The Croc is Closed for Good

And we never even got to say goodbye.

"Croc closed for good." I had to stare at that text message on my phone for a bit to make sure I was reading it correctly, despite the crystal-clear phrasing of my Seattle Weekly colleague Aja Pecknold. She was passing along the bad news that would (after the story was broken on our Reverb blog) spread virally through the Seattle music community on Sunday evening: The Crocodile Cafe, which had played a pivotal role in Seattle's rock scene since 1991, was no more. The same night, many of the industry's key players were gathered at Neumo's for a private dinner, thus making the news easy fodder for conversation, speculation, and reminiscence. "Well, I guess my club can finally be considered an institution now," said Neumo's co-owner and talent buyer, Jason Lajeunesse, with a bittersweet laugh. Lajeunesse wasn't being arrogant; he was just reflecting on the reality that the Capitol Hill club he co-owns with Steven Severin and Mike Meckling is now an even more important anchor for the community. There were frequent rumors of the Crocodile's bleak financial situation for years, all of which were confirmed Nov. 28 when booking agent Pete Greenberg abruptly and angrily quit, publicly acknowledging what many hoped wasn't true: The Belltown club had been in dire straights for some time. Just a few weeks after Greenberg's departure, owner Stephanie Dorgan locked the doors for good, giving zero notice to her employees. Closing for financial reasons is one thing, but the fact that neither employees nor the artists scheduled to play there in the coming weeks were given any notice felt just plain cruel. Eli Anderson, who had taken over Greenberg's duties, had been working diligently to keep the Croc's calendar full, but had apparently been operating on blind faith. In an e-mail statement, Anderson was understandably stunned. "I spent the last three weeks of my life working there 60-plus hours per week, frantically convincing agents/bands/promoters that it was OK to book shows there—because I believed it was. Obviously, if I knew we were going to close, I wouldn't have been putting so much work into securing the Croc a solid spring schedule. I'd like to apologize to any band or agent or promoter who I inadvertently lied to in the past few weeks." He was also clearly hurt. "I feel really betrayed by the club's sudden closure," he continued. "It was no mystery to anyone who cared that the Crocodile was losing money. But I really do feel that we had the right people in there, with the right attitudes, and that we were going to turn things around. I was very much looking forward to throwing myself into the job and doing everything in my power to assure that the Crocodile Cafe became the club that it deserved to be. I cared deeply about the place and everything it stood for. So to have the wool pulled over my eyes and the rug pulled out from under my feet is just insulting." I'll be the first to admit that I have an incredibly strong, sentimental attachment to the Croc. I had my wedding reception there 10 years ago, and on the night my husband and I decided to divorce, I quietly drowned my sorrows in the same space while Eddie Vedder, Michael Stipe, and a blur of other guests celebrated at an R.E.M. postshow party. The list of amazing bands I've seen there could fill this entire page and then some. Soundman Jim Anderson, widely (and correctly) perceived as the best live engineer in town, was always a familiar, warm presence, and is responsible for much of my education in acoustics. Obviously, we're still at no loss for live entertainment in Seattle. It's comforting to know that Neumo's is on solid footing, as is Chop Suey (which wisely retained Greenberg's services just last week). We also have a slew of committed independent agents with impeccable taste booking great shows: Brian Foss at the Funhouse, Kwab Copeland at Jules Maes, Mike Jaworski at the Sunset, and Michelle "Mamma Casserole" Smith at the Comet. And major props go out to Dana Sims and El Corazon for rescuing the Three Imaginary Girls Christmas party, an annual benefit which was scheduled to take place at the Crocodile this Thursday, Dec. 20. The party (and birthday bash for TIG's Liz Riley) will go on as planned over at the Eastlake club. Already word has it that several people are interested in buying the Crocodile. But regardless of what happens, it's indisputable that the club was a de facto historical landmark for Seattle's music community. And the fact that Dorgan fired all the employees, locked the doors, and changed the locks one week before Christmas is one of the most disgraceful, insulting exits I've seen. (Eli Anderson received the news via a voice-mail message while Christmas shopping, adding what he wryly described as "a Dickensian twist to the story.") That the club had to be closed for financial reasons is understandable; that no one would be given the chance to say goodbye is not.

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