Seattle music fans are forgiven if they’ve come to expect bad news on the real estate front. Between the constant threat of rent hikes and developers dreaming of bigger dollar signs, stability is often hard to come by for small and midsize venues around town.
But at least one Seattle institution is bucking that bad-news trend. The Central Saloon, a living and breathing piece of Seattle music history, isn’t going anywhere. On Monday, owners of the small club with a big legacy purchased the Pioneer Square building that the grunge-era hot spot has called home for decades.
The Central’s longtime steward Guy Curtis and his business partner Eric Manegold acquired the three-story building for $2.75 million in a fast-moving deal. In recent years, the two have sprung for upgrades to the lighting and sound systems and sought permission to make several other costly improvements to the space — a process that can take some time, as it requires approval from the trust that owned the building. While waiting for a response, Curtis and Manegold learned a few weeks ago that the trust was putting the building up for sale.
“As with all other Seattle entities, we knew that would probably mean the end of the Central,” Manegold said. “It was our assumption that whoever purchased the building would probably use the building for something other than a nightclub, a music-driven nightclub.”
Finding a new home, especially in the downtown area, is hardly a given for Seattle clubs these days. The nearby Highway 99 Blues Club shuttered at the end of 2018 after owners couldn’t reach a deal on a new lease and scouting for affordable alternatives proved fruitless. Over in Belltown, a similar instability and development threat forced the closure of Tula’s jazz club and the Crocodile’s relocation. (Although the Croc’s story had a happy, well-funded ending, expanding just a few blocks away.) Not to mention that the future of the Showbox still hangs in the balance between landmark protections and potential development.
Given the Central’s history tied to that location — a late-’80s hub where bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden played early, formative gigs — Curtis isn’t sure reopening elsewhere would’ve even been an option. Fortunately, a clause in their lease gave them first crack at buying the building should the trust wish to put it on the market.
After hearing the asking price — which was likely curtailed by its location in the Pioneer Square Preservation District, limiting its development potential — Curtis and Manegold decided to give it a go. “We knew the consequences,” Manegold said. “Since we have hundreds of musicians play there every year, we got employees that have been there so long, we thought, ‘What the heck, let’s try to pull this off.’”
With its home secured, the co-owners plan to forge ahead with several other upgrades that won’t change its character: a renovated kitchen, air conditioning and a basement green room Manegold hopes will allow them to book some bigger bands in addition to the local up-and-comers still getting their start at the Central — not unlike the Mudhoneys and Mother Love Bones during its heyday, when the club hosted a revolving door of future rock greats. That legacy attracts picture-snapping tourists to this day. (Kelly Curtis, longtime Pearl Jam manager, and Susan Silver, who managed Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, once had their offices above the bar.)
In a 2020 interview at the onset of the pandemic, Seattle photographer Karen MasonBlair, whose grunge-era photos adorn the Central’s walls, discussed the importance of maintaining spaces intertwined with Seattle’s musical past.
“You can’t replace these things,” she said. “You can have a new club and you can start a new heritage, but our heritage is there. … If you lose your historical places for people to go to, then what does that say about you as a city?”
Now we know at least one of them isn’t going anywhere.