I love Bellingham in part because of its vibrant music scene that can be appreciated across a variety of Whatcom County music venues. A mainstay in the community is¬†The Shakedown, known for its rocking good time and its adjacent quieter sister bar,¬†The Racket Bar and Pinball Lounge. It’s the place to go for rock and roll or pinball, or preferably both, in our community.
I met with co-owner and general manager Hollie Huthman to get the inside scoop on both The Shakedown and The Racket.
A Little History
Huthman graduated from Western Washington University in 2003 and was working at a local bank while she figured out “…what I wanted to do when I grew up.” Since her days as a student, she was very involved with the music scene, both as a bass player and music photographer. She knew she didn’t want a desk job. She’d heard the adage, ‘do what you love’ and what she loved was live music shows. Friends began encouraging her to open a live music venue. With a little research and time, Huthman developed and nurtured a business plan.
It was around 2010 when she met fellow music photographer Marty Watson, who had recently moved to Bellingham from San Diego. He liked Huthman’s business plan and the two snapped up the space now known as The Shakedown. The building was first brought to life as a hotel in 1903 and had been remodeled several times since as a number of businesses including a music venue. With a lot of advice, equipment and time donated by friends and local musicians, The Shakedown’s doors opened in March 2011. The venue filled the rock music niche that other Bellingham venues like Wild Buffalo, Boundary Bay Brewery and Honey Moon weren’t covering.
After building a loyal following and making a name for themselves in the Pacific Northwest music community, Huthman and Watson knew they might want to expand someday. But someday came sooner than expected when the smoke shop next door closed its doors, leaving prime adjacent space available. They moved quickly and The Racket was born in 2015.
The vision for The Racket was quite different than The Shakedown. Although they are owned and run by a single team, The Racket has its own eclectic identity. While The Shakedown has a cover for music shows and is everything you’d expect in a solid rock music venue, fully ready for head banging and slam dancing, The Racket is relaxed, with warm lighting, art and a chill vibe.
Together, the pair of venues offer the best of both worlds. The Racket has no cover and both venues are connected by an internal passage way so visitors can move freely with their drinks between both venues, finding the perfect combination of party and relaxation to fit the moment.
Huthman and Watson remain deeply connected with the area music scene via Shakedown performers and also through their own music and photography. Huthman has played bass with the Bellingham-based band Dryland since 2014.
Huthman playing bass at The Shakedown with her band Dryland in 2016.
The Shakedown is best known for the touring and local rock bands they present several nights a week, but they also host hip-hop, country, other acts and the occasional comedy or burlesque show. About eight to ten national touring acts a month pass through The Shakedown, each with a surprisingly affordable cover that is often under $15. Red Fang from Portland, OR is a frequent and favorite visitor.
The music venue is decorated with band photography from over the years shot by Huthman and Watson, giving it a true rock music vibe.¬†They recently reconfigured and upgraded their sound system making more room on the dance floor for the occasional mosh or slamdance. The sound on the main floor is good and loud but they also have an upstairs balcony that allows for excellent viewing with slightly less powerful sound.
Canadian fans and other out of town guests come by often because they stay at the local Marriott SpringHill Suites that has a convenient 24-hour shuttle or at the new Hamlet Hotel just a block away in downtown Bellingham.
Many local bands can be heard at the Shakedown, giving visitors an inside view of our music community.
Affordable drink prices and savory comfort food making this place a favorite with local rock bands and patrons alike. You can check their calendar to see what’s coming up on the stage.
The second floor of the quieter Racket Lounge is dominated by 14 vintage pinball machines. Watson’s smart and handy wife Heather Seevers began gathering and restoring vintage pinball machines. She and other local pinball enthusiasts formed the Bellingham Pinball Collective who now regularly services The Racket’s machines.
Everyone seems to love pinball. On any given day, players range from college students up through the seniors who played them when the machines were first made.
Cheese Steak, Falafel and a Bevy of Beverages
Although well known as a music venue, I first heard about The Shakedown through local friends talking about the phenomenal nature of the cheese steak. Although there are several other options on the menu, the shared kitchen at The Shakedown and The Racket specializes in Philly cheese steak and the classic urban street food, falafel. No one else in town was doing either very well when they first began. Over the years, the owners have experimented and refined their recipes.
The cheese steak sandwiches use Amaroso’s bread from Philadelphia. They use only beef raised in Washington state. Philadelphians visit on occasion and several have left with the huge complement that their cheese steak is the best they’ve had outside of Philadelphia.
Watson is vegan so he made sure that the falafel menu included a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, all made from scratch. Falafel lovers enjoy ordering several plates and sharing them among a group.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the drink menu either. The Shakedown and The Racket together have almost every taste covered. Watson is originally from Northern Ireland so he sets a high standard for the drink menu. They have 14 rotating taps with locally-brewed beers as well as Guinness on nitro and three ciders. They also offer a number of options that contain infused liquors, made in-house. Some infusions are long-time favorites while others are seasonal. The beet-infused vodka is both a sweet and earthy addition to your favorite mixed drink.
Hip-hop fusion group Deadly D at the Shakedown in 2015, with a view of the venue from the stage.
The Shakedown and The Racket plan to be at the center of the local music scene for a very long time. “I think Bellingham’s music scene is just going to keep getting better,” says Huthman. “Bellingham is a destination for music that could someday be as big as Austin, TX and when it is, we’ll be here.” Plan to stop by for a show, some pinball and lunch or dinner on your next visit.
1212 North State Street
Bellingham, WA 98225