Historic grunge-era club Central Saloon secures long-term future for Seattle

Seattle music fans are forgiven for expecting bad news on the real estate front. Between the constant threat of rent hikes and developers dreaming of bigger dollar signs, stability is often hard to come by for small and medium sized venues in the city.

But at least one Seattle institution is bucking this bad news trend. The Central Saloon, a living, breathing piece of Seattle music history, is going nowhere. On Monday, the owners of the small club with a big legacy bought the Pioneer Square building that the grunge-era hot spot has called home for decades.

Longtime Central steward Guy Curtis and his business partner Eric Manegold acquired the three-story building for $2.75 million in a quick deal. In recent years, the two have decided to upgrade the lighting and sound systems and have requested permission to make several other expensive improvements to the space – a process that can take some time, as it requires the building trust approval. While awaiting a response, Curtis and Manegold learned a few weeks ago that the trust was putting the building up for sale.

“As with all other Seattle entities, we knew this would likely mean the end of Central,” Manegold said. “We assumed that whoever bought the building would probably use the building for something other than a nightclub, a music-focused nightclub.”

Finding a new home, especially downtown, is hardly a given for Seattle clubs these days. The nearby Highway 99 Blues Club closed in late 2018 after landlords were unable to reach an agreement on a new lease and a search for affordable alternatives proved fruitless. In Belltown, similar instability and threat of development forced the closure of the Tula Jazz Club and the relocation of the Crocodile. (Although Croc’s story had a happy, well-funded ending, stretching a few blocks.) Not to mention, the Showbox’s future is still balanced between historical protections and potential development.

Given Central’s history tied to the location — a late-’80s hub where bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden played early, formative gigs — Curtis isn’t sure reopening elsewhere would have even been an option. Fortunately, a clause in their lease gave them the first chance to buy the building if the trust wanted to put it on the market.

After hearing the asking price – which was likely reduced by its location in the Pioneer Square Preservation District, limiting its development potential – Curtis and Manegold decided to give it a shot. “We knew the consequences,” Manegold said. “Since we have hundreds of musicians playing there every year, we have employees who have been there so long that we were like, ‘What is this, let’s try to make it happen.'”

Along with its secure home, the co-owners plan to move forward with several other improvements that won’t change its character: a renovated kitchen, air conditioning and a green room in the basement, Manegold hopes, will allow them to book groups more important in addition to the local newcomers are still getting their start at Central – much like the Mudhoneys and Mother Love Bones in its heyday, when the club hosted a revolving door of future rock greats. This heritage still attracts tourists today who take photos. (Longtime Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver, who ran Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, once had their offices above the bar.)

In a 2020 interview at the start of the pandemic, Seattle photographer Karen MasonBlairwhose grunge-era photos adorn the walls of Central, spoke about the importance of maintaining spaces tied to Seattle’s musical past.

“You can’t replace these things,” she said. “You can have a new club and you can start a new legacy, but our legacy is there. … If you lose your historic places where people can go, then what does that say about you as a city?

Now we know that at least one of them is going nowhere.