"Razing the Bar,” the documentary tale of the life and death of The Funhouse music club in Queen Anne, opens with a shot of a man’s legs as he sweeps away trash and cigarette butts.
Over the course of the film — which played to enthusiastic audiences at the Seattle International Film Festival and runs from July 11 to 17 at The Grand Illusion Cinema (1403 N.E. 50th St.) — you’ll see plenty of people putting in plenty of performance and maintenance to the sometimes-grubby but always-unpredictable club: people in punk-rock gear, goth gear, circus gear, burlesque gear, and saggy eyeball outfits slung around their middles.
But the movie makes clear that this was a labor of love for all concerned, and for love, you’ll sweep floors and scrub out toilets — even if you’re nominally the boss.
Funhouse founder Brian Foss, a big man with a big voice, states famously at the start of the film that since he was working a job in a group home he didn’t like, he eventually saw no point in staying with it, and that one decisive move led him onto a wild, artistic path.
“The job was OK for a while, then it wasn’t,” Foss explained.
He arrived for his swing shift one day, and “as I walked up, the new guy that was hired on (the son of the new owner) was laying in the yard, sunbathing,” he said. “I found a number of residents gathered around the office, asking about their meds that were due [to] them at noon, that the (expletive) refused to help them with. And he hadn’t prepared dinner, either.”
Loud as life
Foss has been in Seattle since 1988, and he’d loved the music scene in town for exactly that long.
He remembers great music and friends at many venues now closed: The Central, The Vogue, Uncle Rocky’s. He began to book shows at a club called Zaks Fifth Avenue — a play on “Saks Fifth Avenue”— which eventually morphed into The Funhouse.
Graphic designer Ryan Worsley arrived in town circa 1996, and she found out about The Funhouse from working at the Seattle Art Museum — “some of the other art guards had bands,” she said.
Her first Funhouse show was the local act Primate 5, but she admits that she doesn’t remember many details about her first visits to the club: “The drinks at The Funhouse were strong.”
The Funhouse ran for nine years, sitting in the shadow of Experience Music Project, but very much antithetical to that museum. Rock ‘n’ roll was never under glass at the Funhouse; it jumped out at you loud as life, and sometimes twice as ugly.
Bands took the stage from the next neighborhood over and from all over the world.
A woman drove a car through one of the walls back when the place was still Zak’s Fifth Avenue Saloon.
The Funhouse’s trademark, huge, malevolent clown head got knocked off the roof and destroyed in the fall. The club’s doorman, Beau Binek, designed and built a replacement.
The show went on until The Funhouse’s closure in October 2012.
And, Worsley remarks, The Funhouse was actually doing excellent business in its last year, but it could not escape the ongoing development of that area.
“Many other building projects downtown were either suspended or aborted,” leaving gaping holes in the ground, she said. So it was possible that developers would just buy the land and then not do anything with it for years — that was the hope, but it turned out they were anxious to get going.”
The next go-around
Summing up The Funhouse experience and the overall attitude of the club’s faithful, Worsley said, “Well, it’s like ‘The Wizard of Oz’: courage, brains and heart are within all of us already. The Funhouse brought lots of people together, but people keep that community going, not the building.”
You might reasonably expect Foss to be upset, burned out and willing to lie low for a long time, but that would be wrong.
“I cannot wait to own a club again and deal with the wonderful headaches that entails,” he said. “Anything of value takes work, and I’m chomping at the bit to get back at it.”
He swears he’ll get The Funhouse open again at a new location.
Watch the film, then stay tuned for the next chapter in this saga.
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