Seattle's Diverse Nightlife Showcases Live Theater, Rocking Concerts and Happenin' Pubs
By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Local Expert
The Seattle nightlife scene offers far more than beer and bands. As a cultural outpost in this northwest corner of the country, Seattle proves a draw for national tours by top musical acts, Broadway shows, modern dance troupes, hot comics, even avant-garde theater groups. The city also has homegrown talent in most of those areas, too, and the arts scene to support them.
Big shows hit Key Arena, the Seattle Center Opera House and the Paramount and Fifth Avenue theaters. More intimate music venues such as the Showbox and Neumo’s host a rotating slate of name national performers across genres. Multiple bars and clubs showcase live local talent, notably the renowned Crocodile Café and the Sunset, Comet and Tractor taverns.
A vast selection of watering holes—from dive bars to brewpubs to chic lounges and clubs—can be found in ultra-funky Capitol Hill, historic and hip Pioneer Square downtown and the University District (near the University of Washington campus). On the Boards, a local theater group, produces edgy local and regional theater, while film collective Northwest Film Forum spotlights interesting and out-there art films and documentaries. Alternative rock bars still hold their place, but beat-driven dance clubs are alive and well, as are venues geared toward blues and jazz, most distinctively Demitriou’s Jazz Alley, which hosts prominent players from around the globe.
5th Avenue Theatre
The 5th Avenue Theatre is known as one of the nation's leading musical theater companies, especially for its production and development of new works. Needless to say, comedy often graces its stage. Since 2002, the Seattle-based company has produced 17 new musicals. (To date, nine--including hit Disney's Aladdin--have moved on to Broadway premieres, earning a combined 15 Tony Awards, including two for Best Musical--Hairspray and Memphis. The 5th Avenue Theatre also known makes waves for its lauded productions of musicals from the contemporary canon and the Golden Age of Broadway. While the shows are sensational, the venue itself justifies a visit, too, thanks to a unique, Chinese-inspired design. (The exquisite theater opened in 1926 as a venue for vaudeville and film.) ((206) 625-1900)
Known locally as the "Double T," this popular Ballard nightspot features a smorgasbord of impressive music on a weekly basis, and performances range from zydeco, bluegrass and country to rock, folk, jazz and beyond. In addition to great live music, the Tractor also offers tasty, down-home cooking, including BBQ as well as local beers on tap. Completing the distinctly American scene are walls decorated with old tractor parts and farming implements, and cowboy boots dangle from the ceiling rafters. Cash only at the door; Visa and Mastercard accepted at the bar. Square dancing often happens on Monday evenings, accompanied by the music of the Tallboys, who often busk down by the Pike Place Starbucks. (206-789-3599)
The Hotel Monaco in downtown Seattle is really heating up, thanks in part to chef Jan Birnbaum, the driving force behind Sazerac. The fashionable restaurant serves spicy, Cajun-inspired New American cuisine, including golden hush puppies served with warm molasses, Creole shrimp cakes, black mussels with cumin butter sauce and braised beef served with a gorgonzola potato creation. Modern, amusing interiors make this a must on your restaurant list. If you want to learn some tricks yourself, check out their bartending and cooking classes. Why do the folks at Sazerac think you should stop in for a meal? "A place for serious fun and damn good food." (206-624-7755)
Located in the historic Odd Fellows building, Century Ballroom's vintage locale perfectly suites its mission, to keep ballroom and social dancing a thriving part of the Seattle nightlife scene. If the venue's popularity is any indicator, the mission is succeeding. The elaborately renovated ballroom space -- with a 2,000-square-foot dance floor -- is the place in the city to revive the grand days of formal evenings on the town. Dance nights, often with live music, set the perfect tone with dining, drinks, and dancing under the same roof. Meals and a full bar are available right across the hallway at the Tin Table. Whether you enjoy salsa, swing, tango, tap, or burlesque, Century Ballroom or the adjacent East Hall offers all that and more. And for those who need instruction or just a chance to brush-up on their rug-cutting skills, Century Ballroom hosts fun and friendly classes and lessons. (206-324-7263)
Dating to the late 19th century, this venue has been restored to the glory it knew as a movie theater in the 1920s. These days, you can catch acts as diverse as Boyz II Men and David Bowie, and there's even the odd speaking engagement -- Dr. Maya Angelou, for example, has made an appearance. Enjoy the sumptuous, gilt-edged surroundings as you take in a show. The ambience is decadent; for example, three million crystal beads adorn 218 chandeliers and light fixtures. If dancing is called for, the seating area quickly converts to a stunning hardwood ballroom floor. The "wow" factor here is work the trip! (206-682-1414)
Zig Zag Cafe
If alluring ambience is your thing, be sure to duck into this Parisian-style cafe where patrons feel they've been whisked away to another era. Attentive service, awesome drinks, a sexy and sophisticated indoor vibe and an appealing outdoor patio draw visitors to this intimate cocktail bar tucked away below Pike Place Market. Serving a late-night menu of salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, house pie and seafood until 1am, this venue proves a popular place to hang out with an eclectic crowd of all ages who enjoy good food, drinks and fun. Located near Pike Place Market on the Pike Street Hill Climb, find the venue just down the stairs from Kasala Furniture on Western Avenue and just up the stairs across the street from the Seattle Aquarium. (206-625-1146)
The Triple Door
Located in Seattle's historic Mann Building in the heart of downtown, this intimate and sophisticated award-winning music and dinner theater occupies the renovated space that formerly housed the Embassy Theater, originally a 1920's vaudeville house. The Mainstage, downstairs on the lower level, is an intimate candlelit spot with state-of-the-art sound and booths that offer clear sight lines to the stage. An Asian-fusion menu is provided by Wild Ginger restaurant next door, and the same cuisine is available upstairs in the Musicquarium Lounge. In this upstairs lounge-like space, live music, DJ sets and a stellar happy hour menu have become legendary around town. (206-838-4333)
You're in the beery Pacific Northwest, where microbreweries sprout like mushrooms after a rainstorm. If you're interested in place at which to sample suds from a wide variety of those breweries, Brouwer's Café in Fremont is pure beervana. Obviously run by hop heads and beer geeks, Brouwer's staff is amazingly knowledgeable about lagers and ales. They had better be. This casual and understated pub offers no fewer than 64 rotating draft selections, along with more than 300 bottled brews and 60-something types of Scotch. And to help soak up some of that beer in your belly, the café features a Eurocentric menu of exceptional eats. (206-267-2437)
When it comes to karaoke in Seattle, Rock Box is the obvious choice. The rocking Capitol Hill hangout�a Japanese-style club�follows the private room (or "karaoke box" model) popular in Japan and throughout Asia. The venue boasts a full bar plus a menu of charcuterie and cheese available through neighboring restaurant Cure. Inspired by Japanese craft and Tokyo lights, the 12 boxes range in size from 2 to 14 seats, and there's a larger "party room" that can accommodate 35-plus. Songbirds show up to peruse a songbook that's been two decades in the making; it contains nearly 30,000 English and 67,000 Japanese songs (with strong Chinese and Spanish libraries, too). Happy singing! ((206) 302-7625)
Dimitriou's Jazz Alley
Seattle's premier jazz club for nearly three decades, Dimitriou's Jazz Alley is a sure West Coast stop for top jazz artists on tour. Jazz Alley has hosted luminaries such as Peter White, Randy Brecker, Dr. John, and Tower of Power. Oh, and just a few other important names, stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, Brandford Marsalis, Diane Schuur, Oscar Peterson, Betty Carter, and Bill Evans, have graced the club's marquee over the years. A local jazz institution, the elegant club setting and name acts bring out folks dressed for the occasion. Many choose to dine in the club's fine restaurant before the show. This being a jazz club, it goes without saying a full-service bar keeps libations flowing during the show. (206-441-9729)
About Corinne Whiting
Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China. Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's OnTrak. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.
Read more about Corinne Whiting here.