Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

{Photos by Victoria VanBruinisse}

The old adage is true; good things come in small packages. Though postage stamp-sized, The Sunset Tavern is the Scrappy Doo of local venues, ready to kick ass and take names with a backdoor charm and rock and roll flair that no other venue in Seattle can claim. [Meddling kids under the age of 21, however, aren’t allowed since they started serving liquor in 2005.]

A true jewel in the Seattle bar crown, the Sunset is a Ballard institution. Its humble beginning was as a Chinese restaurant from the 1940s-1970s, as evidenced by much of the residual decor. Current owner and local businessman Max Genereaux, in his infinite wisdom, constructed a stage in 2000 and it has since been graced by legendary Seattle bands like Mudhoney, The Fleet Foxes, Visqueen, and Green River. in addition to its many featured national and international acts, it is also host to many local ones looking to build a following and has live music nearly every night, most of which is under ten dollars. It claims the cleanest bathrooms in Seattle, and this is indeed a difficult fact to dispute. Not only the Sunset’s restrooms clean enough for the Pope himself enjoy a toddy in, the walls are decoupaged with what might possibly be the most magnificent decorations anywhere in town, from fluffy kittens to postcards, to yes, even a genital or two.

The space provided for viewing the stage brings an entirely new dimension to the concept of cozy; with a capacity of approximately 200, if you don’t want to run the risk of wearing the beer of several of your audience mates, this may not be the venue for you. The stage is Polly Pocket perfect at 14 X 16 feet, nestled in between the [spotless] restrooms and the bar, with the “World Famous” Dragon Room directly behind it. If one were so inclined, one could get close enough to it to be sprinkled with the muttonchop sweat of a band like Gil Mantera’s Party Dream or jump on stage for an impromptu dance party with someone like Queen cover band Halloqueen. There is a more open space near the entrance, with tables available to enjoy a show from the periphery, or to enjoy something off the menu, which includes comfort foods like corn dogs, Salisbury or chicken fried steak, and Swedish meatballs. For a venue of its size, the sound quality is superb, and one can hear every note of a performance from nearly every place in it with Waterford crystal clarity. The surroundings are lush, lurid, and opium den-like like in fashion. The velvety red wallpaper is a thing of legend and is frequently mentioned in Yelp reviews as a must see aspect. More often than not, the featured art on display is exceptional, well-curated, and varies from the macabre to the exotic to the rock-n-roll and adds an even richer quality to what ambience is already naturally present. It is a feast for the eyes, as everywhere one looks, one can find something stimulating to behold.

If this weren’t enough enticement, the piece-du-resistance can be summed up in three little words: Kung. Fu. Grindhouse. On its MySpace page, it is described as: “Guerilla splatter cinema. A monkey made of iron obsessed with preserving a fragment of the ridiculous past, and sharing it with our friends. From a pile of rescued film trash, the most delectable morsels are resurrected and screened for FREE back-to-back on the big screen at the Sunset Tavern.” Featuring titles like “The Victim” and “Battle Wizard,” it is guaranteed to be the greatest thing since rum and Coke.

Address: 5433 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107
Phone: (206) 784-4880
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM; Sunday 4 PM-2 AM (check the calendar for early shows)
Advance Ticket Purchasing:


MySpace for Kung Fu Grindhouse:

This month marks the Sunset’s 10-year anniversary and The Year of the Tiger. To celebrate, a weekend-long schedule of events will be taking place June 24-27, promising four evenings of live music, surprises, and guest DJs. In addition, this celebration will be a benefit for the Ballard Food Bank, so if nothing else, bring a jar of peanut butter and enjoy the warm fuzzy sensation that do-goodery brings.

The weekend’s festivities are as follows — advance tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets.

In addition to the donations made to The Ballard Food Bank, The Benevolent Fez and Mask Society will host a nightly charity raffle for the Ryther Child Center.

Thursday, June 24, 9:00 PM: Jason Dodson (of The Maldives), Drew Victor, Tomo Nakayama (of Grand Hallway), Kaylee Cole and DJ Kevin Large – $10 ticket / $8 with a non-perishable food donation upon entrance.

Friday, June 25, 9:00 PM: The Cops, The Catheters, The Tripwires, The Basements and DJ Danger Nun – $12 ticket / $10 with a non-perishable food donation upon entrance.

Saturday, June 26, 9:00 PM: Red Fang, Kinski, Virgin Islands, Eugene Wendell and The Demon Rind and DJ Tim Hayes – $12 ticket / $10 with a non-perishable food donation upon entrance.

Sunday, June 27, 4:00 PM: Sunday Bloody Sunset presents a 10-year anniversary show with Atomic Bride, Hearseburner, Omega Moo – $5


An interview with Michael Jaworski, Talent Buyer/Booker gave us more perspective on the history of The Sunset, more information about the 10th anniversary shows, and defense of the bathrooms…

1) In reading Sunset Tavern’s Yelp comments, the expression “an Old Ballard bar” comes up.  What is the distinction of an “Old Ballard” feel, compared to that of a newer venue?

I’m not sure where that description comes from. I’m guessing some one from Yelp came up with it, but it’s not too far off. We are one of the older bars on the Ballard strip, although I don’t necessarily think of The Sunset as out-date or lacking, compared to a new venue. We certainly have the character of a rock club that’s been around for 10 years, all while retaining the original aesthetic of the old Chinese restaurant, which is what occupied this space before The Sunset. In response to the “Old Ballard feel,” I would say that The Sunset embodies that vibe, along with places like The Tractor, Connor Byrne’s, The Smokeshop, etc. I truly hope the old places can continue to thrive in the new Ballard scene, full of condos, fancy haberdasheries, and newly designed restaurants.

2) In a press release, the comment “Not many rock clubs can stake claim to surviving this long (10 years), and doing it so well,” is made. What is the secret to the longevity of the Sunset?

I’m not sure there’s any one secret to our longevity. We’ve been blessed by great support from Seattle music fans, local bands and national touring bands. Not to mention, we have an incredible staff that really believe in the club and enjoy coming to work. I was fortunate to take over booking from Kwab Copeland, who did a fantastic job establishing the venue and attracting national talent for 5 years before I took over in early 2008. Not to mention, The Sunset is just a cool place and the sound here is great. Oh yeah, selling booze helps too.

3) The Sunset seems to have live music nearly every night- is it difficult to fill every night with music in such a small venue?

Yes. I think any club open 7 nights a week faces a challenge in filling their calendar. On one hand, our small size probably helps since our overhead is lower than larger clubs. It doesn’t make sense for a club like Neumos to open up on a Monday night for a show that will draw 50 people. For us, 50 people on a Monday night is a great turnout! We’re also fortunate to be located in Seattle, a city that has a plethora of talented musicians needing a venue to perform in.

4) The Sunset also appears to champion “the little guys,” the new and upcoming local acts in Seattle. How do you choose your lineups? Is there a specific sound or type of band you seek out?

As a smaller venue, we do rely on “the little guys” you mentioned in order to stay open every night. With that said, there are a TON of bands to chose from and decide on and it’s very challenging. Ultimately, I try to keep an open mind about every submission that comes in. I try to book quality bands of all genres. How do I gauge quality? I guess I trust my ears and my instinct and rely on my experience and knowledge of music.  I’m a musician who’s been playing in clubs all over the country for several years now and I’m a huge fan of music. I also listen to suggestions from friends and the staff and I keep up with all local press from the weekly papers to blogs like TIG.

5) What is the most memorable act you’ve had play the Sunset in the past 10 years?

That’s a really difficult question. We’ve had so many amazing bands play here. My personal favorite and most memorable show was The Intelligence and The Oh Sees a couple years ago. They both set up on stage at the same time and rotated songs back and forth. It was incredible. With that said, getting to see Green River and Mudhoney here for the Sub Pop Anniversary was pretty mind blowing. Not to mention Monotonix, Camper Van Beethoven, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, The Cave Singers, Bobby Bare Jr. and the list goes on and on and on.

6) The 10-Year Anniversary and The Year of The Tiger celebration will also serve in part as a benefit to The Ballard Food Bank. Does the Sunset have other groups or a mission that are particularly important to it? How did you come to choose The Ballard Food Bank as your beneficiary?

We’ve hosted many benefits over the years and we’re extremely proud of our involvement in every one. The Ballard Food Bank was chosen by one of our owners, Heidi Park, and it’s a no brainer. There are a lot of homeless and needy people in our neighborhood and we’re happy to help. We’ve also done benefits for Paws, The Ryther Child Center and every year we proudly host shows for the Noise for the Needy Benefit. Not to mention, the first Saturday of every month is KEXP Audioasis, which goes to a different charity.

7) In moving forward to the next 10 years, does The Sunset have any specific goals or expectations for itself?

I’m not exactly sure what our owners have in mind. I would hope and guess that it includes carrying on our tradition and surviving as a cool music venue. That would include giving bands an opportunity to play every night and keeping our staff gainfully employed. Also, and probably ultimately, we want The Sunset to continue to be a great place to see a show and have a good time.

8) In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently that would have changed the face of The Sunset as we know it?

I can’t speak for the owners of the club, but I think everyone is pretty happy with how things have developed. There are always ways to improve and do things differently, and I think we look to make things better all of the time. It’s probably better to spend our time thinking about how we can make things better as opposed to regretting things we could have done differently. We’ve made it 10 years and we’re pretty stoked about it!

9) The Sunset Tavern makes a point to advertise “the cleanest bathrooms in rock-n-roll” Is this self-declared? Would anyone challenge this rather bold statement?

Our owner Max Genereaux has said that ever since he opened the club 10 years ago, and we stand by it! We do take pride in cleaning the club (and bathrooms) thoroughly every night. I know our bathrooms are cleaner that most venues, although Eli from the new Crocodile may want to challenge us on that.

10) Describe the Sunset Tavern to someone who’s never been there in three words.

Killer live music.

To see all of the Sunset photos taken by the lovely Victoria VanBruinisse, head to her Flickr set.