Spar puts live music back on the menu

March 18, 2011 

For years, the Spar was well-known as a home for live music, its Saturday-night jazz an anchor of the music scene.

But in 2006, when McMenamin’s purchased the legendary restaurant, the music stopped.

It’s returned. This month, the restaurant officially launches live music every Thursday and Friday night.

“We wanted to have a music venue where people can have dinner and talk and laugh as well as listen to music,” said manager Jon-Paul Sletten. “We want it to have a local flavor. There’s such a great scene in this area.”

While the schedule is heavy on roots, folk and Americana, there will be some jazz, including monthly appearances by jazz guitarist Vince Brown, and even funky rock.

Just don’t expect anything loud.

“We want to keep it at a slightly lower level than most of the other places that have music around here,” Sletten said. “There won’t be any giant bands with big drum sets.”

Eleanor Murray often performs with her band, Eleanor Murray & Co., due to release an album on vinyl this summer. But tonight at the Spar, she’ll do a solo show.

“I play a lot of folk music and do a lot of finger-style picking,” she said. “The band is a little bit more amplified, and we rock out a little bit more.”

Murray often plays at the Northern, which she called “a great venue for both loud and soft music,” and she played at the Loft before its recent closure.

“It’s definitely exciting for Olympia to have another venue, especially one that is more friendly to acoustic music,” she said. “It can get kind of hard finding a venue downtown that’s not like a really loud bar.”

Besides local talent, Sletten expects that some bands from McMenamin’s Northwest Music Tour – focused on the company’s larger venues – might make it to town.

Sletten said he has been pushing for music at the Spar since he took over management in April.

“I lived in Olympia for about a dozen years and then left town until I came back to take over here,” he said. “I had spent time listening to music in Olympia. I really like downtown, and I’d love to make the Spar a destination for people not just to come for dinner but to come and have music to enjoy while they are eating.”

The restaurant began experimenting with live music in January, and Sletten, for one, is beyond pleased with the results so far.

“I’m supposed to be working days, but I keep scheduling myself at nights because I want to be in here for it,” he said.

Music at the Spar Cafe

What: Quiet since McMenamin’s purchased it in 2006, the restaurant is once again hosting live music.

When: 8-11 p.m. Thursday and Friday nights; open to all ages until 10 p.m.

Where: The Spar Cafe, 114 Fourth Ave. S.E., Olympia

Tickets: Free

Information: 360-357-6444 or www. mcmenamins.com

COMING UP

Tonight: Eleanor Murray, acoustic folk

March 24: Mudcat, blues folk

March 25: Yodelady, old-timey swing

March 31: Kirby Swatosh, described as “James Taylor meets the Beatles meets Lost in Space”

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