My introduction to Seattle nightlife came through a loose-knit, rowdy bunch of Catholic Prep School boys with family ties to the happening coffee houses of Pioneer Square during the late 1960’s.
The most happening place of them all was a folk-music joint, coffee house/pizza parlor with an address for its name: 92 Yesler.
Affectionately known as “92” by customers, servers, and entertainers alike, the club presented a kind of subterranean ambiance owing to its rumored history as a Speakeasy during Prohibition. It’s modern-day incarnation quickly earned it the reputation of a trend-setting hangout where mature teens and young adults could enjoy an evening of live music and refreshments in an alcohol-free environment. (I seem to recall no shortage of cigarettes, however. Hey, it was the 60’s! Everybody smoked.)
The casual passerby, out for a pleasant stroll through one of the city’s oldest and most storied communities, perhaps planning to join a tour of the famous Seattle Underground with its dimly-lit boardwalks and dusty storefronts of a by-gone era, would find themselves accosted on the sidewalk by a spirited Rudy Valley look-alike sporting a raccoon coat and barking a fast-talking stream of witty verbal enticements through a giant, hand-held megaphone. What made this a such successful marketing tool was the fact that the boys who took turns stepping into the 1920’s doorman persona were all part of their school’s Drama Club and came armed with a seemingly limitless supply of thespian’s tricks for getting into and staying in character. My favorite was a strikingly handsome, black-haired young actor named Mike. I developed an instant crush on him.
I will never forget the time my best friend finally screwed up the courage to audition for a coveted slot on stage as a folk singer. Robin possessed an angelic voice and even trained as an opera singer, but she was exceedingly shy and dreaded facing the possibility of rejection. The night of her interview, she took cover in the shadows until nearly closing time after all the Bob Dylan-wannabes and Joan Baez clones had gone home.
At the urging of another of our friends, Robin timidly approached the owner/manager, guitar case in hand, and asked if he might squeeze in a few minutes before locking up to hear her play. She was utterly unprepared for his reaction. The first notes out of her mouth were enough to convince this business-savvy entrepreneur – an engaging, humorous fellow not much older than ourselves at the time – that he had stumbled into a gold mine, or, more accurately, that the Golden Goose had walked into his office and placed the Golden Egg directly into his hands, dazzling him with possibilities. He hired her on the spot.
The weeks and months that followed changed our lives for all time. To a couple of middle-class Bellevue High School girls with oversized crushes on The Beatles and a shared aptitude for songwriting, the prospect of landing a regular Friday night gig at a popular Seattle coffee house could not have been more exciting.
In fact, we were convinced it was the coolest thing either of us had ever done. We got PAID to stay out past midnight and perform some of our own material in front of a live audience. During intermissions, we flirted and laughed with the cute 16 and 17 year old boys who worked there part-time as waiters, busboys, ushers and bartenders.
Driven by a desperate longing to flee the unbearable monotony of the affluent, WASP-ish Eastside, the two of us seized every occasion to practice our repertoire and learn new ballads and classic folk tunes. My alto when combined with Robin’s clear, bright soprano produced musical duets equivalent to the female Everly Brothers. Blending our voices became such a natural process, we would spontaneously launch into a chorus of the #1 Top Forty Beatles’ tune, or start singing Donovan’s “Catch The Wind” in the same key in perfect 2-part harmony.
Thrilled, excited, grateful, and poised to spread our wings as young women, we essentially lived from Friday night to Friday Night, dragging our asses through the excruciating tedium of another week at Bellevue High School. We walked like the Living Dead among the endless plastic smiles, the expensive wardrobes and sports cars, the agonizing pep rallies, the attitudes of “entitlement” and the hypocrisy, restlessly counting the days, the hours, the minutes leading up to another fun-filled night in Pioneer Square.
92 symbolized for us a metaphorical magic portal into a realm of self-discovery, romance, fantasy, folk and pop music. Our Irish boyfriends all secretly dreamed of joining a band and touring the world, following in such illustrious footsteps as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The friendships forged during those heady weekends have indeed lasted a lifetime and the memories of those youthful escapades will forever endure in our hearts.