Independent Venue Week: Ballard, Fremont, University District

Janice Headley
photo by Andy Bokanev

North Seattle has always been a boon of bars and music venues.

Neighborhoods like Ballard took a while to come up. Just a few decades ago, Ballard was rows of vacant storefronts and drunken fishermen. ("Blue-collar guys coming off the boats from Alaska with pockets full of money, just wantin' to score chicks and drink, and that was pretty much it," laughed Tractor Tavern booker Greg Garcia to The Stranger in 2014. "An old Norwegian fishing village.") Nowadays, the scene is so robust with trendy shops, restaurants, and yoga studios, it's hard to imagine its seedier beginnings. 

Whereas areas like the U-District have always thrived thanks to its proximity to the University of Washington. (In fact, the Blue Moon Tavern has been a hang-out since 1934. Regulars included author Tom Robbins, poet Theodore Roethke, and visitors included Dylan Thomas and Allen Ginsberg.) 

The area north of downtown will surely continue to thrive as the years go by, and the venues listed below are a big reason why.


Tractor Tavern 
5213 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107

The Tractor Tavern stands in a building from 1902, leased from the Deep Sea Fisherman’s Union. A Scandinavian dance hall is said to have once stood there, as well as venues like Prairie Schooner and New Melody Tavern. But then in 1993, Dan Cowan bought the place and transformed it the alt-country mecca we know it as today. (Well, except for those first three months in the early '90s where he called it the Old Town Music Hall and, as he told City Arts Magazine, he aimed to book "jazz, world music, folk, even zydeco.")

“Ballard has changed and grown — that’s how a city works,” Jason Dodson, frontman for The Maldives, said in a 2009 interview with the Seattle Times. “But within that city, there’s certain cornerstones that are the foundation through which all the changes happen. To me, the Tractor has always been there and hopefully always will be.”

The Sunset Tavern // 5433 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107
Ballard Homestead // 6541 Jones Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98117
Egan's Ballard Jam House // 1707 NW Market St, Seattle, WA 98107
Substation Seattle // 645 NW 45th St, Seattle, WA 98107
Woodland Theater // 608 NW 65th St, Seattle, WA 98117


Fremont Abbey Arts Center // 4272 Fremont Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103 
High Dive // 513 N 36th St, Seattle, WA 98103
Nectar Lounge // 412 N 36th St, Seattle, WA 98103
Sea Monster Lounge // 2202 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103

The Neptune Theatre, 2018 // photo by Jim Bennett


University District

The Neptune Theatre
1303 NE 45th St, Seattle, WA 98105

Housed in what used to be an old movie theatre, the Neptune Theatre retains remants of that cinematic experience, including seating in the upper balcony and a concession stand complete with popcorn. When it originally opened in in 1921, the venue hosted both dance and musical performances, as well as film screenings and arts education. In 2010, the Landmark Theatres chain lost the lease to the non-profit organization the Seattle Theatre Group who reopened the space in 2011 with a live performance from Mark Lanegan. 

Blue Moon Tavern // 712 NE 45th St, Seattle, WA 98105
Cafe Racer // 5828 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105
The Kraken Lounge // 5257 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105
Meany Hall for the Performing Arts // 4040 George Washington Lane Northeast, Seattle, WA 98105

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