Nightclub shakeout

OK Hotel and the Fenix close after earthquake damage.

DOES ANYONE OUT there know of two 500- capacity nightclubs available for immediate occupancy? That's the question owners and employees of landmark Seattle venues the Fenix and the OK Hotel are asking after last week's earthquake made their spaces uninhabitable.

The Fenix became the most enduring visual image of the temblor, with a 100-foot swath of its brick facade crashed to the sidewalk and its green awning pierced by falling debris. Co-owner Rick Wyatt, working in the condemned building "at my own risk" a week after the quake, says the timing was especially bad. He'd just signed an eight-year lease and was planning on expanding the space into two neighboring storefronts on March 1. "To have it all go away is tough," he says, adding that 45 employees were laid off. It's too soon to estimate the financial fallout, Wyatt says, but owners of the building put the figure at $1.5 million in a Seattle Times article.

Ironically, the Fenix had emerged from the Mardi Gras riots unscathed, only to have the quake inflict more damage than any of the neighboring clubs experienced from either phenomenon. And the irony isn't lost on Wyatt, who couldn't afford to buy earthquake insurance. "If the riots had torn it down the night before, we were covered, 100 percent," he notes. "Now we're not."

As a result of all the media exposure—footage of the Fenix appeared on CNN and NBC Nightly News—Wyatt and the Fenix have received sympathetic phone calls and e-mails from around the country, with prominent bands offering to play benefit concerts. (Wyatt won't disclose which bands.) In the meantime, he's frantically looking for a new space for the Fenix.

He'll have to compete in the real estate market with the OK Hotel, the stately old club underneath the viaduct that the Weekly learned will also close as a result of structural damage sustained during the earthquake. The club has a place in Seattle lore as the setting of the coffee shop in Singles. Diane Podolak, booking agent for the OK, says that the timing seemed cruel to her club as well. "We'd just remodeled it. It's really horrible," she says.

While both the Fenix and the OK may eventually reopen, Wyatt and Podolak suggest that it'll take months before their clubs could relocate. The loss of two venerable spaces—the Fenix opened nearly a decade ago, the OK more than 15 years ago—and the impact to the musicians who played there could be devastating. The Fenix regularly hosted cover bands, and the OK booked an array of styles but was one of the only venues for the city's experimental jazz scene.

While both clubs assess the financial, physical, and emotional losses, at least one club is planning to host benefits on their behalf. Showbox owner Jeff Steichen says he and his employees will gladly help their former competitors. "Our heart goes out to anyone who suffered the damage."

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