“It wasn’t that it was completely messy, there wasn’t garbage everywhere, it was just literally destroyed," Lajeunesse tells me. "The plaster on the walls — there were massive holes everywhere, the back bar was completely rotted out, the floor behind the back bar was completely rotted out to the sub-floor, the walk-in cooler had fungus growing in it. As we started to touch things, we realized everything was falling apart. The bathrooms had to be completely gutted. What we thought we might end up with ended up being a complete remodel because of the disrepair.”
He had the idea to document the Comet before he and Meinert touched it, so he turned to Seattle photographer Connie Aramaki, whom he had met at one of his other projects, the Capitol Hill Block Party.
“We got the keys on a Wednesday and the very next day she came in an started photo documenting the whole place. I thought it was important to just sort of document it at its complete devastation. The photographs are really telling.”
“I went in there at night with a flashlight and a friend and photographed it in about six ours,” says Aramaki. “I thought it was amazing! When I got the keys I remember calling my brother and saying, ‘Oh my God, I have the keys to the Comet on the last night it’s the Comet,’ and I felt really lucky. It was a really great night.”
“There’s a photograph she did of the front side of the bar,” says Lajeunesse, when asked to pick his favorite photo. “There’s a couple stools and it’s just sort of really telling because there’s one stool that’s half-cocked, like it’s falling off the actual base of the stool and then the bar is covered in stickers and filth and it is this kind of amazing…like you’re looking at an abandoned artifact. It just kind of captures the entire story in one photo.”
Aramaki’s favorite is the bathroom stalls (shown here), something she describes as “shocking” and filled with history. “It’s stickers upon stickers upon stickers and tags. When we first printed [the photo] out, my friends came over and sat around and we talked about it for hours, just pointing out, ‘I remember this,’ or ‘I remember this band.’ So, that’s probably one of my favorite photographs.”
But the one she’s most proud of is the dollar bills, which were stolen a few days after she captured them on film. “It was tough to photograph something like that and make it look beautiful. That took me a little bit of time, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
You can see all of these photos and lots more, 23 to be exact, on Thursday, March 6 from 6 p.m. to midnight at Sole Repair on Capitol Hill (1001 E. Pike St.). It’ll be the first time Aramaki has shown her photos. She’s selling them with all proceeds benefiting Seattle Music Partners, a small non-profit which makes instruments accessible to low-income kids. If she sells all of her photos, it will be enough to keep the organization operating for an entire year.
She’s nervous, not just because this is her first show, but because the Comet is a really personal subject for a lot of people she fears may not see their old haunt the same way she saw it, regardless of how beautiful she thinks it was at its most vulnerable.
“It’s dingy and dirty and rough, but you just have to embrace it for what it is," she says.
The guys are looking at a March 31 public re-opening of the tavern.