Nancy Erickson photo courtesy of the artist.
On a Saturday in early December, I visited the Pacific Room Alki for a performance by jazz singer Nancy Erickson. It was a typical cold Seattle winter night: the rain fell at a steady pace as winter whipped itself into a frenzy. But inside the Pacific Room, a restaurant shaped like a lower-case “g” hugging a long marble topped bar, jazz kept the atmosphere warm and intimate.
Having only started booking acts this year, the Pacific Room Alki is quickly becoming a staple for live Jazz in Seattle, especially since the heart-wrenching closure of Tula’s in September.
In many ways, the restaurant venue is hoping to regenerate Tula’s legacy. It began booking weekly ticketed jazz acts and developing a relationship with Seattle’s Jazz community just as Tula’s announced its Belltown rent had become too high to sustain.
Jonny Gonzalez, Pacific Room’s music programming director, is seeing to it that jazz artists find a home on Alki Beach.
“It’s super unfortunate that Tula’s closed and I’m very disappointed in that,” Gonzalez said. “But it was nice for us to have a space to offer to jazz musicians to say ‘Hey, we have a new place that you can come and adopt’ so that’s definitely one of the goals: to be a new jazz-specific room a lot of the time, and for it to be our main focus.”
Gonzalez said the goal is to not only book musicians, but to offer them support and resources to succeed.
The restaurant opened in June 2019 with dreams of becoming an upscale-casual restaurant for West Seattle locals and beach visitors. Before its opening, a succession of divey sports bars had occupied the real estate at 2806 Alki SW. Owner Kurt Niemeyer enlisted Warren Akana from Honolulu as executive chef to the establishment, meaning there’s a lot of seafood on the menu.
While Pacific Room has an elevated menu and classed-up atmosphere, it maintains a casual, come-as-you-are vibe. It is the beach, after all. In the front, floor-to-ceiling windows display an expansive view of Elliott Bay and at the back, the band plays on a small stage cloaked in layers of black curtains.
Perched at the end of the bar, I overheard neighboring barflies strike up a conversation about the music. Tula’s is mentioned with sadness, in reverence but also in joy that something has risen to take its place.
Weekends are for ticketed, higher production musical acts, and most often jazz. During the week, the Pacific Room has free happy hour jazz shows, singer songwriting competitions and rotating music of all genres on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays. But whether it’s a ticketed or free event, musicians are set up with a state-of-the-art sound system, marketing assistance and piano.
So far, performers within the jazz community have been enthusiastic about Pacific Room’s programming.
Jacqueline Tabor, local jazz chanteuse and Earshot recipient of Vocalist of the Year, told Earshot Jazz she “appreciates and adores the Pacific Room” in part because of the support they offer musicians and that it came along as a venue “just in time.”
“I do especially appreciate how Jonny introduced the band and made sure to remind the audience that this was a listening space and to keep conversations to a minimum,” Tabor says. “It really set the tone for the evening and allowed me to be able to truly perform and entertain the audience in an honest way.”
Erickson, who performed on that rainy night in December, echoed those sentiments and was happy to see such a jazz-loving crowd. “It’s a listening room, which is rare, I’m excited for it as a venue,” Erickson said between sets.
In this way, it seems Pacific Room Alki is succeeding in what it set out to do: provide a beautiful space for the community that supports the city’s music. “We want to capture audience and community respect,” General Manager Tiffany Louie said.
Gonzalez promised a lot of movement in 2020, as well, including KNKX-sponsored events and booking touring jazz acts. “We’re definitely wanting to open it up to any and all of the best, especially jazz,” he said.
For the locals of West Seattle and Alki Beach, this is their best-kept new secret, especially in the off-season. It’s a little further afield for its easterly city neighbors, especially in winter. But the trek is well worth it. The music is excellent, the vibe is casual, the food is good, the staff kind and knowledgeable. It checks all of the boxes for an intimate supper club and a plus as a mini “getaway.”
“People are keeping us in their pocket, so to speak,” Gonzalez said of the response to the restaurant. “I hear the term ‘hidden gem’ from our clientele a lot.”
For more information including upcoming events calendar, visit pacificroomalki.com.