(CBS Seattle) — If you’ve relocated to Seattle in the past year, you probably won’t wince or frown when you drive past the corner of 5th Avenue North and John Street next to Seattle Center. In fact, if you’re driving northbound on 5th and hit that intersection, you might only notice the flashing, electronic text from the towering McDonald’s sign nearby. (It’s just a buck for any sized coffee, you know.)
But, if you’ve been involved in Seattle’s music community in any capacity (musician, booker, patron) prior to Halloween of 2012, you can’t help but snarl at the residential complex (in progress) that now sits where the eclectic music venue The Funhouse once stood.
The Funhouse was more than just a goofy dive bar with a basketball hoop in its patio. It was Seattle’s premiere punk venue for nearly a decade — one that hosted legendary shows from hundreds of local and touring acts.
Much like the rest of the Seattle music community, designer, painter and filmmaker Ryan Worsley was devastated by the closure of the bar that donned a giant, terrifying clown head above its front door. In her new film Razing the Bar, Worsley documents the development and eventual demolition of the well-loved shack with interviews of former employees of the Funhouse, friends and a multitude of local musicians.
Most importantly, Worsley showcases the perseverance the club’s former owner, Brian Foss. Foss’ influence on Seattle’s supportive and collaborative art community was unmatched — and he continues to play an important role in the current landscape by booking shows elsewhere and co-hosting a three-hour punk-fueled show on KEXP called Sonic Reducer.
“Brian is the most honest person I think I’ve ever met,” Worsley said. “He’ll give you a kiss on the head but he’ll also tell you when you’re over-stepping your bounds.” Foss will be the first to tell bands when their set was killer and when “they’ve had too much to drink.”
When it was announced in 2012 that the property owners would be shutting down the bar to make way for condos, Foss and his staff were still soaking in the accomplishment of making it through the Great Recession. Worsley says the bar, “came out of a lot of hardships” and got to the point of having the same success it had before 2008.
“To have the carpet pulled out from underneath you is really unfortunate,” said Worsley.
Financial struggles the club endured were substantial — but overcoming its own location needs to be applauded too. The Funhouse’s spot wasn’t exactly ideal for soaking up Seattle’s DIY aesthetic. Fifty feet away from the menacing smile of the clown head is one of the most-trafficked tourist traps in the country: Seattle Center. Venues on Capitol Hill, in the Central District and in Georgetown are protected by art galleries, coffee houses, dive bars, music shops, breweries and tattoo parlors. The Funhouse was surrounded by quacking amphibious tour vehicles and crowds of people with fanny packs, cameras and city maps.
“Even though it was kinda scary from the outside, real divey and kinda sketchy, once you walked in, it was like ‘oh, this is really nice’,” said Worsley. “The room is really comfortable. Tourists would come back!”
But the future isn’t necessarily bright for the art scenes in the neighborhoods mentioned earlier. The biggest concern the film presents is what lies ahead for bands just starting out — and whether gentrification will have a negative effect on what made Seattle such music utopia in the first place. Foss and the Funhouse notoriously “risked” giving the green light to bands who had never played in front of anyone before.
“At the time that I interviewed everybody, everybody was really worried that there wasn’t going to be a platform anywhere in Seattle to start a new project,” said Worsley. “There’s a lot of places that you can play if you’re fairly established or played out a couple of times. The Funhouse was always the place that you could go to start, you were always welcome to play a show there.”
Worsley said she wants people to value the start of something that could benefit the arts community — particularly the DIY scene in Seattle. Worsley praises Foss’ philosophy of “embrace failure.”
The documentary features songs from The Spits, Wimps, Coconut Coolouts, The Pharmacy, The F*cking Eagles, The Intelligence, and more. Watch the trailer below:
Razing of the Bar will have two showings at the SIFF Cinema Uptown theater: May 20 & May 27 at 9:00 pm. A premiere party will take place at the Columbia City Theater on June 15 at 8:00 pm.
Annie Brandjord also contributed to this report for CBS Seattle.
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