Capitol Hill’s (smaller than you might think) place in grunge music history

With KCMU KEXP in full nostalgia mode to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, CHS thought it might an appropriate time to spin around the Hill and recount Capitol Hill’s role in the birth of grunge. Just one problem. The Hill’s role — thanks in no small part to Cameron Crowe — is overstated. The Capitol Hill of the late 80s and early 90s was a much different place — certainly nothing like the glossy entertainment district that we’ve grown into. Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Café — now Neumos — wasn’t even born until 1992. Most of the venues where “the Seattle sound” was born weren’t on Capitol Hill. Grunge was born, for the most part, in Belltown and the International District and Pioneer Square. But the rockers did live and drink (and plot and plan) here. And, according to the histories, some played here.

Here’s a quick and dirty look at some points of interest from Capitol Hill’s (smaller than you might think) place in grunge history. If you were here and know of a landmark or two we should consider, add a comment.

Odd Fellows Hall: Before the growth of the Hill’s live music and nightlife scene, one of the most important performance venues on the Hill was the Odd Fellows Hall. It was also a much different place than the overhauled building we know now. The U-Men, possibly the first “true” grunge band, rocked the old rafters. Today, we’re betting a U-Man or two may have sampled a delicious Oddfellows scone.

Comet Tavern: Of course. Rock things happened there. But most references to it in the early grunge histories involve drinking, not laying down, sweet, thick layers of guitar fuzz.

Chris Cornell’s living room: Somewhere on Capitol Hill. We don’t know where but you might. Soundgarden practiced there. Sorry neighbors.

The Rat House: Old house at 19th and Denny. A squat/commune/whatever that housed a tribe of Capitol Hill rockers.

The Vogue: Nirvana played its first show at The Vogue — when it was in Belltown or whatever they called the place back in the old days. The Vogue later moved to 1516 11th Ave. Today, the place where Nirvana kind of played its first show but really didn’t is now The Crypt.

Squid RowADDED: : See comments below

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9 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s (smaller than you might think) place in grunge music history

  1. Everything you need to know about grunge is in the movie “Singles” (j/k)

    And I wouldn’t call it “contrived” angst as much as it was heroin-fueled angst. I saw a lot of it, and it was pretty awful. Between that, and the people afflicted with AIDS in those pre-cocktail days, it was a weird, sad time to be a young adult on the hill. The best of times and the worst of times, you might say.

    Personally, I never liked the music. But I was new to town, and a lot of my friends were really into it, and I liked being part of the scenes, so I went along. The drag shows at the Brass Connection were much more my speed. That, and their seventy-five cent cocktails on (I think) Monday. The entire neighborhood turned out for that, and it was a blast.

  2. The only thing contrived about it is the way it was marketed to the world. Or, rather, the way the outside world took it over with its marketing.

    There were a number of amazing live bands in Seattle, back then. And I personally remember Odfellows Hall playing a much less significant role than did Squid Row. Look it up, New Guys. :)

  3. The “Vogue” that Nirvana played at was far, far from the Hill (and is now VAIN in Belltown), but you forgot to mention Squid Row!

    In the spot where Kincora would later live — currently a parking lot — Squid Row however WAS a small and steady staple of the early grunge scene with many of the SubPop & K records kids playing there all the time. And yes, even Nirvana played there. (With Skin Yard too, if my aged memory serves…)

    And we should note that Capitol Hill was actually seedy & unsafe back then as well. And never, ever frequented by Eastsiders!
    (God I miss that Capitol Hill!!!)

  4. The Odd Fellows’ Hall was the home of the late and lamented Bird, an all ages club which was the only all-ages space in the city in the late 70s and early early 80s, and it was the main root of an important branch of the music scene. And the scene was pretty much cored out by 1989.