Cafe Venus/marsBar mastermind Katy Aversenti is loyal to her regulars, no matter how crazy. She loves Damien Jurado but can't say why, and has a mom who fronted her the cash for her bar's first booze order—hey, it's better than milk money.
Job title, duties:
Co-owner Cafe Venus and the marsBar. I wait tables, do taxes, payroll, banking, print posters, clean the espresso machine, daily sales entries, some bartending but not as much as I used to, ordering of booze, inventories, cleaning of the things that have been neglected, P.R., keeper of historical memoirs.
How did you get your start in the nocturnal world of nightlife?
My illustrious beginnings really began in 1994 as a bartender at the Graduate in Oakland, Calif. However, my move to Seattle in 1995 proved the true beginning. In 1996 [I started working] at the (RIP and sorely missed) Storeroom Tavern as a beer slinger and smart-ass. I became infatuated with the punk bands. Simultaneously, I was a bartender at the now-defunct (but often referred to) Ileen's on Broadway.
How was Cafe Venus/marsBar born?
The neighborhood—with no coffee or food—was in dire need of something, even if it would only serve myself and the few friends I could convince to come eat. After the first nine months of struggling to make ends meet, I had permission to start serving liquor. So with a lot of help from people who knew more about building things than me, the lounge [Cafe Venus] was born. I couldn't even afford my first liquor order and had to borrow money from my mom to buy the booze. I built the lounge on credit cards and trade. At this time, the Storeroom was still next door. It was a perfect setting, because people could get food at the cafe, go watch a show at the Storeroom, and come have a shot at the lounge. When the Storeroom closed its doors (still a conflict in stories of why . . . some say noise complaints, some say lease negotiations, back rent, etc.), there were only two options. Expand into the space or don't.
So the marsBar was born. Then I started asking all my friends who played in bands to play; then demos started to come in. We've since hired a booker for the bar, and with [co-owner Mark Himple's] fresh energy (where mine was tired and worn out), we started remodeling the marsBar, making more room for the bands, changing up the sound system. As time goes on, Mark and I keep fine-tuning,
What fuels your fire to work in such a fickle industry?
You know, everyone will say they have a passion for the music, the bands, the nightlife. I don't so much anymore. I have a passion for the people and a curiosity about the inner workings of community, mental health, and what drives people. This allows a certain sense of forgiveness in the annoying parts of the fickleness, but I also kick walls sometimes. Our employees [as well]—every day we are reminded that we depend on them as much as they depend on us. I think we have the most amazing employees in town.
What was the first record you ever bought?
The Specials. My first copy I lost in a poker game.
What are the top three shows you've had at the bar?
1. All shows by Lesli Wood. She has played solo as well as with her various bands, Ms. Led and Saeta. She actually played on the cafe side before the marsBar existed, on top of this little stage "custom built" with scavenged objects to fit over the round booth in the front. She can belt it, rock on the guitar, and entertain an entire room—all while doing her own sound
2. The SurfCoasters from Japan. Oh my, the energy and dancing . . . the feeling that they left within the space permeated the walls for an entire week after they left.
3. Damien Jurado. I can't tell you why. I don't think I really need to tell you why.
Most memorable marsBar moment:
Best: Opening night, Aug. 17, 2001. I had been up for 42 hours straight, was taking a nap on a booth in the cafe when the sun came up that morning.
Has anything awful happened since you've owned the place?
Having my kitchen manager (at the time) get arrested, bail him out, only to have [him] and my main waitress (at the time) flee the state, leaving me with her dog and two full-time positions to fill by myself . Yeah, that was one for the record, for sure.
What can we look forward to at CVMB this year?
The remodeled stage and sound system and maybe some new paint. Our neighborhood is changing, and I am torn between loving the change and hating the change. South Lake Union is becoming this gentrified place where I see more BMWs than band vans, more jeans and high heels than T-shirts, and more trampstamps than sleeves. We have to keep up with the hood while keeping it real.
Top five records to listen to when . . .
I listen to these while doing everything: paperwork, bartending, waiting tables. But the best for construction will always be anything by Greg Dulli—for me, at least.
1. Afghan Whigs, Gentlemen.
2. Neko Case.
3. Sun Kil Moon.
4. The Diggs.
5. Thao Nguyen.
A weekly peek behind the curtain of the Emerald City music world, Behind the Scene sheds light on folks you won't see onstage, but who make it all happen.