Rocket Queen: Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye

A pair of venues in Ballard and Columbia City reboot.

By the time you read this, the brand-new carpet installed in the Sunset Tavern will undoubtedly have a spilled beer or 10 soaking into it. The factory-fresh smell of the Ballard club's crimson flooring lingered in the air last weekend during the four-day run of shows celebrating the venue's 10th anniversary. An affectionate and vividly debauched photographic history of the space lined the walls from stem to stern, including shots of Green River frontman Mark Arm (also of Mudhoney) careening into the crowd at the band's 2008 reunion show, and a centerpiece black-and-white image reflecting the Sunset's salty origins as a fisherman's watering hole.

Slightly south of the Sunset, the newly remodeled and rebranded 2 Bit Saloon is definitely getting its sea legs. Open only a month under the new ownership of former Funhouse bartender Jessica Young and her carpentry-savvy partner Jamie Bernard, the formerly rough-and-tumble outpost off 17th and Leary has retained the original Bit's outlaw spirit, but now embodies its new proprietors' vintage tastes.

The floors have been stripped down to their raw, cement state (Bernard has filled gaps in cracks with Colt .45 bullet casings), while the bar has been expanded to wrap around the entryway to the showroom, and is now accented with inlaid quarters from all 50 states. A custom-designed beer-tap case is etched with twin images of horses, reflecting the building's original neon horse sign outside, and antique portholes have been installed on the walls.

"I want people to notice different little elements of craftsmanship each time they come back," Bernard explains. Major upgrades to the bar bathrooms and the addition of a ladies' room in the showroom add more creature comforts for patrons, and the sound benefits immensely from the wise decision to get the main speakers off the side stage and fly them from the ceiling. Booking choices are similar to what was happening in the space before, but with a bit more diversity.

"We'll mainly do punk rock, but we'll still have country shows," says Young. "Probably some hip-hop and metal too." The couple plans to host shows three to five times a week, and aims to keep the vibe relaxed enough to make the 2 Bit the sort of space where people drop by for an afternoon beer or Taco Tuesdays, not just for a rock show. "It's a neighborhood bar, so people should be able to come in and watch the game or listen to the jukebox if that's what they want to do," she asserts.

Judging by the crowds already sunning themselves on the refurbished back deck, Young and Bernard will have a busy summer to look forward to. Upcoming shows include pop savant Zack Stokes on Fri., July 2, and rising metal-punks Neon Nights and the Shy Ones this Sat., July 3.

While the 2 Bit eases into its new shape, the Columbia City Theater has reopened its doors many miles to the south in the hope that residents of adjacent neighborhoods like the Central District and Rainier Beach will help fill its 350-capacity room.

It's a noble and ambitious goal; its achievement depends on both the nearby community and the pull of quality programming that will draw committed music fans from farther away to its ornate, history-rich confines. Not an easy bridge to build, but judicious barroom hires—including Grand Archives drummer Curtis Hall and beloved local icon Kim Warnick—and the space's indisputable beauty help immensely. Warnick, who played bass in the Fastbacks and Visqueen and recently launched a new project called the Calligraphers, left her longtime position at Capitol Hill's Cha Cha several months ago.

"As much as the Cha Cha was one of the biggest parts of my life for a while, it's gonna be great to extend it with some of the people I came up with," says Warnick, referring to the many familiar faces on staff. "And I've never bartended in a live [music] venue before, believe it or not."

The rechristened theater's flurry of opening shows continues this weekend with a pair of wildly divergent bills. Roots-rocking mainstays the Maldives and the beguiling croon of Zoe Muth and the High Rollers provide the soundtrack on Fri., July 2, while the thundering combination of punk duo Chinese, prog-metal act Lesbian, and the hot mess that is the Whore Moans will round out Saturday's bill.

Incidentally, this is the Whore Moans' last show under their lascivious moniker; the existing members will soldier forth as Hounds of the Wild Hunt.

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