The Royal Room, Columbia City's eclectic new music venue, the brainchild of pianist and composer Wayne Horvitz, opened Friday.
The eclectic, freestyle sounds of Wayne Horvitz’s jazz-rock quartet Zony Mash reverberate through Columbia City’s newest music venue, The Royal Room, as Horvitz taps a Hammond B-3 organ and the crowd sips drinks and sways along.
The 99-seat venue — a night club, restaurant and lounge — opened Friday, occupying the same building on Rainier Avenue as the Royal Esquire Club.
Horvitz, who came up with the idea for the place two years ago, envisions The Royal Room as a “neighborhood joint.” He hopes to revive an old concept in which music venues were less about the performer and more about the social space — the kind of place audiences would come to see the same musician multiple nights in a row.
“Music develops in a different way when people are familiar with the space,” said the nationally known pianist and composer.
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The Royal Room is also designed to be “artist-friendly.” A grand piano, organ and drum set are permanent fixtures, and musicians can play for an extended period and receive quality recordings of their performances.
“We wanted to have this sort of studio vibe,” said Royal Room co-founder Tia Matthies. “The musicians can come in and just do their thing.”
Matthies and Steve Freeborn, two Seattle entrepreneurs, helped Horvitz get The Royal Room started, along with 18 other people who invested around $210,000. Most investors were from the area. The club also received a loan from the Rainier Valley Development Fund and a $24,000 grant from 4Culture.
The Royal Room is not a jazz club. It will be open to all genres, said Horvitz, who calls the venue a “project room.” Friday’s opening night hosted an array of performers, including award-winning poet Frances McCue and the all-blues band “Yada Yada Blues.”
“I’d like to bring in interesting projects that never crossed my mind,” Horvitz said. “I really just want it to be creative and to not take itself too seriously. It’s a place where people gather to have a good time.”
Thursdays through Sundays will be reserved most weeks for local musicians and there will be no cover charge. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when a cover is required, national touring acts will take the stage. Horvitz hopes to book high-demand groups that could pack a place like the Tractor, in Ballard, on a Friday but might have openings in their schedules on a week night.
The layout of The Royal Room is communal: Very little separation exists between the bar and the stage; tables for restaurant diners line the back of the venue and the floor below the stage.
Guy Davis, general contractor of the venue and also a member of Guardian Alien, which played Friday, said the mix of a restaurant, bar and stage might be an adjustment for some folks.
“I think it’s maybe going to challenge people’s concept of what they’re going to a music venue for,” he said. “But I think the emphasis is on the music.”
Despite the financial risks of opening a new venue in an economic recession, Horvitz said he feels confident that this addition fills a niche in the Seattle music scene.
“There aren’t many places in Seattle that aren’t either fairly expensive or really just kind of like a corner bar,” he said.
Kirsten Johnson: 206-464-3192 or email@example.com