Mara Palma and Brian Puchea photo by Bruce Tom.
By Lucienne Aggarwal
Café Nordo’s Culinarium and new jazz lounge, the Knife Room, located in the heart of Pioneer Square provide an enticing atmosphere to imbibe live music, art, and theater. The two venues under one roof are a welcome addition to this historic Seattle neighborhood.
Café Nordo’s Culinarium
Café Nordo began in 2009 as a hybrid pop-up restaurant and underground theater. In 2015 they put down roots in a permanent Pioneer Square location—the former home of Elliott Bay Book Company—after a successful Kickstarter to open the Culinarium. The Culinarium is a space dedicated to hosting immersive theatrical experiences, incorporating a myriad of adventures in art, music, performance, theater, and the culinary arts. Each year the Culinarium hosts two mainstage shows, along with other programs, all of which provide creative opportunities for artists and chefs to collaborate. Recognized as a melting pot of diverse art forms, Café Nordo has received the Seattle Times’ Footlight Award for Excellence in Theater for six years running.
Now Playing: Jitterbug Perfume
Running now through May 12 the Culinarium presents Jitterbug Perfume, an adaption of Northwest author Tom Robbins’ cult-classic novel. The production is Café Nordo’s first solo adaptation, reworked for the stage by Terry Podgorski and Stephen Robinson.
Jitterbug Perfume jumps between space and time, spanning thousands of years following the lives of characters living in other worldly realms along with India, Paris, Seattle and New Orleans. There’s Alobar (Brian Puchea), an 8th century deposed king; Kudra (Marie Bolla), a liberated widow from India who becomes Alobar’s lover; Priscilla (Helen Roundhill), a sassy waitress and budding perfumer from Seattle; Wiggs Dannyboy (Chris Shea), a radiantly happy Irish entrepreneur who runs an immortality clinic called The Last Laugh Foundation; Mme Devalier (Lisa Viertel) and V’Lu (Jade Jones), two ambitious perfume makers in New Orleans; Marcel LeFever (Opal Peachey) a manufacturer of synthetic perfumes in Paris; and the randy, rank-smelling god of fun and frivolity, Pan (Matt Manges, who works double duty as the drummer in the live band).
While each character has their own quest—whether that’s immortality, love, advocating for the good life, or creating the perfect scent combination— they’re linked to each other through their love of perfume, their love of life, and the unravelling of a beet mystery. That’s right: beets. “The most melancholy vegetable,” according to Tom Robbins. The story comes to a head at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s full of memorable characters and important ideas tempered with heaps of humor.
The performance is set to the wonderful live music accompaniment that layers the play not just with ambience but dramatic verve. The original New Orleans influenced jazz score was composed by Annastasia Workman who weaves together music from many different strands to create a multifaceted musical canvas. “There’s so much inspiration to pull from in Robbins’ writing, it’s a goldmine,” said Workman. “Mardi Gras and New Orleans are central to the plot of the show, where I’ve drawn from Dr. John’s bluesy style piano, Terence Blanchard’s score for A Tale of God’s Will, and the bands Galactic and Michot’s Melody Makers. The music for this show is all over the space-time continuum, with other influences coming from Bollywood scores, György Ligeti, Marconi Union, and Hildegard von Bingen.”
Workman performs live on piano and accordion along with Beth Fleenor performing clarinet and vocals, and Matt Manges on the drums—when he’s not in Pan’s marvelous, gravity defying goat hooves. A horn section seen but not heard is made up of Erik Peters (trumpet), Ivan Molton (tenor, baritone sax), Jeff Walker (trombone), and Mattie Kleczka (tuba). The music is one of the stars of the show and adds to the truly unique experience that is Nordo.
The Café Nordo Experience
Café Nordo spares no effort in their warm welcome; seating you personally, revealing the tempting set menu, and checking in for food allergies and food preferences to make sure everyone is accommodated. In the spirit of community, tables often host many parties. The ticket price includes a dinner-theatre experience with the award-winning chef Erin Brindley’s menu that riffs on Tom Robbins’ tale. The fixed four-course menu focuses on foods with evocative aromas, making a strong link with one of the play’s central themes: perfume.
As Brindley says, “This epic tale gave me the opportunity to think deeply about aroma, how it enhances flavors and how it changes the experience of
eating.” The food speaks to the story’s multiple settings, being redolent of Seattle and New Orleans cuisine. Beverages are an addition to the ticket price and continue with the theme. Among the many choices are a wine and a cocktail flight paired thoughtfully with the meal and served in tandem with each course.
What makes this performance even more impressive is that the wait-staff are extras in the play and the main troupe of actors are extras in the wait crew. Everyone pitches in and it makes for a marvelous carnival atmosphere where everyone is eager to make fun and festivity happen on multiple levels— sensational on all levels.
Nordo’s Jazz Lounge at The Knife Room
Nestled below the Culinarium is Nordo’s newest space: the Knife Room, featuring live jazz concerts and the potential for much more. Robin Nunnally, Marketing Coordinator for Nordo, is excited to bring jazz back to the historic Jackson Street neighborhood, the original nexus of Seattle’s jazz scene. Nunnally has a long history promoting jazz and social dance in Seattle, including booking the Smith Tower Balboa Blues & Booze events. She’s eager to bring diverse jazz ensembles to the Knife Room stage.
The Knife Room had a soft opening in September 2018, and has been offering jazz every third Thursday, along with other special jazz offerings. In April, the Knife Room presented jazz each Thursday night in celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, including the Brent Jensen Trio, Bakbuk, Kate Voss, and D’Vonne Lewis’ Limited Edition. For a $12 cover plus drinks, the Knife Room is a steal for a night out.
The below street level space boasts exposed brick walls and pipes, marble bistro tables, and ambient candle light, making for a cozy and inviting atmosphere reminiscent of jazz clubs gone by. Nunnally hopes to fill part of the hole left by the closing of the New Orleans Creole restaurant in Pioneer Square, and a number of dance halls around Seattle including Washington Dance Club and Sonny Newman’s. The Knife Room is a gathering space to celebrate community and the joy of living, as well as a place for artists to share their cutting-edge creativity. We’re lucky to welcome them into our jazz scene and look forward to what Café Nordo cooks up next. Check cafenordo.com to see what offerings they have in store this month.
Café Nordo is located at 109 S Main St. Jitterbug Perfume runs from March 14- May 12 and is recommended for adults 18 years+. Tickets are $99 and include the performance and meal. Beverage and cocktail service additional. The entrance to The Knife Room is at 103 S Main St, down a flight of stairs. For more information visit cafenordo.com.