Fenix Underground

323 2nd Avenue S

Cadillac Hotel, 319 Second Avenue South, Seattle, November 2007, Photo by Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA 3.0)
M & K Gottstein Wholesale Liquors & Cigars at 206 1st Ave. S. ca. 1903-1915
Fenix Underground sustaining earthquake damage, March 5, 2001

In 1986 a Black-music-oriented dance club, the Hollywood Underground, opened here and became a popular attraction until 1992, when City Hall pushed the Washington State Liquor Board to alter its license and impose new restrictions on dancing and entertainment, causing the venue to fail within months. Meanwhile, around April 1992, the Fenix Café (111 Yesler Way) began offering live blues music by the likes of the Duffy Bishop Band, Isaac Scott, Sam Smith, and Little Bill & the Bluenotes. Then a couple of the Café’s co-owners, Rick Wyatt and Northern Exposure TV star John Corbett, recast the Hollywood as the Fenix Underground, which opened on December 12, 1992.

By early 1993 it was booking notable local bands including the Gits, Young Fresh Fellows, Picketts, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Capping Day, Andy-O, Ranch Romance, Crazy 8’s, Hit Explosion, Sister Psychic, Hell’s Belles, and Jumbalassy. In mid-1993 the room launched a regular “Underground and Unplugged” acoustic music series. The Underground also booked national touring acts including Hot Tuna, Norton Buffalo, Country Joe McDonald, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Jill Scott.

By January 1994 the owners of the cafĂ© and the dance club had parted ways. Then in December it was announced that Wyatt, Corbett, and some partners had acquired the Celebrity Italian Kitchen nightclub (in the adjacent Cadillac Hotel Building at 315-319 2nd Avenue S) — which also had been pressured by the city to close after too many incidents of violence. The plan was to knock down an interior wall and connect their two buildings: the Fenix Underground and the Fenix, which both became popular hotspots.

On February 28, 2001, the Nisqually earthquake severely damaged the building. The owners didn’t have earthquake insurance, and the future was in doubt, but in May and June 2001 several Fenix Earthquake Benefit shows were held at other supportive venues including the Central Tavern, China Harbor Restaurant, and Gibson’s. In February 2002 it was announced that the Fenix would be resurrected at 109 S Washington Street, which it was on May 15, 2003. Over subsequent years many bands gigged there, including touring stars A Flock of Seagulls, King’s X, KMFDM, Ministry, Misfits, Skid Row, and Warrant. Notable Northwest bands included the Accused, Randy Hansen, Kitchen Radio, Late September Dogs, the Rattled Roosters, and Zeke. In 2005 it played a role in the burlesque revival, hosting dancer Fuchsia Foxx’s regular “Bed Room Club” shows, and in May 2006 it held a Northwest Death Fest event with 29 hardcore death metal bands.

In 2006 the Fenix Underground moved out of Pioneer Square to the former site of the Premier dance club (1700 1st Avenue S) and opened with a show by cover band Hit Explosion, followed by other notable locals Candlebox, Soulbender, and Unearth, along with touring stars like the Deftones, Maceo Parker, and Slipknot. But, after a brief few months the room went bankrupt and was then revamped as the Showbox Sodo concert venue.

Walk north (toward downtown) on 2nd Avenue S to our next stop, the former site of the Metropolis.

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