always been the leaders in the music scene.
You've been known as an employer for many musicians who have been able to leave to tour, knowing that they'll have a job when they return. Was that an intentional move on your part?
It was intentional to treat employees the way I would want to be treated! They are all (past and present) amazing people who I would go out of my way to take care of; they have my back, and I have theirs.
Of all the many musicians that have rolled burritos and poured drinks behind the bar, can you list some of the veterans and newbies who have worked for you?
John Atkins (764-HERO, Magic Magicians, Can't See), Kelly Canary (Dickless), Kim Warnick (Fastbacks, Visqueen), Dann Gallucci (Murder City Devils, Modest Mouse, A Gun Called Tension), Leslie Hardy (Hole, Murder City Devils), Coady Willis (Murder City Devils, Big Business, Melvins), Mat Brooke (Carissa's Wierd, Band of Horses, Grand Archives), Jenn Ghetto (Carissa's Wierd, S), Nathan Johnson (Pretty Girls Make Graves, Moonrats), Kerry Zettel (Stab Master Arson, Das Llamas, See Me River), Robin Perringer (Kill Sybil, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses), Tiffany Anders, Christ (DJ Naha), Jason Sellers (Scissor Sisters), Spencer Moody (Murder City Devils, Triumph of Lethargy, Smoke and Smoke, Dead Low Tide), Thomas Wright (Can't See, Some Salesman, Ex Best Friends, Grand Archives), Jake Manny (Pud), Tad Doyle, Marcus Wilson (Ursula & the Androids), Mune (FCS North), Andy Coronado (Monorchid, Wrangler Bruts), Trevor Keene (Ugly Casanova), Zeke Howard and Brandon Angle (Love as Laughter), Sam Jayne (Love as Laughter, Link), Kento (IQU), Dale Crover (Melvins), Justin Schwartz (Cobra High, Bats of Belfry), Joram Young (Cobra High, Bats of Belfry, Whalebones), Marty Lund (Cobra High, Cave Singers), Colin Roper (Cobra High, Loving Thunder), Dove Amber (Duster, Mohinder, Helvetia, Arthur & Yu), Ian Valentine (Watery Graves), William Goldsmith (Sunny Day Real Estate), Steve Snere (These Arms Are Snakes), Cory Murchy (Minus the Bear), Joe Arnone (Weird Lords/Band of Horses/Charming Snakes), Al Lenderick, Kellie Payne and Mike Epting (Weird Lords), Steve King (Weird Lords/New Luck Toy), Jesy Fortino (Tiny Vipers), Chris Majerus (Modest Mouse), Scotty Yoder (the Pharmacy), Jerome Sosa (Snuggle/Pipsqueak). And for all the others I spaced on...sorry!
You're being forced out of the old space for new condos. What are your thoughts on how that will affect the neighborhood or the community in general?
Well, moving is super expensive and it sucks, but Seattle can't have enough butt-ugly condos...can they? Once again, the almighty dollar wins out over everything. Instead of Bimbo's, Cha Cha Lounge, Winners Circle, Bus Stop, Kincora's, and Manray, try to image T-Mobile, Tully's, Subway, Radio Shack. The neighborhood is going to change drastically and, in my opinion, not for the better.
What changes can people expect from the new space?
The Cantina will have more seats and an atmosphere that rivals any bar in Tijuana. The Cha Cha will have everything already loved (our big U-booths, amazing staff, thatched bar, photo booth, stiff and cheap drinks, pinatas and sombreros), with some new items (foosball table, vending machine, table service). Both places look fucking amazing, and I am not just saying that.
Your top five records by Bimbo's/Cha Cha employees:
1. Murder City Devils, Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts.
2. Modest Mouse, The Moon & Antarctica.
3. New Luck Toy, Taste the Joy.
4. Fastbacks, Zucker.
5. FCS North, All Mvmnt Brings.
A weekly peek behind the curtain of the Emerald City music world, Behind the Scene sheds light on folks you won't see onstage, but who make it all happen.