Seattle Music Bars Through the Years: A Historical Look

Aug 2, 2023

If there was something that the residents of Seattle missed out on when social distancing restrictions were ordered it was live music. The live music scene in Seattle is bursting with energy. There are several bars spread throughout Emerald City that set the scene for live performances in different genres. However, if you’re searching for the best live music bars Seattle has to offer, you can’t go wrong with visiting Capitol Hill. This neighborhood hosts some of the best bars with live music Seattle residents love including The Runaway.

While there are still many great bars with live music in Seattle, any Seattleite will tell you that the live music scene in the city has changed quite a lot over the past few years. This great music city has seen many clubs that played a central role in the music explosion of the 90s close down. There are also many other live music venues that have been an integral part of the music scene in the city that have been closed down. Below, we take down memory lane and explore some of the best live music bars Seattle venues of the past.

J&M Café and Cardroom

If you’re going to take a dive into the history of live music bars in the Emerald City, J&M Café and Cardroom is probably the best place to start. This tavern was built within three years of the 1889 Great Fire. J&M was the place to be if you wanted to kick back and enjoy great food and drinks in a laid-back atmosphere. The tavern featured old furnishings and had that dusky vibe that drew patrons back in the day. It was also one of the best places to catch live music performances.

Many argue that J&M Café and Cardroom is the oldest bar in Seattle. However, there are many more that argue that Merchants Café or Central Saloon should have the title of oldest bars. While J&M Café and Cardroom withstood the tests of time and operated for many years after its establishment in the 1880s, it is sadly closed now.

Bush Garden

This fun karaoke-style bar is credited as being the pioneer in amateur bar signing. Established more than 50 years ago, this legendary bar was one of the first karaoke bars opened in the US. Finally, amateurs that had always dreamt of stepping on the stage had their chance to shine behind the mic. However, it should be noted that the bar has hosted many great performances from amateurs that eventually went on to pursue music careers.

The Bush Garden updated its technology. However, this wasn’t enough to keep the live music bar open. Bush Garden closed down its original location in 2020. The owners of the bar hope that it will reopen one day.


This was an iconic bar that catered especially to the LGBTQ community. Established in 1990, the bar was the scene of some of the hottest Grunge bands. The bar also hosted a wide variety of live performances ranging from stand-up comedians to drag performers.  Many people were drawn to the bar for its open and accepting atmosphere. The staff were friendly and the food and drinks were delicious.

It wasn’t only members of the LGBTQ community that frequented the bar. The Bar was the place to be if you wanted to catch a great live music show on Saturday or Sunday night and drew large crowds. The club gained an infamous reputation after the music band ‘Nirvana’, was kicked out of their own party for their titular album ‘Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia.’ To be fair, the band was kicked out after starting a food fight that resulted in chaos.

The bar was able to hold out over the years despite the developments in the neighborhood. However, it couldn’t hold out against the recent global pandemic. The bar’s doors were closed until further notice. However, it has yet to reopen.


RKCNDY read as ‘rock candy’ was an iconic club that hosted live band performances from all genres of rock. The club has played host to both local and national acts since its establishment in 1991. Acts that have performed on the club’s stage include Marylin Manson, Joan Jett, and The Verve.

The club is credited for inspiring the youth of Seattle to continue with its rich music traditions. Unfortunately, the club is no longer open. It was moved from its original location south of the Re-Bar to SpringHill Suites Marriott Hotel. However, it later closed down and has yet to be reopened.

Where to Enjoy Live Music in Seattle

While many great live music venues Seattle WA had to offer have since closed down, there are new places that are being established in their place. The Runaway, one of the best bars with live music Seattle has to offer, is the perfect place to start exploring live music performances in the city.