West Seattle businesses: Skylark Café and Club owners Jessie and Charlie say goodbye – and hello

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After seven years, Skylark Café and Club in North Delridge is changing hands.

Tomorrow (Saturday, August 31st) is the final night that wife-and-husband proprietors Jessie SK and Charlie Russo (above) will be there as owners; they expected to sign the final paperwork today.

Over the course of those six years – they took over Skylark’s space at 3803 Delridge Way SW in June 2006 – they took what had been a café with some live music and transformed it into a music-and-entertainment venue that also served food.

First – you’re probably wondering about the new owners. They’re not ready to talk about their plans yet, but they’re keeping Skylark’s staff, Jessie and Charlie want you to know, adding that they told employees about the sale plans as soon as they could, so there would be no surprises. And they have a special shoutout for original employees who have been there since the start, Tony and Roger.

Skylark will be closed Sunday and Monday, reopening under new ownership Tuesday. The name stays the same. The bands that are booked, they say, will remain booked. The monthly Alauda belly-dancing showcase is scheduled to continue, and, they note, will mark its fourth anniversary next month. They say they had a lot of interest from prospective buyers who wanted to make sure Skylark’s core mission stayed the same.

Now, on to Jessie and Charlie’s story. Why sell?

“So many reasons,” they say. “Seven years is a long time (to run) a rock club in Seattle. … There are clubs that have opened and closed and reopened in that time.”

They rattle off a few names. But … this story is about Skylark. And them.

Their reasons are both business and personal. On the former front – many factors made this the perfect time for a transition, they say: “It’s time for somebody else to take over.” The club is midway through its lease. And some challenging times are in the rear-view mirror – such as, the bulk of the road work that threw some roadblocks (literally) in the path of clubgoers who came from outside West Seattle. Remember all those late-night and all-weekend closures on 99, the Spokane Street Viaduct, the Fauntleroy Expressway … those are the prime business hours for a club/bar like Skylark. But now – at least for a few years – that’s over.

Personally, it’s been an intense run, and they’re looking forward to relaxing a bit. “We hadn’t been home in seven years, really,” Charlie notes. “I’m looking forward to some yard work … (so) my neighbors will talk to me again.”

“We have some leaks to repair – and the cats miss us,” Jessie adds. “If you’re a hands-on (business) owner, it’s a lifestyle. There are some people who can do it their whole lives, but for most people, there’s a timeline. And we were never the sort to just show up for a drink at the bar and leave – we were always there – with a basement office … We kind of miss West Seattle. And we’re not leaving! We’ll get to get re-acquainted, and go to our friends’ restaurants.”

Both are musicians, and hope to find more time to play. Charlie will also be working with fellow musicians by continuing to do sound at Skylark, after a couple weeks off.

Jessie is the president of the Seattle Nightlife Music Association and will continue to serve in that role TFN. She says it’s part of her inspiration for wanting to move on from club proprietorship: “I found myself more interested in being able to accomplish things at the macro level, like the dance-tax repeal … (it was) driven from Seattle, but (affected) the entire state.” She was in Olympia (with Gavin MacDougall from Century Ballroom) two months ago as Governor Inslee signed the bill:

The SNMA pursued other issues, she observes, but under her leadership put that one on the front-burner: “It was actually putting clubs out of business. … A lot of people said, ‘you won’t win a tax repeal’,” but with the help of a lobbyist and pressure on the State Legislature, they did. She now has high hopes of advancing the SNMA into a membership organization that can accomplish even more. And she has other irons in the fire that she’s not ready to talk about just yet, except to smile, “Obviously, I’m used to being busy” – and not planning to just laze around post-Skylark.

They leave their time as Skylark proprietors with memories and pride – for presenting all-ages shows (“rare” in the area, they note) every Sunday, and for working with young musicians as well as young audiences: Charlie expresses pride in “the work we’ve done with West Side Music Academy (and others) … you’re always reading about arts education being cut; what they’re doing is important, (and it’s important) to dispel the rumors you can’t bring a kid to the tavern and experience art because it’s a gateway (to trouble) … to see families experience that is great.”

Other fond memories: The Halloween shows, with a twist on the costume tradition – bands portraying other bands. Each year, the Halloween show would be Skylark’s biggest night, and would surpass the year before. “It started as a complete desperate throwaway idea,” Charlie recalls. “The first one, Halloween was on a Wednesday,” not usually a barnburner night, “so we said, ‘why not just have bands dress up as other bands’ … we thought it might just do OK.”

There were many other highlights. Bands from other states, even other countries, making Skylark their first stop when they came to Seattle. Bands that played Skylark in their early days and now have grown to the next level and beyond – like Hey Marseilles and Red Jacket Mine (which Charlie notes is on the slate for Bumbershoot this weekend). Bands stopping by for “secret shows,” like Duff McKagan’s Loaded. Musicians sneaking in for “practice” – like a member of The Sonics who sneaked onstage with a band posing as The Sonics during the Halloween show one year, the night before the Sonics’ reunion show on the East Coast – “We didn’t even know till later!” Charlie recalls. “That was hysterical.”

And beyond music – “We had the first drag brunch in the city!” Jessie says with pride, referring to the Magnolia Crawford-hosted Morning Glory brunches that started a few years ago.

And we take a moment to recall Election Night 2008, when Skylark hosted the biggest results-watching party in the area:

We reported live from Skylark as the presidential-vote results were announced – not with CNN on the big screen, but with Jon Stewart.

The big screen’s also become known for quirky features like classic cartoons during brunch.

But enough with the memories. The couple is resolutely looking ahead: “We’re not going away – it’s the opposite – we’ll finally get to see our friends’ bands play other bars in our neighborhood.”

“It’s interesting how many people have come up to us and said, ‘it’s so sad’,” says Charlie. “But it’s not, it’s not this ’emotional heartbreak’ kind of thing. Skylark’s going to be fine, and we’re really happy with what we did.”


Saturday (tomorrow) night is special, by the way, not just because it’s Jessie and Charlie’s last hurrah as Skylark owners. It’s also a benefit for Logan Wicker, the Skylark employee recovering from major injuries suffered in a June car crash, featuring three bands “who are regulars who wanted to help Logan.” Here’s the poster:

And the soon-to-be-former owners make a point of saying the buyers have promised that if and when Logan is ready to come back to work – he will have a job at Skylark.

16 Replies to "West Seattle businesses: Skylark Café and Club owners Jessie and Charlie say goodbye - and hello"

  • dj geritol August 30, 2013 (7:11 pm)

    Thanks for letting me play my dusty old records on your nice clean turntables.

  • Jeffrey Robert August 30, 2013 (7:31 pm)

    Two of the finest people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. Thanks for all the amazing memories, support and kindness.

  • Jeff Gilbert August 30, 2013 (7:34 pm)

    Jessie – you, the club and your incredible staff will be missed. You brought much to West Seattle.

  • Holly Figueroa O'Reilly August 30, 2013 (7:53 pm)

    Thanks for everything, Jessie and Charlie!

  • dawsonct August 30, 2013 (8:11 pm)

    Thanks Jessie and Charlie, you’ve created a real community asset. I’m not a regular, just a “sometimes,” but I have been to every bar in that room since it was The Delridge, and theirs has been by FAR the best of the bunch.
    (The Delridge was what it was, functioning alcoholics serving non-functioning alcoholics. A good place to get yer Bukowski on. It is a different day, different neighborhood).
    Hope the new proprietors understand what they have and don’t tweek it too much.

  • TheOtherDude August 30, 2013 (9:07 pm)

    Hope the new owners don’t mess with the pancakes!

  • sophista-tiki August 30, 2013 (9:21 pm)

    thanks for letting me have an art show there on my B day!

  • Teacher August 30, 2013 (11:19 pm)

    The new owners better still serve a mean basket of tots!

  • Bradi Jones August 31, 2013 (12:15 am)

    As a neighbor, former/fellow local bar manager, and friend, I’d like to say “congrats” to Charlie & Jessie! It’ll be wonderful to be able to see them out and about, relaxed and together, enjoying their renewly-found freedom! Great job over the years creating a West Seattle treasure that everyone has enjoyed and will continue to enjoy, as a place that makes you feel at home and welcome at all times, no matter what’s going on! Thanks for everything you guys! We all wish you luck and happiness!

  • Mark S. August 31, 2013 (8:19 am)

    Y’all were friends of mine first – knowing that it was actual working musicians who understood what it meant to be one went a long way to assure me Skylark was a place worth supporting.

    Then you were bookers/proprietors – in a town riddled with apathetic bookers who want you to do their job, and venue staff who resent your presence, y’all were the opposite, you booked bills that made sense, and took care of the bands.

    A stiff drink and decent food isn’t hard to find on the west side. But having that and the above, is a rarity, not just on the west side, but in Seattle. And while I’ve always been a bit of a hermit and it might not have been obvious, I appreciated the hell out of what y’all offered.

    Now hopefully we’ll see y’all as friends more often. Shoot, you live like three blocks away!

  • Jonathon P August 31, 2013 (10:03 am)

    I’m good friends with the new owners, they are very nice and down to earth people. The one thing they keep reiterating is that the Tots are staying on the menu. You will love Matt, Janna, and Gary. Matt and Janna are huge music lovers and have a cute little daughter, so they want to keep the all ages shows so she can come too. They have plans but it sounds to me like they want to ease the transition so it’s not too fast.

  • sam-c August 31, 2013 (10:17 am)

    I wonder if the new owners will bring back weekday lunch service. That would be great!

  • coffee August 31, 2013 (10:31 am)

    Bring in a good cost effect lunch menu please! The only place in the area is Chelan, which is good, but gets tiring! And a evening blue plate would be the bomb!

  • Carla DeSantis Black August 31, 2013 (2:00 pm)

    Jessie – I am so proud of all you have accomplished at The Skylark. Thank you for allowing me to do a show there in your early days. I know whatever your next project is it will certainly be epic!!

  • Paula August 31, 2013 (2:04 pm)

    Welcome to the ‘hood new owners. Being a Pigeon Point resident, I would welcome and patronize lunch service. Nothing fancy necessary; just well prepared classics, e.g., Caesar w/grilled chicken or shrimp; Fresh greens w/goat cheese, pine nuts, etc.: fresh-made soups, toasted cheese w/aged cheddar; French Dip; . . .

  • Carmela Cuba September 2, 2013 (3:28 pm)

    What about Baby Ketten on Tuesdays??!!??
    Please please tell us he’s staying!

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