Venues Of Note
For a town as band-rich as Olympia, it is venue-poor. Northern is Olympia’s only all ages venue. Which is odd considering the town is known for championing an all ages-positive attitude outside of town. While venues like Yes Yes, Arrowspace and a slew of others have come and gone—and others like the Midnight Sun and Capitol Theater host an increasingly infrequent amount of live music—Northern seems to be a stable option for booking shows in Olympia. It is a gallery, hosts a café and is really a community center that masquerades as a venue. So, it should go without mentioning, it is pretty rad.
The other consistent venue is Le Voyeur. It is a bar and kind of hippie food restaurant, but greasy. It has been around for over ten years. In the ten years it has been open I have seen everyone from Brian Jonestown Massacre to Calvin Johnson perform there. In all honesty, it is one of the last real options for booking shows in a “venue” outside Northern, or a rare show somewhere else. So for all its perceived faults, the good would vastly outweigh the bad in this argument.
Olympia’s music community is really DIY and built on the back of house shows. There are even books published trying to document this phenomena. While “historic” houses like Lucky 7, the Red House, House of Doom and Bus Stop House are all gone, the town created replacements without blinking an eye. From the Flophaus to Alamingo, there are shows almost every night in more than one house in Olympia, and that is how things remain fresh and invigorating in a town with little in the way of “official” cultural amenities.
King Solomon’s Reef is an Olympia institution, once the king of greasy spoons, now the king of a refined idea of a greasy spoon. They are open until 3 a.m. everyday. I once spent Thanksgiving there. I recall a drunk with his daughter yelling at me for swearing: “This is a family establishment!” And there is the Essence of the Reef. It is one of the few places where street people, musicians, families and even the Governor of the state of Washington rub elbows. After a disastrous fire took the Reef from us, it reopened with new management (The Narrows’ Justin MacIntyre is one of the owners!) and a vastly improved menu. Who can argue with a place where you can get both chicken and waffles and gin and juice at the same time!
Le Voyeur (again)
Other than being a venue, it also happens to be a really amazing meet up spot. Good bar (mainly because of their staff) and a pretty regular stream of people who don’t totally suck (meaning no rednecks or complete assholes), it’s a go-to place in town on most nights. I know that this sounds like a bad Yelp review, so here is the skinny: I drank there 10 years ago, and I drank there last week. And even though I have moved and moved back, it still holds the same charm, for what it’s worth.
Cryptatropa, or the “dark bar.” God this place is polarizing. But I firmly believe it is because may people think the owner is a total asshole. I don’t care either way, but I should mention that the owner is a satanic dentist, and you can’t say that about many bars around can you? I mean the guy pulls teeth and worships Satan as his main gig, this bar is just a hobby. You can dance, you can drink absinth and you can get your ear chatted off by some really smelly hippies. But for what its worth, it is way more fucking interesting than a lot of places out there. The trouble is, on weekends Olympia’s downtown is totally different than on weekdays. So places that on a Wednesday that would be cool become douche central on a Saturday. But Crypatropa is in a way a douche replant.