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COMET CLEANSERS
April 11th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

The Comet Tavern reopened to the public on March 31, a little less than six months after it had abruptly closed. Former regulars (from many era of the bar’s history) and curiosity seekers crowded the joint.

The place they entered had been considerably cleaned up. Years (nay, decades) of grafitti, soot, and cigarette-smoke stains had been scrubbed away. Several grody closets had been removed, opening up more of the main barroom. New wooden booths had replaced some wobbly bar tables. The ceiling only had a few old dollar bills taped to it, instead of being covered with them. The bathrooms, and everything within them, were both clean and functional.

Indeed, it still looked mostly as it had looked before. That is to say, it looked mostly as it had since it first opened in the 1930s, as one of Seattle’s first wave of post-Prohibition beer halls.

But the Comet’s “scene,” and its function in the Pike/Pine neighborhood, has changed many times.

A hangout for hippies and bikers in the ’60s, it attracted more of an “art world” crowd by the ’80s. In the early ’90s it was the principal watering hole for “grunge” musicians and their friends.

By the late 2000s it had become a full time live-music venue. It was also a clubhouse for Hate City, a neighborhood skateboard gang; some of its members worked as bouncers and bartenders.

Then on Oct. 2, the Comet suddenly closed.

Reportedly, its then-owner hadn’t paid the rent or the water bill for several months. Even before that, several apparent years’ worth of “deferred maintenance” meant much of its interior looked on the verge of physical collapse.

Many, on and off the Hill, wondered whether the Comet had poured its final pint.

Several would-be buyers announced themselves over the subsequent days and weeks.

The building owners, though, soon chose to deal with people they already knew. David Meinert and Jason Lajeunesse had already opened the Lost Lake retro diner/lounge in the same building.

Besides Meinert and Laneunesse already being known to the landlords, access to Lost Lake’s kitchen meant the Comet could add food, and therefore offer hard liquor, without the Comet needing a new kitchen of its own.

(Just across Pike from the Comet, Meinert and Lajeunesse also co-own Big Mario’s Pizza, and Lajeunesse co-owns the Neumos/Moe Bar/Barboza nightclub complex. Meinert also owns the 5 Point restaurant/bar in Belltown; Lajeunesse also runs the annual Capitol Hill Block Party.)

One of the new owners’ first decisions was to cut the live music from seven nights a week to one midweek night and two weekend matinees. That meant the new Comet would complement, not compete with, Neumos’ shows. It would again be (as it mostly was before 2005) a place to drink and talk, not to see bands.

Another decision was not to rehire the occasionally violent bouncers from the Hate City crew. (I knew a petite woman who’d been worked over badly by them one night there, and was glad to see them gone.)

But the decision to clean up the place was both the most obvious and (probably) the most controversial to the Comet’s former regulars.

A good amount of fixing up had to be done just to get the room back up to various building and occupancy codes.

But by so thoroughly sanitizing one of the city’s last un-reconstructed true dive bars, Meinert and Lajeunesse risked alienating the very regulars they claimed to be trying to please.

Business was brisk on night one. The real question is whether bargoers (old and new) will come back, whether they’ll still find the Comet inviting and comfortable, despite its lack of grime.

While the Comet’s future is more or less assured, other Capitol Hill institutions have been falling to redevelopment projects.

The latest, but undoubtedly not the last: Piecora’s Pizza.

After more than three decades on the Hill, its employees were suddenly given two-week notices on April 1. It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, either. The building’s coming down for yet another new mixed-use midrise.

At least the Piecora family owned the building, and presumably got enough for it to retire.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)


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