Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Belltown Challenge: Jazz Clubs vs. Movie Theaters

We're back again with the Belltown Challenge, folks. Each time, we talk about what and where, but refrain from asking ourselves why, because introspection is not our strong suit! For this edition, we're trying to find out whether Belltown has more movie theaters than jazz clubs - and by that, I mean places that show movies all the time and feature jazz exclusively. I mean the King Cat Theater shows movies sometimes but also books death metal acts and whatnot, so they don't qualify. And likewise, the Whisky (that's how they spell it) Bar at 2nd & Virginia has a jazz guy play there once a week, but that make it a jazz club. OK, so now that we're clear, let's get started!

Jazz clubs:

Ah, Tula's, integral component of the 2nd & Blanchard vortex! I played my very first gig here. And although I haven't been there for ages, I'm still very fond of the old dump. You've got to admire their obstinacy, because jazz in this town is damn nearly dead. I know; I used to play five gigs a week all over Seattle and some of them were at Tula's. But those days are gone. I wish it wasn't so, but it is.

Tula's features mostly local musicians (except during the Earshot Festival in October), whereas Jazz Alley, at 6th & Lenora, is mainly nationally prominent guys. And yes, their cover charges are stiff, their drinks are weak and they still discourage talking. If you've ever been there, you'll recall the admonition: "Please keep your table conversation to a minimum" that precedes every set. Sheesh! I think that they charge enough cover so that even the dumbest patron will realize that he's there to listen to jazz and not talk loudly on his cell phone while his companions sing German drinking songs. But no, they have to tell us to shut up because we can't figure it out for ourselves! Like I said before: Sheesh! Anyhow, I've seen tons of excellent performers here. The last time I went they had Benny Golson. That guy was another kind of fantastic! Recently, though, I haven't had any reason to spend $30 on cover to see anyone.

That's it for the jazz clubs. Here are the movie theaters:

First up, we have the Big Picture at 1st & Wall. Back in the nineties, somebody came up with the brilliant idea of opening a theater and serving drinks. Its first incarnation was called the Casbah Theater. I loved that place. They showed old movies and fun was had by all. But unfortunately, the cost of building the place wiped out the original owners and it closed. Under new ownership, though, it reopened within about six months as the Big Picture. I was just there a few weeks ago with a special lady-friend. It was a stellar evening. One thing in the minus column for this place is that it doesn't have air conditioning. That's all very well for the winter time, but in summer, it's almost unbearable, what with the two restaurants (Pampas Room & El Gaucho) cooking away on the two floors above. Any other time, the place is super-nice; it's small (the staff call it "intimate") and they bring your drinks to your seat.

OK, so the Big Picture is cozy, but the Cinerama is massive!

Here's some of it and here's more of it:

I haven't been to every theater in this great nation, but I'll just come out and say this: The Cinerama is this country's finest movie theater. That had to be said. What makes it even sweeter is that at 4th & Lenora, it's just a shade under three blocks away. Isn't that just the coolest? I saw Star Trek there on opening night two weeks ago. It was amazing! This year they're going to be showing SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) films there once again. They seem to do it every few years and this is one of them. Anyway, Gold bless the Cinerama, America's greatest movie theater!

Wow, I really got carried away, didn't I? So where are we? Oh yeah, jazz clubs vs. movie theaters. Two of each. The verdict: it's a tie!


Jim said...

I miss the Casbah! The Big Picture isn't quite the same.

Jim said...

I guess no one would argue that El Gaucho is a jazz club, even though the ads used to depict an old guy playing a saxophone.