By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
West Seattle’s longest-running live-music venue, The Skylark in North Delridge, is still standing as pandemic restrictions recede, despite many eventless months. But the challenging times aren’t in the rear-view mirror yet, and tomorrow night (Saturday, March 19th), the band Bent Not Broken is playing a benefit show at, and for, the venue (here’s the flyer).
As with many West Seattle businesses, the challenges have come from not only the pandemic but also the West Seattle Bridge closure – The Skylark sits right next to the bridge. So how has The Skylark managed to make it through? Here’s what proprietor Matt Larson, who’s in his 10th year as Skylark owner, told us in an email interview.
“We worked our asses off to hold it together,” Larson says. Pivoting The Skylark’s food operations was a big factor in the early going: “When things shut down at the very beginning, we decided to strip down our menu and sell our house-made meats, growlers, ready to heat meals, and pantry goods, as we couldn’t have any customers in house and our to-go business wasn’t consistent enough to warrant serving our full menu and staffing for it. We offered pick-up and free delivery in West Seattle for a good chunk of that time.”
Then came the outdoor-dining era: “As things opened up a bit, we built a bunch of picnic benches and took over part of our parking lot and turned it into a patio area. As the weather turned, we installed a large tent and heater as we still couldn’t have guests inside. When we were able to operate at limited occupancy, we put the focus back on our regular menu and have been able to offer our full menu since then. Once we were able to have shows again, things started to pick up a bit, then delta and omicron happened and things obviously moved backward and we were just a restaurant/bar for a good chunk of that time.”
Collaboration brought a boost in the early going. Not only did The Skylark sell its house-made meats, but you might have noticed them at West Seattle Thriftway (WSB sponsor) too. “Toward the beginning of the pandemic, we were able to partner with Thriftway, which was interested in selling some of our house meats there to help support local businesses. It was a nice outlet that brought in some much-needed income and we got our name in front of a lot of our neighbors so we’re very grateful for the opportunity. We still provide them with our pastrami and smoked chicken, but with the rising cost of pork, offering them our bacon wasn’t viable so we had to pull that back (although you can still buy that and all of our house meats in here!).”
With music on hold for months, Larson adds, many people got to know The Skylark just because of its food, and they keep coming back for it. But music/events are the heart of the business. So where does that stand? “After everything was canceled in January, we were able to get February mostly booked and March onward is looking pretty good now that bands are feeling confident about setting up shows again. In normal times, we are booked out 2-3 months in advance and we are getting pretty close to that now. While we roll with all of the local mandates, we will still be requiring proof of vaccination for our show nights for the foreseeable future.”
As with many businesses, financial assistance helped through the lean times. Has government done enough? “We were able to receive some grants that helped out and we were very grateful to get them. The money has served its purpose and kept us going through all of this, but we are by no means in a comfortable place and won’t be till the bridge is back. I doubt there will be any more grants coming our way but, some tax breaks for affected businesses would be nice!”
Continuing to draw customers, however, is the big score. “Since day one, our battle has been to get on people’s radar due to our location. I’d just like to invite any of our West Seattle neighbors who have never been in, or have driven by wondering what was going on here, to come to check it out!” Here’s his general pitch: “We make all of our food from scratch (house-smoked meats, pickles, kimchi, sauces, dressings, house-ground burgers, etc.), have a great tap list, and always try to keep prices as reasonable as possible considering how much of the work we do. We offer a wide variety of live music every weekend and have one of the best sounding and most intimate rooms in town. We offer weekly and award-winning trivia and open mic, as well as drag bingo. Moving forward, we are always just trying to fine-tune everything here and make for a great experience.”
He’s optimistic about what’s ahead, overall: “Things won’t be close to ‘normal’ until the bridge is open again, as a large part of our crowd comes to the island for shows and events. Thanks to our amazing regulars that have stood by us all this time and a dream staff that really cares about what we are trying to do, things are looking up!”
Tomorrow night’s benefit featuring Bent Not Broken starts at 8 pm, all ages until 10 pm, then 21+. $10 donation suggested, with all proceeds benefiting The Skylark, which is at 3803 Delridge Way SW. If you haven’t been there before but will be driving, scroll down the home page for parking info.