Everything on the menu is delicious, and in my experience, the cooks are making some of the most innovative faux meats and cheeses in the world.”
Dylan Desmond is in Copenhagen, on tour with his critically acclaimed doom-metal band Bell Witch, when he shares this morsel about the menu at Highline, the metal bar he owns. That might seem like an odd quote to start a story about Seattle’s heavy music haven. But the fate of that vegan fare has been intricately linked to the half-decade life of the club.
Much like the neighborhood it calls home, the Capitol Hill venue has seen its share of changes over the years. What Desmond started as a simple vegan eatery and bar, hosting a few shows on the side, quickly ballooned into one of Seattle’s most important metal and punk venues. In that time the vegan-eatery part of the operation has ebbed and flowed, disappearing completely for a brief period, but the dungeon-like club has consistently served as a launching point and home base for internationally recognized local heavies including Samothrace, Black Breath, and Bell Witch. And it morphed and mutated in many different ways, a pattern Desmond hopes to continue while maintaining the essential role it has carved out for itself in Seattle’s music scene.
Highline was originally conceived by Desmond and two friends who all worked at Squid and Ink, a small Georgetown vegan cafe and beer bar that hosted occasional punk and metal shows. But its small showroom proved difficult to get to for many folks in the core of the city. A move to a more central location was a no-brainer; and so Desmond signed the lease on Highline’s current location on Broadway in 2010, where it lived upstairs from the Castle Megastore until the sex shop relocated to Pike Street just a few months ago.
“Originally we planned on Highline being more of a bar with a vegan kitchen,” Desmond says. “The room had a good-sized stage when we moved in, and we kept it with the idea that we could do occasional shows. As time went on, the shows became more of a priority. Not only did they help with the bills, they had more emotional weight for everyone involved in the bar. Eventually we decided to turn the focus of the room primarily to a live music venue.”
It’s something I can personally attest to—over the years, I’ve seen countless bucket-list bands at Highline. Supergroup Old Man Gloom made its Seattle debut here in 2012, and legendary New Orleans band Eyehategod played an unannounced show that quickly filled to capacity. I watched from way in the back (and likely will again when the band returns to celebrate Highlines 5th Anniversary on May 17). All are special moments that might not have happened without the venue’s vital attentiveness to aggressive music both local and national.
But while the shows were ratcheting up in caliber, the vegan cafe was doing lackluster business. In February 2013 the decision was made to pull the plug on the vegan kitchen altogether—no doubt a tough call to make for Desmond, himself a vegan for 14 years, but one that would ultimately work out in the long run. “When we announced [the kitchen’s] closing, I didn’t expect much attention, as it hadn’t gotten any in quite some time,” Desmond remembers. “However, there was a sort of outrage, and rumors started circulating that we were closing down.”
While the kitchen was out of order, Desmond was able to tighten the ship and focus specifically on the live music. He invited Brian Foss, booker of the legendary punk holdout the Funhouse, to join the Highline booking team in June after the closure of the Funhouse. “Having Brian Foss take a big part in it was an incredible help, and continues to be even after the Funhouse has reopened,” Desmond says.
Members of the current kitchen staff approached Desmond about giving food another shot. After they came up with a menu, budget, and schedule, the club relaunched food service in February 2014, and so far it’s been more successful than ever. Currently, Highline serves vegan fare from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, but the plan is to expand to the other three days by the end of this year.
The focus for the future
is on expanding not only the kitchen hours but also the artistic endeavors. Local slacker-punk breakout act Chastity Belt hosted the release for its latest LP, Time to Go Home, at the club—which might seem like an odd fit for a bar that’s made its name on darker, heavier bands. But thanks to Foss, Highline’s purview continues to grow, inviting more local micro-scenes to take part.
“I believe the underground music scenes we’re connected with are very powerful and important international cultural movements that have sustained themselves for decades through hard work, dedication, and heart from those involved in them,” Desmond says. “Seattle itself has a damn rich history with the arts, and I love the idea that Highline gets to be a part of it on a local and international scale.”
HIGHLINE’S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY SHOW With Eyehategod, Transient. Highline, 210 Broadway E., 328-7837, highlineseattle.com. $20 adv./$24 DOS. 21 and over. 9 p.m. Sun., May 17.