While many of Seattle’s most famous venues like the Showbox and Paramount reside more central in the city’s geography, a quick journey to the Southside finds some of the most vital venues on the pulse of what’s emerging in the city. This isn’t news. For decades, venues in Columbia City and the Central District have provided the launching pad for Seattle artists.
As the city continues to change and we see gentrification rear its ugly head, a bit of the ever-elusive “old Seattle” still live between the brick buildings and train tracks of this beautiful part of town. A mixture of historical venues and fresh new faces giving back to the community, South Seattle continues to be a vastly important part of the local music landscape. Check out any of the venues listed below and you’re sure to discover the next big thing coming out of the Emerald City.
4916 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118
Many venues in Seattle stake claim to some legendary acts, but Columbia City Theater certainly has a particularly prestigious cache. In its over 100 (!) years of existence, the neighborhood theater has hosted performances dating back to Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, and Ella Fitzgerald in the 1940s all the way through The Lumineers and Cold War Kids in the last decade. More than just a venue, Columbia City Theater is a bit of history, one that is thankfully preserved with owners continuing to look forward into the next century.
“This is a sanctuary in here, just like a beautiful church or synagogue or mosque or temple,” former general manager Lara Lavi told KNKX in 2017. “This is a temple of music, and when you destroy these things, you’re chiseling away at the core of who we are as human beings and as artists.”
But Columbia City Theater has more than just time on its side. The merging between the elevated stage and intimate space makes for a uniquely communal show experience. It captures the grandeur of seeing a show in a larger venue like The Paramount but condensed into the square footage of basement club. With the connected Bourbon Bar up front, the theater gives you elegance and prestige without the top dollar tickets. It’s also become a booming hub for local music, frequently hosting local showcases alongside the occasional national headliner.
5000 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118
Rumba Notes Lounge
5041 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118
4864 Beacon Ave S, Seattle, WA 98108
A relatively new addition to Beacon Hill, Clock-Out Lounge is attempting to fill a void with its adventurous bookings and excellent talent curation. In just over a year, Clock-Out has hosted thrilling performances from local mainstays like Wimps, The Black Tones, JusMoni, The Spits, and more.
"I've learned that Seattle is passionate about community-building around music and art, and I feel we could benefit from more spaces that foster face-to-face connectivity," general manager Denise Burnside told The Stranger in late-2017. Easily accessible by bus lines and with the allure of Chicago-style pizza provided by Breezy Town Pie, it’s easy to see how Clock-Out has quickly become embraced by locals.
Jules Maes Saloon
5919 Airport Way S, Seattle, WA 98108
606 1st Ave S, Seattle, WA 98108
1201 S Vale St, Seattle, WA 98108
7148 Martin Luther King Jr Way S, Seattle, WA 98118
In the heart of Othello stands Cafe Red. Cafe Red claims independence in numerous forms. It’s an independent coffee shop, ran and supported by people from the neighborhood – utilizing coffee’s rich history as a community builder – and brewing coffee from independent roasters with a mind for sustainability and fair wages.
As evening descends, Cafe Red becomes a hub for Seattle music. Like with any venue you’re going to run into in Seattle, Cafe Red’s booking showcases an array of genres. On a given night though, you’re likely to find some of the thrilling young hip-hop, jazz, and reggae acts emerging from the city. You might even find yourself walking into karaoke, a comedy act, a cross-over music/visual arts set. Cafe Red will also once again be participating in the second annual Othello Block Party – a free, all-ages event on July 27 featuring an array of talent including DoNormaal, Porter Ray, BlkSknn, Rogue Pinay, and more.
153 14th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
111 years in operation will build quite the reputation. Washington Hall has been a fixture in the Central District for over a century, functioning as a community hub and an epicenter for the arts. Originally created as a boarding facility for Danish immigrants, the space has evolved to be an inclusive space for artists and community members of all backgrounds.
Hosting two separate event spaces catered for intimate affairs and larger-scale events, Washington Hall scales to the ideas of the creators who pass through. Everyone from Fugazi and Black Flag to Jimi Hendrix and Billie Holiday has passed through Washington Hall. This space has already hosted many iconic moments and continues to today.
Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute
104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144
3803 Delridge Way SW, Seattle, WA 98106
When you’re cutting your teeth as a new artist in Seattle, chances are you’ll make your way through the Skylark Cafe. The venue’s calendar is constantly booked up with emerging acts, bringing in everything from punk and new wave to jazz and folk. Offering multi-track recording right from the board, it’s also a great chance for new bands to get live demos as they start their music career.
4210 SW Admiral Way, Seattle, WA 98116
4559 California Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98116
A quick glimpse at a few of the venues bolstering Tacoma's scene, plus a short interview with Real Art Tacoma.
For the US's Independent Venue Week, July 8-14th, KEXP is spotlighting the independent venues that help the Seattle music scene thrive