Immersive Pop-Up: Grunge Shop Tavern: Memorial to Grunge

When we last checked in with Grunge Shop Tavern it was the middle of the 90’s, grunge band Gutter Bucket had possibly hit their peak and talks of “moving on” and the “memory” were seeping in amongst the gratitude and love. The evening of March 11th was, again, for Los Angeles unusually cloudy and spitting rain. A perfect mood to set what was to be the final Grunge Shop Tavern immersive pop-up night at Brack Shop Tavern. The year is now 1997 and not only was I on (relative) time I brought along my guy, Mike Rose, to really get a sense of the effect this event can have over the patron.

I entered Brack Shop Tavern to a hug from Morgan Sampson (executive producer) as she ran the front and handed me a flyer for that mythological band, Gutter Bucket. I quarter-turned to walk in only to be met with another embrace by Cam Sampson (creative director) whom I hadn’t seen since we first met months ago at the second installment of Grunge Shop Tavern. Where last time Cam and I had been able to sit and chat, in this case, the event was considerably busier (again, probably because I was actually on time) so I left her to direct and moved Mike and I in deeper to get a feel for the night.

The mood, while vivacious, was considerably more nostalgic. The set pieces were there. That lovely handmade facade of the Seattle Spike looming over a flat-screen ironically looping old ‘90’s clips, metal lawn furniture we all burned our asses on in summer at our grandparent’s, the homage to Bigfoot hanging by a payphone playing recordings of ‘90’s messages and, my favorite, the photo collage of the creators and friends taken during the celebrated decade itself. Except this time, nestled in with the photos, were farewell messages and hand-written memories of the event.

Because, you guys, this was the last Grunge Shop Tavern and the end of the ‘90’s grunge scene.

Or is it?

Standing in the hallway reading pen scratched messages on notebook paper, that familiar smell of incense was wafting down the stairs from the loft. I led us up to see what this chapter of the story was for Gutter Bucket and their collection of fans. Up the stairs, we ran smack into black light posters (who didn’t have one or three?), a stereo with sticks of incense burning in jars, wall hangings and Persian rugs. People were strewn about, piled on the rug and lounging on the couch. “It’s like hanging out in my friend Anthony’s bedroom in high school but more women… and probably a guitar.” my guy Mike quips to me. He’s right, the nostalgia is strong here but there’s something else.

I flagged down Cliff, lead singer of Gutter Bucket, as he strolled by. He’s only able to describe the scene as “somber” and shows me a picture of his son (Claire, his old lady, is already heading out to NYC) when another gentleman jumps in to tell Cliff of how grunge reminds him of his lost brother. Of his brother coming home. As Cliff offered him a hug (embraces abound) I noticed, along with the spare space, a new element. Lit candles and white flowers. Just as I took that in, I was handed a crumpled piece of paper reading,

“In Loving Memory of GRUNGE, A Funeral By Gutter Bucket (come as you are). Shows at 9pm & 10pm”

Ah. It all made sense. We’d climbed the stairs to a memorial.

The room grew more crowded as the eulogies began. It was really a moment to be experienced rather than retold but here’s a few excerpts expressed with true sincerity and a few real tears:

“Most of us made it, most of us survived, Grunge brought us together”

“When’s your next show?”
“You’re looking at it.” -Cliff

“Todd, you’ve been so amazing and I love you for it. I’m glad you finally found Bigfoot.”

“Cliff, holding your hand, running down the street, laughing our asses off. You’ll be a star forever.” -Claire

“… been following Gutter Bucket for 7 months in my mom’s Beetle.” -Susie

“Grunge is dead but they can’t kill what we had in this room and that’s community. Grunge is dead, long live Grunge!”

From there, Cliff picked up an acoustic guitar and the room expanded into songs of Nirvana and Pearl Jam with the group picking up the words Cliff dropped. “This is what classic rock is going to sound like in 20 years!” Cliff hollers. Hell, even Mike and I joined in. It was impossible not to. The moment ended, as all do, and I found my chance to ask what the future is of this immersive event.

The answer… something. But no one can tell me yet. What can be said is the event did exactly what the creators set out to do. Bringing people together to a time before we replaced most of our personal interaction with social media. Before you had so many places to hide and be seen at the same time.

So here’s to Grunge, to memories, to connections and to finding a little piece of sincerity in DTLA for $5.

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CK Kimball
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