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Friday, May 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch

C'mon down — the party's fine!

Seattle Times staff reporter

Concert preview


Biography of Ferns, tonight at SS Marie Antoinette, 1235 Westlake Ave.; www.myspace.com/ssmarieantoinette

Every city has a downtown. An undertown — now that's something.

One of the unique features of Seattle is its "underground city" status: After the Great Fire (started by a glue pot) ravaged downtown in 1889, many streets were raised up as much as 20 feet, in some cases changing storefronts to subterranean levels. While bug-eyed tourists and curious residents spend an hour or so underground on the famous Pioneer Square tour (www.undergroundtour.com), Seattle nightclubbers spend nights — and, as we shall see, mornings — partying underground.

That word has dual meanings here: 1) underground, literally, the clubs around Pioneer Square and downtown that are below the rebuilt streets; and 2) "underground," i.e., nonmainstream, somewhat secretive. At its extreme, a bizarre culture.

Christoph Snell, owner of the new Can Can club in Pike Place Market, points up to the ceiling, where squares of strong glass give glimpses of the First Avenue sidewalk above. "When someone walks by, you see feet and shadows. It's kind of weird and spooky — see?" he says, as a pedestrian walks overhead, ghostlike.

The Can Can opened a few months ago (in the space previously occupied by Patti Summers' cabaret/lounge). It joined the other half-dozen or so Seattle nightspots that are literally underground — the Fenix, Heavens Nightclub (another newbie), Last Supper Club and Alibi Room.

Some of the those clubs are also part of that metaphorical underground — cutting edge, below-the-radar or just way-down-low.

Here are one man's rankings of the top 10 Seattle nightspots to get down, underground:

1) Fenix Underground. The Nisqually earthquake closed the Fenix, so owner Rick Wyatt re-located a block away, again finding a space that was part of the sunken "hidden city," at 109 S. Washington St. Some nights, this tri-level club is a poppy, mainstream dance hall — and some nights it's hella-underground. Sundays are stripper-pole dance contests. The action is extra-freaky on Thursday nights, with a burlesque show called "The Bedroom Club": models in lingerie frolicking on a four-poster bed, a "human pincushion" act, mild stripteases, erotic dance routines, etc. (www.fenixunderground.com)

2) Can Can. Snell did a marvelous job in transforming the dive-ish Summers spot into an attractive, French-flavored musical bistro at 94 Pike St. The house can-can dancers — who double as waitresses — perform for free most nights, doing high-kicking, slightly-naughty routines in their period outfits, often lifting their skirts to reveal ... fishnets and frilly petticoats. Underground underwear. (www.thecancan.com)

3) Noc Noc. Music at this above-ground, downtown, darkly-lit spot ranges from hip-hop to house to industrial, with some '80s dance-pop. Cheap drinks (25- and 50-cent beer nights), kinky themes and after-hours action on weekends contribute to the underground character of Noc Noc. Around 10:30 Sunday morning, a few Noc Noc patrons groggily took in the outside air, then ducked back inside, where house music was thumping, the party still on from the night before — now that's underground. (www.clubnocnoc.com)

4) Vogue. At 1516 11th Ave., this Capitol Hill club is at street level, but very subterranean spiritually. It's the center of Seattle's industrial/Gothic scene, and a place where there's no "new black" — black still reigns in this dungeon-themed space. There are fetish nights, drag queen/king nights — and dancing cadavers, pale as ghosts. (www.vogueseattle.com)

5) Lo_Fi. It's so underground, it even has an underscore in its name. Just north of REI, this art gallery/performance space at 429B Eastlake Ave. E. has a lower-Manhattan feel and hosts cutting-edge live bands and DJs who create a house-party atmosphere. The club bills itself as "a multi-faceted liberation facilitator." (www.lofiseattle.org)

6) War Room. This relatively new Capitol Hill club, 722 E. Pike St., is at ground level, and even has an upstairs deck. Even so, the vibe and music — hip-hop, drum-and-bass, reggae cutting-edge rock bands — are very-underground. The fast-rising indie band Panda & Angel plays the War Room at 9 p.m. this Wednesday ($5). (www.thewarroomseattle.com).

7) Last Supper Club. DJs like Josh Wink (doing a recent tour date) spin in the main floor, which is ground level — but often the most interesting sights and sounds are downstairs, at 124 S. Washington St., in the below-ground venue. Progressive house/trance DJs for the Pioneer Square subdwellers. (www.lastsupperclub.com).

8) SS Marie Antoinette. Sounds like a boat — which would have been really underground — but turns out to be a converted warehouse. This far-from-fancy (no drinks served) all-ages space at 1235 Westlake Ave. is probably Seattle's most-underground live venue, hosting a variety of rock bands. Biography of Ferns launches another busy week at the SS Marie with a show tonight. (www.myspace.com/ssmarieantoinette)

9) The Heavens Nightclub. "What's the big deal about being underground? It's just like a basement," whines a blonde smoking a cigarette outside this new Pioneer Square club, which took over for the long-underground Catwalk at 172 S. Washington St. Others were more enthusiastic about the sleek, renovated dance space, which is below a pawn shop. Extra points for originally being a casino, back in Seattle's Wild West days. (www.theheavensnightclub.com)

10) Alibi Room. Don't be fooled by the classy bar/restaurant at street-level (alley-level, to be more accurate). This Pike Place venue with a dazzling view of Elliott Bay has a below-the-surface space where, on weekends, DJs spin for the sub-restaurant crowd (85 Pike St., 206-623-3180).

Other underground spots: Downunder (after hours, under-the-street), Belltown; Re-bar (Seattle's most diverse crowd) and Contour (after-hours dancing), downtown; Mantra (recent shift to hip-hop), Pioneer Square; the Chapel (former funeral home) and Neighbours ("Will & Grace" gay-straight dance scene), Capitol Hill.

Related reading material: "Notes From Underground," Dostoyevsky; "The Subterraneans," Kerouac; collected works, William S. Burroughs.

Musical accompaniment: Nick Cave; the Velvet Underground; Basement Jaxx; Hole.

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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