As details on the Comet’s closing surface, we reached Michelle “Mamma Casserole” Smith, the club’s music booker for nine years, for her side of the story. (Our attempts to reach club owner Brian Balodis so far have been unsuccessful.)
Smith says Balodis, a former banker, struggled with alcoholism after buying the venue in 2007. “The guy should have never bought a bar,” Smith said last night in a phone call, adding that the first-time bar owner “bought the bar because he thought it was cool.”
Smith, who worked with Balodis for six years, says at first “the Comet was doing really well, and he wasn’t drinking a lot.” Then things just started to go downhill. Her checks began bouncing, she says, and when she was offered money from the till, there was nothing there, either. “He essentially owes me $8000 in back wages,” Smith says.
When she asked Balodis if the venue was in danger of closing, the owner reportedly said he has “a partnership lined up for October 1st” and that the new arrangement was going to be “better than ever.”
“He kept saying he’d pay me back,” she says.
But as she recently posted on Facebook, “The Comet owner secretly removed the sound system and other items of value from the venue. So it looks like we are kaput unless another owner decides to lease the place from the building owner and maintain it as The Comet Tavern.” Over the phone, Smith adds, “my turntables, my mixer, and the soundguy’s microphones are still in there.”
Adding to Balodis’ business troubles, Smith says his condo had been foreclosed on. CHS Seattle published court documents reporting this as well.
“I knew the end was coming,” Smith says. “I was just booking bands to keep the other Comet employees working. [But] I have hope that someone will take it over, maintain its integrity.”
There are hints that local musician Ian Hill is considering stepping in to do just that. We’ll keep you posted as we find out more, and continue to try to reach Balodis. Meantime, Nancy Guppy’s recent profile on the decades-old dive is an excellent look at a piece of Seattle history—a story that includes a bar stool containing the ashes of Ethel, a former Comet owner—that would be a tremendous loss to the community, should it go away forever.