A Capitol Hill cultural institution celebrates a double birthday this month as Moe Bar (originally Moe's Mo'Roc'N Cafe) and its concert venue companion Neumos respectively turn 20 and 10 years old. Nestled on the corner of Pike and 10th, the venue has been one of Seattle's best live music destinations since its inception; seeing everyone from Neil Young to Muse to Adele to Oasis (and every local act that's mattered) grace its stage. To celebrate the milestones, Neumos hosts a week of concerts (January 9–16) featuring some of its favorite Northwest acts (both old and new): The Posies, Hey Marseilles, the Thermals, Telekinesis, and more. Tickets run $15 per concert, but there's a special offer where concertgoers can snag tickets to two shows for $20. That's a birthday deal worth celebrating.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Moe Bar/Neumos co-founder and co-owner Jerry Everard about how the venues inception, his favorite concerts, and Dave Grohl messing with Gary Payton.
How did you initially get involved setting up Moe's Mo'Roc'N Cafe 20 years ago?
I was a young lawyer at a law firm downtown in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and another attorney there—Stephanie Walton, who later became Stephanie Dorgan—decided we were going to open up a live music venue that had hard alcohol. We opened the original Crocodile together. And then after about a year and a half we split up essentially and I went up the hill with two of the folks from the Crocodile; a guy named Eric Shirley, who had put a fair amount of the money behind the original Crocodile, and a guy named Graham Graham, who was the guy that designed the original Crocodile. We’d spent a fair amount of time sort of watching what was going on and learning from things we’d done right and things we wished we’d done differently at the Crocodile. We saw that there were all these people walking down the Hill to go to Rock Candy and down the hill to go to the Crocodile, so we why don’t we put something up on the Hill? The Salvation Army had that space at the time, they weren’t super excited about moving because they were building their main headquarters on Lower Queen Anne at the time, but we were able to put together a deal where they were able to move down East Pike to where they are currently. We got that building and were able to sort of build the space the way we had originally envisioned when we embarked on the original Crocodile adventure; the main thing being having great green rooms. We had showers for bands coming through in vans, so we could totally spoil them with hospitality and things like that.
Over the years, what have been some of the bigger changes that you’ve had to go through?
Oh my gosh, the biggest changes have been around liquor laws. When we first opened you really couldn’t have a showroom, and so one of the challenges of having live music and hard alcohol in the same place is that you could only serve hard alcohol incident to a food sale. So it had to be this really sort of hold over Prohibition era law that basically said we’re not gonna have bars in this state we’re only going to have taverns, and they don’t have to have, and we’re gonna have restaurants. And so we had to have a restaurant license. Without getting too bogged down in those details, basically the biggest limitation was that 20 percent of our sales had to be food, and that was an annual audit we had to go through every year with the liquor board. So we had to play within those parameters. At that time we were opened at 8 and served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was a real sink hole of money because when we opened the place, we opened it sort of in the middle of nowhere, which was perfect for what we were doing on the music side, but it wasn’t so great for the restaurant. And then we would do all of the catering for festivals like Endfest and do a special treatments at the 5th avenue or the Paramount. We managed every year to just squeak by with just enough food revenue. Thankfully that changed, things have been loosened up so that today you can actually have a nightclub license; you can have a full on venue and not have any food requirements.
In what ways have you observed Capitol Hill change around the venue since you first opened two decades ago?
When we went there it was in the middle of nowhere, except we had the Comet and we had a coffee shop up the street Café Paradiso, and then that became Caffé Vita about a year after we opened. In the same year we started up, Linda’s opened, so you could see stuff was changing a little bit, but still it was completely still an industrial part of town. It was basically warehouses; there was a distribution center across the street for shoe parts and all sorts of businesses like that. Obviously now it’s that thriving nightlife district. It’s great that now we have more daytime stuff as well, like Elliott Bay Books. It’s become a real sort of heart of this area; it’s got more of an urban village feel.
How have things changed for you on the musical side of things over the course of 20 years?
In the original Mo days, our focus was definitely on indie rock—it was grunge at the time—and that’s still the heart of what Neumos is. I would say there was a period in there where it became much more electronic oriented and I think that mirrored what was happening in the city and across the country; for a period there it was much less live instruments and more electronic oriented. We still do hip-hop and other genres, but at our core we’re still sorta indie rock I guess, which is great. I would say that with this new wave of artists it’s a very different style—more melody and less angst. (Laughs) But also, the changes in the music business have also resulted in more artist making more of their revenues off of live performances, which is sort of healthy to the whole live music business, whether it’s club level all the way up through festivals.
Do you have a personal favorite show or two over the course of the venue’s history?
It really is super hard to pick. I would say it’s hard not to always be in awe of the Neil Young show, but you know I had the most fun, you know, just bouncing around to the Presidents (of the United State of America) when they were able to just fill the room before they got so big. Those were great shows.
The only show my dad ever went to was a Tad show, and you know it was completely packed and the mosh pit was crazy and Tad had giant guys jumping on them. And afterwards my dad just had one question for me, “Do you have insurance?”
What are some of the lasting moments you have that have stuck out as amazing or crazy during the course of the venues history?
Well there’s the well documented stuff right that everybody knows about, but more and more of these memories keep popping up as I talk to people. The first time No Doubt came through, there were ten people in the showroom. And remember sort of hanging out after the show and being like, you know, “You guys were really good. Next time you come through, I’m sure there’ll be more (people).” And just feeling their sense of dejection. And next time they came through it was completely packed out and then they went through the stratosphere. So there’s stories like that.
We used to have this “Moe Funk” night which was super popular and we’d have all kinds of athletes who would come through town all the time. One night Gary Payton was in and I introduced Dave Grohl to Gary Payton. And it was very funny. Gary was like, “Well should we go downstairs and chat?” I think he thought it was gonna be like some cool club scene or something downstairs, he comes down with his bodyguard, and we’re all sitting around there and Dave and I, in sort of infantile fashion, start just shooting rubber bands at Gary Payton. He was just like trying to ignore us. His bodyguard was not sure if this was cool with him or not, and it just turned out to be a very funny scene.
Moe Bar 20th & Neumos 10th Anniversary Shows
Jan 9 - Telekinesis
Jan 10 - The Posies
Jan 11 - Goodness
Jan 12 - Truly
Jan 13 - Hey Marseilles
Jan 15 - The Thermals
Jan 16 - Brent Amaker and the Rodeo and Fox and The Law
Neumos, $15 per ticket; 2 shows for $20