It’s a minor miracle (or at least a testament to their organizing power) that more Seattle music venues haven’t permanently thrown in their bar rags during the pandemic. Most of the major players in town have been back in the saddle for months, even if it’s been a bumpy ride of shifting protocols and fans’ evolving comfort levels.
In the past few weeks, two of the club scene’s lingering holdouts opened their doors for the first time since the pandemic with some changes at the helm.
Belltown Yacht Club, the showroom companion to basement rock pub Screwdriver Bar, returned to action just in time for New Year’s Eve after undergoing a “massive remodel” spearheaded by new managing partner Ed Maloney.
Local blues fans might remember Maloney as the snazzy-suited Bostonian working the room at the old Highway 99 Blues Club, which he co-owned before its closure three years ago. A longtime friend of the Screwdriver’s owners (one of whom made all of Maloney’s colorful suits), Maloney has officially joined the squad and taken the Yacht Club’s reins, implementing some significant changes.
For starters, the venue side now has a separate entrance (and its own box office) behind the building and a permanent wall separating the Yacht Club from the Screwdriver Bar. Though volume was never an issue at a club that hosted its share of decibel-cranking rock bands, the sound system is being upgraded with a proper soundboard and new sound cushioning in the ceiling. The floors have been redone, the stage expanded and a new lighting system has been installed.
Expect to see some names that once graced Highway 99’s calendar as Maloney puts his bluesy fingerprints on the booking sheet under the banner of “Rock ‘n’ roll punk, rhythm & blues.” That’s good news for Highway 99 fans, although some of the heavier bands that found favor at the Yacht Club 1.0 “won’t be coming back,” Maloney says.
“My concept on this one is if it’s in my record collection, or it should be in my record collection, I’m gonna put it on the stage,” Maloney says.
While many of the rock shows will be standing room only, some of the more blues- and jazz-oriented gigs will be seated, or at least partially seated, signaling a shift toward welcoming different types of crowds.
A few miles north, the Sea Monster Lounge got back on its feet (tentacles?) last month under new ownership. Longtime bartender and buoyant bass lord Mark Mattrey has taken over the Wallingford funk haven and plans to retain the musician-owned hangout’s rep as a hub for some of the most serious players in Seattle.
When a deal with another buyer fell through, Mattrey and his wife, Justine, became interested after a tennis-court run-in with the landlord and a series of cosmic signs telling them to make an offer.
“We kept it in the family,” Mattrey says. “I’m gonna try to keep it as is, with some improvements.”
Nothing major for now beyond sound upgrades and potentially reshuffling some of the club’s weekly residencies to make room for new blood.
After a few years in Portland, Mattrey has been a fixture at the club since 2009 when founder Andrew Nunez coaxed him back to Seattle with the promise of a Friday night gig, a bartending job and an apartment above the club he wound up living in for a decade. Mattrey formed the nucleus of the Sea Monster’s anchor house band, Funky 2 Death, alongside local guitar hero Jimmy James and drummer Woogie D. The crew’s Friday night stand has been the Sea Monster’s signature night for years.
And don’t think for a second that Mattrey will be too busy to fulfill his Friday night bass duties now that he’s the guy signing the checks.
“Oh yeah,” says Mattrey when asked if he’ll still be on stage. “That was my goal. I wanted my job back and I wanted my gigs back [laughs].”