When it opened in 1994, Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Café was “patient zero” in the spread of today’s Pike/Pine’s nightlife culture of music, drinks and good times. Six years after Moe’s closed, the venue re-opened as Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room and continues to be a pillar of the city’s music scene. Grunge, raves, middle eastern cuisine, and Moe the be-fezed Moroccan have come and gone, but seeing live music at the corner of 10th and Pike has remained a Capitol Hill mainstay for twenty years.
“Most places were just a hole with a pole,” Moe’s founder Jerry Everard tells CHS, referring to the support beams that block stage views in most taverns-turned-venues. “We just wanted to have the best venue in town, with the best sound system.”
Neumos is celebrating its 10th anniversary while paying homage to the 20th anniversary of Moe’s with a slate of nostalgia-racked $15 shows kicking off on Thursday. Seattle old-timers like the Posies, Sage, and Pop Sickle will be returning to the stage, many musicians appearing on multiple bills given the incestuous nature of Seattle band lineups.
These days, Neumos is run by a Capitol Hill supergroup which includes building owner, preservation-minded developer and Moe founder Everard, as well as Mike Meckling, Jason Lajeunesse, and Steven Severin. Lajeunesse, who also has stakes in various Pike/Pine food and drink venues, recently joined up with Dave Meinert in an effort to reopen The Comet in coming months.
Like other pioneering business owners at the time, Everard said the idea to settle atop the Hill during the neighborhood’s unsavory years stemmed from watching throngs of people venturing off the Hill on the weekends.
“We saw all these people walking down the hill for shows … we thought ‘why not have something here,’” he said.
The Comet and Cafe Paradiso (now Caffe Vita) were already in Pike/Pine, a small but promising scene Everard thought he could expand on. It was a big gamble considering the epicenter of live music was far away in Pioneer Square and Belltown, where Everard had already hit it big with his first venue, The Crocodile.
Everard struck gold twice by taking two talent buyers named Jason from the same venue. The first was Jason Fitzgerald in 1994, who had been booking shows at the Off Ramp in the early alt-rock days. For Fitzgerald the goal at Moe’s was not only to move Seattle’s musical center of gravity, but to build a club that could attract national and international acts.
“Seattle at that time was still the boondocks,” said Fitzgerald, now director at Blue Danube Productions. “Trying to open up and nationalize the scene was a big part of that time. Moe’s was trying to be more than a local club.”
There were no nightclub permits, so to serve liquor, the venue had to generate a certain percentage of sales from its middle eastern food service, which also had to occupy a certain percentage of the building. Everard, an attorney by trade, worked to find ways around the antiquated liquor laws, even in tounge-in-cheek ways. With a slight edit, the restaurant-sounding Moroccan Cafe becomes a Mo’Roc’N club.
“We were being a little deceptive,” Everard said.
Tiny Hat Orchestra was the first band to grace the Moe stage in February 1994. Moe’s received its liquor license that same day, and Everard recalled running bottles of liquor behind the bar as the first audience filed in.
Formed the same year Moe’s opened, Pop Sickle was among the first local bands to play the venue. Guitarist Brian Naubert said having a venue in Capitol Hill, where many musicians lived, was a welcomed luxury.
“After the shows, we would have an after hours party somewhere and sleep on someone’s couch in Capitol Hill,” he said. “You couldn’t do if you were downtown somewhere.”
Naubert also spoke of the inclusive atmosphere at Moe’s and the strong sense of community Everard and the venue inspired. “It was really nice to be part of that scene, to be part of the family,” said Naubert, who will be playing a sold out Pop Sickle reunion show on Friday.
While it only stayed open for four years, Moe’s managed to host an impressive array of iconic 90’s bands, including Oasis, Bush, Garbage, and Portishead. For those who were there, the 1996 Pearl Jam/Neil Young show usually ranks among Moe’s finest.
Without much warning, Moe’s shuttered in 1998 (but not before the club threw one last all-booze-must-go party, a hot-mess still recalled fondly today by partygoers). At the time Soundgarden had just broken up and Everard said he saw the writing on the wall: The grunge era was over, electronic music was packing venues, and he wanted to start a family.
Despite groans and moans about the slew of new concepts that took over Moe’s, Everard said electronic-focused ARO.space and Noiselab brought more revenue into the space than the rock stage ever did.
In 2004, when Everard was ready to jump back into managing the club, he looked down the Hill for another Jason to be his talent buyer. Jason Lajeunesse, then booking shows for Graceland, seemed like the perfect fit. He had brought Graceland back to prominence following the post-grunge crash but was ready to expand into a nicer space.
“When (Neumos) opened, the entertainment scene seemed to be more on Pine. we were more on the other side of the tracks,” said Lajeunesse, who produces the Neumos-anchored Capitol Hill Block Party. “I never thought that the neighborhood would develop as much as it did.”
Everard went on to add Barboza, Moe Bar, and the Pike Street Fish Fry to round out the venue’s offering and solidify the block as one of the most prominent in Seattle’s nightlife scene. CHS reported that Neumos signed a new lease two years ago that will keep it in place through 2024.
After the first 20 years, Everard told CHS Moe’s most important legacy is the long-lasting relationships formed between people across the Seattle music industry.
“There were a lot of bonds that were formed that effected the whole scene and continue to; I don’t know if we would have pulled through the post scene depression. I think that’s why people have good memories.”
The Moe 20 Neumos 10th Anniversary Shows
The Posies (SOLD OUT)
Playing, “Frosting on the Beater” and more with the original lineup!
Feat: “Jon Auer, Dave Fox, Mike Musburger & Ken Stringfellow”
with Alcohol Funnycar + Rusty Willoughby + Pop Sickle
$15 ADV // 21+
with These Streets (w/ Selene Viigil from 7 Year Bitch) + Lucky Me + Gerald Collier + Faster Tiger
$15 ADV // 21+
with Bali Girls + Sage + Hyperlung
$5 ADV // 21+
$15 ADV // 21+
with My Goodness + Summer Cannibals
$15 ADV // All Ages
Brent Amaker and the Rodeo + Fox and The Law
$15 ADV // 21+