The Gorilla Gardens Riot

Once upon a time, long ago (1984) there was a club called Gorilla Gardens. It was in Chinatown, (and later near Fremont) it was a dump, and from everything I've heard and read, it was, for a short time, the greatest place on Earth. Or at least in Seattle. I was way too young to ever experience it for myself and like I say all the time, I should have been born ten years earlier than I was. This is a place where many of Seattle's finest played their first shows...6 or 7 years before anyone outside the Northwest gave a damn. Contrary to popular belief, Kurt Cobain did not carry grunge up here from Aberdeen in a Converse shoe box. 

I decided to let people who were there tell this story. I've compiled quotes taken from books and blogs and I'm sure you’ll recognize a few names. This is the story of the rise, fall, location change, and grand finale of Gorilla Gardens. Enjoy! 

KERRI HARROP (SUB POP Employee) Gorilla Gardens was this shitty old all-ages place down in Chinatown, so it always seemed really sketchy to go there. And you would just see these insane bills of bands—I saw Hüsker Dü there, I saw the Melvins there. Gorilla Gardens is also the first place I ever saw people having sex in public. It was that kind of place. (ELOT)

410 5th Ave. S in Chinatown Today

CHRIS HANZSEK (Producer, Reciprocal Recording Studio founder) It was all red velvet chairs — red velvet carpet. (GID)

CHARLES PETERSON (Music fan and photographer) That was one rank club if there ever was one. (GID)

Green River at Gorilla Gardens. Buzz from The Melvins is on the left.

ART CHANTRY (The Rocket newspaper art director; SUB POP Records freelancer; Album/poster designer) There was one famous show at Gorilla Gardens—I think it was a Red Rockers show, some people say it was a Butthole Surfers show. The fire department came in and tried to close it down because they didn’t have enough fire exits. Everybody was getting really pissed off, so somebody took a chain saw and literally cut a hole in the wall to the alley outside, and the shit went back on. They had a fire exit now, didn’t they? (ELOT)

The alley. I have no idea where the hole they made was.

KIM THAYIL (Soundgaarden Guitarist) There were two venues — Rock Theater and the Gorilla Gardens. The whole thing was called Gorilla Gardens/Rock Theater.” Sometimes you’d have one set of acts in one hall — two different admission fees. Sometimes you’d have one admission fee and have seven bands alternating stages. That did well for a few years. They got a lot of national, international, and local bands. It was an opportunity for local bands to open up for touring acts.(GID)
Inside Gorilla Gardens today. It's now a carpet company.

TOMIE O’NEIL (Soundman and RKCNDY Club co-owner) There were a bunch of legendary shows there. Guns N’ Roses played in the small room. That night, we’re also havin’ a great Violent Femmes show—maybe 400 or 500 people in there. And my friends were like, “Dude, you gotta go in the other room, there’s this metal band that’s just fuckin’ outta hand—and Duff’s in it.” Duff had lived in Seattle and went, “Fuck you guys, I’m movin’ to L.A. and I’m gonna be the hugest fuckin’ rock star!” And I remember walking in the other room and goin’, “Man, these guys are fuckin’ great!” (ELOT)

TOM NIEMEYER (The Accüsed/Gruntruck guitarist) When the Gorilla Gardens building was no more, Tony Chu opened another Gorilla Gardens, but it wasn’t the same—it was just one room, over in another spot across town. There were some famous clashes with police that happened there that were of note. The big snowy, midwinter Circle Jerks riot with the cops. The Accüsed were supposed to play that show. The cops showed up before anyone played because there was no permit to have a show there. There were a good amount of people who had literally walked through the snow for miles to get to this thing, so people were pissed off. Some skater-punk kids got the idea to hurl some nearby loose bricks at the cop cars. I left, and it got ugly—as I was walkin’ up the hill, I remember seein’ cop cars startin’ to catch fire and shit like that. (Laughs.) It was pretty epic. Then parents started sayin’, “We don’t want our kids at these things.” I think that led to the Teen Dance Ordinance. It made all-ages shows impossible to get—you had to have like a million-dollar insurance bond to allow kids to see live music, period. Unbelievably fucked, you know? So we had to play bars and stuff just to fuckin’ survive here in town. It sucked. (ELOT)

Outside The New Location in 1985. 307 Nickerson

DAN HALLIGAN (Author/Blogger) Eventually, the club shut down and relocated for a short time to the Fremont neighborhood (I think in late 1985). While Gorilla Gardens flew under the radar as an underground club for most of it's existence, it was thrust into the spotlight in January of 1986 when the Circle Jerks played. A couple songs into the set, the Fire Marshall busted into the venue and shut down the show. Needless to say, the crowd wasn't so happy, bottles started flying and cops stormed in and started beating people with clubs. As people ran outside the club chaos ensued--cops chased punks, punks threw snowballs at cops (it was during a snowstorm), more kids were beat, dumpsters were lit on fire, a car or two were tipped over. I remember watching it on the TV news with my folks at home thinking, "Damn, I should be there!" and my parents being outraged that it was a club I'd gone to and all the kids run amok. (10thingszine)

307 Nickerson Today

DEWEY DECIMAL (Commenting on Dan Halligan's Post) I was one of those who got arrested at the Circle Jerks riot. They played like half a song and the cops and firemen busted in and started whacking people. People were pissed because the show was overpriced and G.G. wouldn't refund a penny even though it was shut down because it didn't have the right permit. All the punks were lined up on one side of the street throwing snow balls, and the cop cars were lined up on the other side of the street in front of the club. There was a pickup truck that had a bunch of bricks weighting it down for driving in the snow, and plenty 'o bricks were thrown at the cop cars. Kids were going nuts, siphoning gas and starting fires in dumpsters. I remember the cop smashing my face into the snow and asking for my name and age, to which I replied, "I'm Dewey f#ck1ng Decimal and I'm 99 years old." Straight to the paddy wagon then to the station where we were totally harassed and put in the pink padded cell. There was some killer video of the riot on the news, my friend Dick Cheese running across the street and nailing cops with snowballs. There was a big concert organized for the four or five of us who got arrested to help pay our legal fees. My memory is fuzzy and I can't remember if the show actually happened--we eventually all got off with a light slap on the wrist. Thank you for sharing, Dewey!!!! (10thingszine) 

Here is a link to a hilarious news story about the riots. The quality is poor but if you watch the whole thing, you can see what the club looked like on the inside. I wonder where these people are now.

11/18/13- I received this e-mail from someone who was there:

I was just reading your blog about the riot. I was there. I'm in the video and I drove there with Zoli who had the little pickup truck weighed down with bricks because it was snowing and he was helping his girlfriends dad build something and we both saw the rioters discover the bricks and we both saw the air fill with bricks Crazy scene. Zoli played guitar in the Dehumanizers.

Anyhow gotta crash I'm up too late ;)

Thank you, Carlene!