I got to visit The Clock-Out Lounge exactly once before quarantine hit, but it was glorious. The occasion was one of Betty Wetter’s excellent drag nights, and it was one of those evenings where everything fits just right: fantastic talent on stage, terrific pizza from the kitchen, and a crowd that was as happy to cheer for the performers as they were to perform.
Strange to say, but one of the places I miss most from pre-quarantine times is a place I only had an opportunity to visit once.
“Clock-Out’s unique,” says owner Jodi Ecklund. “We do a little of everything. We have a weekly comedy night; we have drag shows once a month. We book local music and regional and national.”
They also hold debate-watching parties, show Seahawks games, and welcome kids in to play pinball before 8 pm. “It’s a cool neighborhood vibe,” says Jodi. “I call it a rock-n-roll clubhouse.”
And like every other venue in the world, it’s barely managed to struggle through the last year.
The Clock-Out had at least one advantage going into quarantine: its kitchen, which made it easier to re-open sporadically. But it’s still a highly event-driven space, so even when they could open the doors and serve food, attendance had to be kept so low that they were still operating at a loss. Depending on how vaccinations go, Jodi’s hoping to open again in early June.
“We’ll still be operating at a loss at that point, but we’re operating,” she says.
Clock-Out had just celebrated its two-year anniversary when the pandemic hit. With the business effectively shuttered for months at a time, Jodi’s been devoting much of her time to working with WANMA, The Washington Nightlife Music Association. She compares it to an AA group, with members helping each other make it one day at a time. The organization has been particularly focused on getting grants for venues on the verge of closure.
“None of us planned on being grant writers,” she shrugs.
And although she’s managed to hold on, Jodi is worried about her staff. “I think that’s the hardest part, not only my own financial struggles but my staff and how they’re doing.” She’d like to be able to tell her employees when they can come back to work, but it’s simply impossible to know for sure.
When the doors can finally re-open, she’s hopeful that the music and nightlife industry will have changed for the better — and that includes more of a safety net for workers who have, in the past, not had access to much financial stability. The Clock-Out provides health insurance to staff, she says, and “I believe every single venue owner here in Seattle would love to give that option to everybody.”
She notes that the last year has been particularly hard for gig workers. Sound engineers, security, and door people “got lost in the shuffle in terms of what resources are available. You see grants for bar staff but not for the lighting guy.” That means that some workers may have shifted to other jobs, or moved away — so even when venues can safely book shows, they might not be able to find people to work them.
“We’re trying to figure out how to build our music community even stronger going forward,” she says, and hopes that the industry can find a way to get health insurance to everyone who needs it, as well as making sure local Seattle bands are booked on bills alongside national tours.
Fortunately, WANMA is now perfectly positioned to advocate for artists and staff — as long as the willingness is there to do so.