Below is a review of Sampson Creative Enterprises’ show Grunge Shop Tavern.
It’s another peaceful and rainy night in the great Pacific Northwest – the perfect evening to find a local bar for a bite, and warm up with a glass of whiskey. You throw a flannel shirt around your waist, just in case you need it later, and make your way out into the mist. You stumble into a sweet looking watering hole where one of your favorite Nirvana songs is playing over the speakers as you take a seat in a booth. A friendly woman brings you a disposable camera and tells you to snap away tonight – it’s the tavern’s soft opening and they want to have tons of pictures to commemorate the occasion. You flip a switch on the camera and wait for the light to indicate the flash is on. Looking through the viewfinder, you take a candid shot of a group of people mid-laughter, perfectly framed by a tie-dye tapestry, hanging in the background. This is the Grunge Shop Tavern. Welcome to the year 1991.
Monday, January 14, was the first of three events that will make up the Grunge Shop Tavern trilogy. This immersive, site specific, pop-up bar is brought to us by Sampson Creative Enterprises, a group set out to bring communities together through connection and memorable experiences. For this event, a portion of the proceeds benefit L.A. Works, a non-profit organization created to encourage volunteering as a way of helping the community and bringing awareness to social issues within the Los Angeles area. SCE has joined up with Brack Shop Tavern, which provides an ideal location in Downtown Los Angeles to make this period-specific show come to life. The event is set to take place in the Pacific Northwest in the year 1991. The price of admission is $5, appropriate for the early ’90s. Once inside, menus are provided for you to order themed food and drinks as you wish, along with multiple decorated areas perfect for photo ops. Culture, music, style, food, and drink all come together to transport the audience back to the dawn of the grunge era. Along with the setting, there are actors present for you to interact with, allowing you to be immersed even further into the ’90s scene.
Grunge Shop Tavern effectively brings you back in time as the locale is decorated in true ’90s fashion, complete with walls plastered in band flyers, familiar ads from old school favorites like Blockbuster Video and 1-800-Collect (with Mr. T himself), and even a Ouija board shrine. Patrons and employees alike were appropriately wearing flannel shirts, Doc Martens, and lots of denim. “Local” breakthrough bands such as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam are rotated on a playlist over the venue’s sound system all through the night keeping the tone for the evening authentic. My favorite touch was giving each table their own disposable camera. Every element of the tavern really made for an incredibly nostalgic atmosphere that had everyone wanting to sing along, share a drink, and rock out together.
The bar owner, Old Doug, is played by Shoshanna Ruth Green. She perfectly depicts a warm and welcoming hostess making sure everyone is comfortable and gets a full tour of her new establishment. Old Doug takes small groups of people down a hallway and past a bouncer to a room that sits upstairs and overlooks the bar. Here we meet the band of the hour, Gutter Bucket, an eclectic trio of rockers ready to make it big in the music underground. Guitar player Cliff, played by Dakota Loesch (Sideshow), gets us riled up in a discussion about things we hate in hopes that he’ll find inspiration for his next song. Cliff is quirky and fun (sporting a handmade D.A.R.E. shirt) and encourages group photos with everyone. He even made me an official street team member by hooking me up with a safety pin to wear on my flannel shirt. While hanging out in the green room with the band, we got to enjoy more ’90s memorabilia including black light posters and even a chance to sit down and play Super Mario Brothers 3. Gutter Bucket’s bass player Clair, played by Katelyn Schiller (Safehouse ’77), had us brainstorm with her about how they can get their name out there. Her incredibly friendly and outgoing personality made it easy to hang out with her while we cut up flyers in preparation for spreading the word. Being surrounded by these characters and their artistic influences made you feel like you were a part of the creative heyday for up-and-coming bands of that era.
The Grunge Shop pop-up bar is a wonderful way for Gen Xers to relive their formative years and reminisce about the music, art and fashion of that time. Even if you didn’t get to experience this period first hand, it still caters to food and drink enthusiasts and alternative rock fans alike. There is a uniqueness here that makes the event seem as simple as a themed bar, and yet it has so much more to offer. From interactions with some rad band members, to socializing with strangers and laughing about remembering how to use a disposable camera, every little detail of this tavern will have you recalling memories of your own, no matter what era you grew up in.
Make sure to add Gutter Bucket to your current mix tape and mark your calendar for the next gig on February 11th back at the Grunge Shop Tavern located at 525 W 7th Street. Maybe you’ll even get to meet the band before they make it big!