Friday, December 21, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Croc's closure like losing a friend

Seattle Times staff reporter

Coming up

"Unscrew the Crocodile Employees Benefit Show": Former Crocodile Cafe booker Pete Greenberg has assembled a benefit show at Chop Suey (where he currently books) featuring members of the Fleet Foxes, Peter Parker, Siberian, Pale Pacific, J. Tillman, Damien Jurado, the Pleasureboaters and others, 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30, Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St., Seattle (206-324-8000 or

What's the big deal? It was just a dive.

Parking was hell. The one, chaotic pay lot was over on the next block, and even if you got a spot there, you had to walk past the zombie movie that is Third Avenue.

From the outside, this rectangular, corner building has all the aesthetics of a discount-furniture warehouse. And, for added tackiness, the multiple plate-glass windows were always plastered with mismatched, homemade posters for upcoming shows.

On busy nights, you'd have to wait in line (humiliatingly single-file, like an adult kindergartner) for a drink from a surly, tattooed bartender.

The floor and walls of the music room did look like they had been cleaned — right after the last Nirvana show here.

The entire interior — from the music room with its bad-acid-trip decorations hanging from the ceilings to the lazily retro cafe to the banged-up bar — has been begging, "Won't someone please make me over?" for at least a decade.

Have I mentioned that stupid pole right in the middle of the music room? Like a basketball shot-blocker, the pole denied thousands of patrons over the years a clear view of the stage.

What a dump.

So why was I at the Crocodile Cafe so often? (Over the past 10 years, they could have charged me rent, not admission.)

Why was I standing on Second and Blanchard the other evening, with a lump in my throat?

And I'm far from alone. The public, united outpouring of grief over the Crocodile's sudden closure this week has not been seen in Seattle since the death of Kurt Cobain. Blogs and feedback sites on Web sites around town are all bursting with messages of heartfelt memories, anger at an unexplained passing, pure anguish.

In a way, the Crocodile was a rock star itself. It seemed to live a reckless, decadent, music-and-booze life, night after night after night.

Original owner Stephanie Dorgan pulled the plug on Seattle's rock jukebox Sunday, calling employees and telling them she was shutting down the club, faster than you can say "Mudhoney."

This week, the normally elusive Dorgan has gone invisible, leaving calls unreturned and questions unanswered. But the silence has also bred optimism from the beer-can-is-half-full crowd: Maybe the speed of the closing means she's got a buyer lined up? Maybe the Croc will be saved from the condo wrecking ball by some knight in AEG-clad armor? Maybe the Showbox's Jeff Steichen — surely flush after selling his two venues to music giant AEG Live -- is interested in taking over the Crocodile? (I e-mailed him that very question, but he didn't respond.) On Internet sites, Dorgan has also been an easy target for anonymous haters, posting some brutal venom. Others seem purple with personal rage: How could she do this to me? How could she take my Crocodile away?

Here's what all the Dorgan-bashers don't get: For 16 years — 16 years, when most music venues are lucky to make it 16 months — she consistently provided top-notch music. Just about every one of Seattle's make-it-big bands, from Nirvana to Death Cab for Cutie, played here.

And, just about every week, there seemed to be a couple of touring bands that would pull me to the Crocodile, as if gravitationally.

I was there for the R.E.M. "secret show" that featured Eddie Vedder as guest star, but missed "secret shows" by the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Strokes, Beastie Boys and other superstars. Oh, well — I never liked the big shows anyway, when the Croc was a mass of hyped-up drunks and it took forever to get a drink (how's that for a Yogi Berra-ism?). I preferred the small, attentive crowds for the likes of Kinski, Damien Jurado, Juno, Nikki Sudden's the Jacobites, Neko Case (before she went huge), Heather Duby, Bre Loughlin (post-Kuma), Elvis-impersonator contests, Saeta, Cober, the punk-rock-wedding that is Kultur Shock, Voyager One, Terror Sheets, Hypatia Lake, Panda & Angel, Fleet Foxes ...

The Carissa's Wierd farewell shows were packed, but that was a good-vibe crowd.

For the most part, this was a place with good vibes as well as good music. Though a few of the bar staff weren't the happiest people in town, the rest of the staff were friendly and highly professional. Sound engineer Jim Anderson was simply at the top of his game (see accompanying story), and Kevin Watson, there for a dozen years, was the leader of a quick, fair security team. From what I saw, if you were booted, you were asking for it.

I was hooked after my first visit to the Croc, to review a 1998 Cheap Trick show. It was my rock-club crack, and whenever I needed a quick music fix, I headed down Second Avenue.

When it doubt, hit the Crocodile ...

And now, just another self-destructive rock star, it goes out with mystifying, infuriating suddenness, seemingly with many good years left — leaving fans no chance to say good-bye.

They tried anyway. Earlier this week, someone adorned the Crocodile's locked front door with a farewell note ("To my beloved Crocodile, you were my home away from home ... You will be in my heart forever Rest In Peace") and two roses.

And still, there's that glimmer of hope. But even if Steichen or someone else with deep pockets buys the Crocodile, will it ever be the same?

Call me naive. I believe in the holiday spirit, UFOs, elves and that people are all basically good at heart.

And, until this week, I believed that the Crocodile Cafe — that superstar dive, that mightily flawed gem, the gnarly little club that outlived grunge and stayed grungy — would never close.

Tom Scanlon covers nightclubs and local bands for The Times. Reach him at:

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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