Food & Drink

The Best Live Music Venues in Seattle

Where to see some of the best bands in town perform

By Brandon Taylor with Mandolin Brassaw August 20, 2014


This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Seattle magazine.

Neumos [Capitol Hill]
Vibe/Sound: Drawing big acts such as The Shins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and MGMT, as well as emerging Seattle bands, Neumos has three full-service bars, a mezzanine and a balcony that overlooks the showroom. Downstairs, the small Barboza space cops a clubby attitude. Seating: Mostly standing room; a couple of dozen seats in mezzanine. Capacity, 650. Food/drink: Full bar; yummy food at Pike Street Fish Fry, attached. History: The space originally opened in 1994 as Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Cafe, a grunge haven with diner food. 925 E Pike St.; 206.709.9442;

Columbia City Theater [Columbia City]
Vibe/Sound: A brick-walled and beguiling vintage venue presenting music, dance and theater acts. Focus is on rock, hip-hop, burlesque, electronica and jazz. Seating: Concerts are basically standing room only with a smattering of chairs. Capacity, 300. Food/drink: Full bar, with a limited selection in the concert hall; large front bar near the building’s entrance also hosts a small menu currently being revamped. History: Built in 1917, this oldest vaudeville theater in Washington state has played host to Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, not to mention Jimi Hendrix. 4916 Rainier Ave. S; 206.722.3009;

Tractor Tavern [Ballard]
Vibe/Sound: Some of the hippest local and national folk, bluegrass, alt-country and indie bands play inside the Tractor’s brick walls among the Americana decor. Excellent bar service, less than excellent bathrooms. Seating: Mostly standing room. One banquette; padded stools at the bar and dotted around the room. Capacity, 400. Food/drink: Full bar; snacks. History: The historic building has always been a music venue, with stints as the New Melody Tavern and the Prairie Schooner. 5213 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.789.3599;

Cafe Racer [Ravenna]
Vibe/Sound: The tragic shooting that occurred here in 2012 served only to knit the crowd of regular attendees and players even more tightly together. The quirky café—the walls of which are covered in oddball art—hosts live music several nights a week (alt-folk, indie rock and avant-jazz) and various community meetings. Seating: Several cushy booths and assorted hardwood chairs. Capacity, 60. Food/drink: Beer and wine; hearty breakfast menu, plus sandwiches and hot dogs. Trivia: The café is home to Seattle’s Official Bad Art Museum of Art (OBAMA). 5828 Roosevelt Way NE; 206.523.5282;

Read the full article on the 50 Bands Rocking Seattle Music Right Now

Jewelbox Theater at the Rendezvous [Belltown]
Vibe/Sound: This supposedly haunted vintage theater (built in 1927), with a tiny, red-curtained stage, is housed inside the longstanding Rendezvous Restaurant and Bar. Patterned wallpaper and soft lighting wrap audiences in old-time ambiance during live music shows by emerging bands of all kinds—recently augmented by a partnership with Neumos. Seating: A handful of tables, padded booths and relatively agreeable stacking chairs. Capacity, 65. Food/drink: Full bar and full menu, newly revamped. History: It’s the only theater left on “film row,” a onetime collection of movie businesses grouped in Belltown (so that the highly flammable film was concentrated in a single danger zone). 2322 Second Ave.; 206.441.5823;

Seamonster Lounge
Vibe/Sound: A spirited hole-in-the-wall that comes alive with funk, soul, blues, jazz and jiving postgrads. Shows (almost every night) are fun and intimate, though if you’re sitting in the back or the dining area, it can be tough to see the stage—but that’s OK because the music is immersive. Seating: Decent barstools in the dining area; hardwood benches elsewhere. Usually, half the crowd is standing. Capacity, 74. Food/drink: Full bar; wings, tacos, burritos and burgers. Bonus: The Seamonster is expanding, taking over the space next door. 2202 N 45th St.; 206.992.1120;

Blue Moon Tavern [University District]
Vibe/Sound: Classic dive with an interior motif somewhere between a diner and a logger’s cabin. The not-so-fresh smell and occasionally gruff regulars are a small price to pay in exchange for lively blues and rock shows. The tavern also hosts folk and other wild-card performances. Seating: Padded barstools, wooden booth benches, standing room near stage. Capacity, 99. Food/drink: Full bar; snacks (throw the peanut shells on the floor). History: Opened in 1934, Blue Moon has strong literary roots, including such former regulars as poets Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo and Stanley Kunitz. 712 NE 45th St.; 206.675.9116;

Fremont Abbey [Fremont]
Vibe/Sound: The Abbey Gallery (first floor) is a boxy but refined room with a low stage, rustic pillars and warm lighting. The Great Hall (second floor)  has a beautiful arched ceiling, dark beams and ochre stained-glass windows. Singer-songwriters, acoustic bands and readings abound. Seating: Varies with event. Gallery capacity, 150; Great Hall capacity, 251. Food/drink: Only if catered with event. Trivia: This was home to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church from 1914 to the late 1990s. 4272 Fremont Ave. N; 206.414.8325;

Chapel Performance Space [Wallingford]
Vibe/Sound: High ceilings and grand arches soar over hardwood floors lit by 27 stained-glass windows. Acoustic tile ensures this is a wonderful place to hear the classical, jazz and experimental/ambient music most commonly featured. Seating: Padded folding chairs. Capacity, 150. Food/drink: Neither. Just sit and listen. History: Formerly, the space was the chapel of a school for “wayward” girls. 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N;,

Sunset Tavern [Ballard]
Vibe/Sound: A rich, red-lit chamber of rock, alt-country, punk and other indie music. Squeeze in among the enthusiastic crowds as bands of note (Fleet Foxes, Mudhoney, John Doe) cram onto and rock the small, low stage. Seating: A few tables and chairs and a long banquette. Arrive early if you want to sit down, but most likely you’ll be inclined to stand. Capacity, 200. Food/drink: Full bar; snacks. History: A Chinese restaurant from the 1940s to the 1970s, the Sunset has also been a fishermen’s dive bar, before the Y2K conversion into a music club that retains a few Asian décor details. 5433 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.784.4880;

Triple Door [downtown]
Vibe/Sound: Low-lit and refined, with stellar acoustics, perfect for catching the jazz cats, alt-country and world music acts that roll through town while enjoying superior eats and a cocktail. Seating: Swanky, undulating booths precisely pitched for great sight lines. Capacity, 262 in booths, approximately 50 standing. Food/drink: Full bar; dinner menu featuring Asian cuisine from Wild Ginger. History: Housed in the historic Mann Building, the original 1926 vaudeville venue also did stints as a movie theater and a burlesque house before closing in 1983. Renovated to its current state in 2002. 216 Union St.; 206.838.4333;


Nectar Lounge [Fremont]
Vibe/Sound: Seattle’s largest indoor/outdoor music venue, with three full bars, a sizable dance floor, outdoor patio and mezzanine. Expect rock, funk, hip-hop and electronic shows (these can get packed), and more mature crowds for bluegrass and world music. Seating: Standing room only near stage; wooden chairs at tables and cushy lounge seating upstairs. Capacity, 475. Food/drink: Full bar; grub such as tacos, sliders and pizza. 412 N 36th St.; 206.632.2020;

The Crocodile [Belltown]
Vibe/Sound: Cavernous, dark performance space with a raised stage and a concrete floor. Hosts hip-hop, rock, punk and electronic shows for throngs of young fans. Seating: Standing room only. Capacity, 550. Food/drink: Full bar; wood-fired pizza available outside stage area. Trivia: The Croc has a legendary grunge history, having featured Mudhoney, Pearl Jam and Nirvana in the ’90s before closing in 2007 and reappearing in 2009 under new management. 2200 Second Ave.; 206.441.4618;

EMP Sky Church [Seattle Center]
Vibe/Sound: A huge LED screen, 70-foot ceilings—courtesy of starchitect Frank Gehry—killer lighting effects and state-of-the-art acoustics characterize this thoroughly modern concert hall. Hosts private events as often as music shows, which gravitate toward rock, hip-hop and alternative. Seating: Standing room only. Capacity, 800. Food/drink: Only if catered with event. Bonus: It hosts Sound Off!, an annual battle of the bands, which often propels 21-or-younger Northwest musicians (such as Otieno Terry)  into music careers. 325 Fifth Ave. N; 206.770.2700;

Neptune Theatre [University District]
Vibe/Sound: Surprisingly intimate for a larger venue, the Neptune offers direct sight lines to the stage for sitters, standers and barflies alike. Expect iconic bands, such as Devo, and current rock sensations, such as Wolfmother, to play amidst the seafaring décor. Seating: Tightly packed chairs in the slightly stuffy balcony area; main floor can be configured for standing room or seating, depending on show. Capacity, 850 seated; 1,000, standing. Food/drink: Full bar; concessions. History: The Neptune opened in 1921 as a silent movie theater, with live music accompaniment on the (alleged!) largest pipe organ on the West Coast. It was converted to a music venue in 2011. 1303 NE 45th St.; 206.682.1414;

Benaroya Hall [downtown]
Vibe/Sound: Warm yet modern; a vast swoosh of seats cascades down to the stage, which is backed by a grand pipe organ. The acoustics here are phenomenal, natch, since it’s the Seattle Symphony’s home turf, and the space also hosts touring greats, such as Branford Marsalis, the Indigo Girls and symphonic pops concerts. Seating: Comfortable, excellent sight lines. Capacity, 2,479. Food/drink: Full bar; Wolfgang Puck and Starbucks counters in the lobby, with café seating. Trivia: World-renowned acoustics expert Cyril M. Harris declared Benaroya Hall the finest achievement of his career. 200 University St.; 206.215.4747;

Showbox [downtown]
Vibe/Sound: This time-honored favorite (and big sibling to Showbox Sodo) always feels lively but not overcrowded, with awesome acoustics and an attentive staff. Parking can be tough, but the Showbox (celebrating 75 years this year!) is worth it, as a comparatively intimate way to see big names such as Modest Mouse, Blue Scholars and Heart. Seating: A few round tables/chairs next to two back bars—arrive early if you hope to grab them. Capacity, 1,130. Food/drink: Full bar; bar food, including wraps, burgers and fries. Bonus: Purchase food/drink at Kerns Music Shop (the attached bar, near the entrance) about two hours early for a card that lets you bypass the entry line. 1426 First Ave.; 206.628.3151;

The Royal Room
[Columbia City]
Vibe/Sound: Opened in 2011, this old-school jazz club has helped enrich Columbia City with vibrant live music, whether jazz standards, funk, soul, R&B or experimental avant-jazz. The space also boasts top-shelf liquor in an impressive back bar, above-average food and a big stage. Seating: Four-tops with comfy wooden chairs and banquettes; padded stools at the bar. Capacity, 140. Food/drink: Full bar with craft cocktails; happy-hour snacks and full dinner menu, from chicken enchiladas to blackened catfish. Bonus: Live music seven nights a week. 5000 Rainier Ave. S; 206.906.9920;

Moore Theatre [downtown]
Vibe/Sound: A more laid-back cousin to The Paramount, but steeped in similar history, with a construction date of 1907 and accompanying antique feel. It has played host to such superstars as B.B. King, Ani DiFranco and the Seattle Rock Orchestra. Seating: A facelift last year resulted (thankfully!) in the upgrade/replacement of all the seats. Capacity, 1,800. Food/drink: Full bar; concessions. History: Seattle’s oldest theater, The Moore once housed a spa in the basement and has the (covered, crumbling) Olympic-size swimming pool to prove it. 1932 Second Ave.; 206.467.5510;

Paramount Theatre [downtown]
Vibe/Sound: The glamorous interior, the history, the prestige! Every act performing here benefits from the beauty and historical context of the space. Ties and cocktail dresses abound for theater shows, but anything goes at big rock concerts, such as the Arctic Monkeys, Jack White, Kraftwerk and The Pixies. Seating: More vintage than comfy—tightly packed auditorium seats. Capacity, 2,807. Food/drink: Full bar; concessions and rotating light snacks by Tom Douglas. History: Since its tenure as a lavish movie theater (1928–1971), The Paramount has played host to historic live performances, from Frank Sinatra to the Grateful Dead. 911 Pine St.; 206.682.1414;

KeyArena [Seattle Center]
Vibe/Sound: Enormous echo chamber of a rock arena. Giant touring shows—from Lady Gaga to Neil Diamond—tight security, and lousy acoustics in the cheap seats, but an awesome music experience is possible if you get tickets on the floor or up close. Seating: A gazillion rows of mediocre auditorium seats, plus swanky suites. Standing room in the pit just in front of the stage. Capacity, 15,000. Food/drink: Beer and wine (liquor only in VIP lounge); plenty of concession stands and fast food. History: The arena was originally built as the Washington State Pavilion for the 1962 World’s Fair; later, it was home to the dearly departed SuperSonics. 305 Harrison St.; 206.684.7200;


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