The new location of The Crocodile, the storied club where bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana played in the ‘90s, feels like much more than a music venue.
There’s the Society cafe, a cozy bar with dark blue walls, decorated with preserved insects and antlers like a science professor’s study. There’s the 40-foot crocodile skeleton hanging above the floor of the main venue space. And there are the greenrooms, each dedicated to a different decade, the ’80s room decorated with records on the wall, a clear glass table and a black leather couch. Not to mention the 17 hotel rooms upstairs.
After more than a year without a physical location, The Crocodile reopened Tuesday in its new location in Belltown with a party for people in the music industry and press. The first shows in the new space — performances from comedy troupe Mega64 in the main 750-capacity showroom, and rapper MBNel in Madame Lou’s, the 300-capacity venue downstairs — were scheduled for Wednesday. Then on Jan. 1, The Crocodile is opening another restaurant and bar, as well as the Here-After — a 100-seat theater/comedy club — in the same building.
The owners of The Crocodile vacated their old space in Belltown in November 2020 after their lease expired. And despite pandemic uncertainties, Adam Wakeling, a managing partner of The Crocodile, and his partners were able to secure a 20-year lease on the 30,000 square-foot former El Gaucho space just four blocks away.
They took the move as an opportunity to expand. The old Crocodile was full of history: It was a setting for Cameron Crowe’s film “Singles,” and hosted performances from famous artists from all genres, including Beck, John Mayer, The White Stripes and Sia. But it was also small. The old showroom’s capacity was 500 people, and its Back Bar fit only 100. Now, along with expanded show rooms, hotel rooms, swagged-out greenrooms and a restaurant bar, The Crocodile will include a comedy club in 2022 — something booking partner Hunter Motto says has been desperately needed in Seattle, especially since Comedy Underground closed during the pandemic.
“The old Crocodile was loved, crusty and small,” Motto said. “Now we have showers in the greenroom. Like, what!?”
Wakeling said the new Crocodile was initially supposed to open at the beginning of September. Delays in getting building permits and supply chain issues held up the building process. So, for the last few months, The Crocodile has been scrambling to put its 12 to 15 weekly scheduled shows in other venues around town like Neumos, The Tractor Tavern and Chop Suey.
“We’re excited about the expansion,” Wakeling said. “We can’t wait to get these shows back in-house.”
Wakeling said the main change to booking in the new space will stem from the Here-After, which will allow The Crocodile to put on comedy shows and maybe even film premieres in the future. But Motto said the larger showroom, which boasts a 40-foot-wide stage, and the hotel rooms (which bands can stay in) make the venue more attractive to larger acts. Madame Lou’s will host developing bands, particularly those that are “femme-forward,” he said, adding that the venue will be a place where “people who have never played Seattle before are going to get their first shot.”
Though some patrons of the old Crocodile might miss the old Back Bar’s pizza — made in a red-tile oven that had to be left in the building — the new menu has plenty to offer.
Since people will have to eat standing at shows, chef Nathan Gerard (formerly of Reckless Noodles, Il Bistro and Terra Plata) decided to stick to handheld food. The opening menu includes patatas bravas (made with fingerling potatoes and bravas sauce), Moroccan roasted lamb and vegetables in flatbread, and a Peruvian-style roasted chicken sandwich with peppers and butter burgers.
“The concept is building off the different cultures that have supported Seattle through the years and bringing it together with Pacific Northwest ingredients,” he said.
Food will be served from around 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and will be available to people without concert tickets through the Society Café and the Here-After bar. For now, the whole building will have the same menu, but Gerard has plans for specialized menus for different parts of the building in the future.
And for those craving the pizza from the Old Croc, he’s serving panzerotti (fried pizza pockets) with mozzarella, tomato sauce and salami.
The new Crocodile, in many ways, is a testament to Seattle’s history. Madame Lou’s is named after Lou Graham, a woman who owned a famous Seattle brothel in the late 1800s and became one of the city’s wealthiest citizens — somebody Motto said was “all but written out of history,” even though she helped the city’s revival after the Great Fire of 1889. And Motto said the main showroom, with the hanging crocodile skeleton, is supposed to look like a natural history museum.
But there’s also little bits of Crocodile history scattered in the building, too, like the huge, curved black booths that now grace Madame Lou’s. Motto said he eventually wants to turn the old boiler room of the building into a mini museum highlighting The Crocodile’s storied past.
And there will be a grand opening in March, Motto said, with details to be released soon.