Lorraine Wilde | 02/04/2018 | Craft Beer, Live Performances, Restaurants, Wine, Cider & Spirits |   

Live Music and Pinball at The Shakedown and The Racket

 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.

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 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 front entrance of The Racket features rotating works by local artists. 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 headbanging 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 passageway 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.   

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, 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. 

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.

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.

Photo by Ryan Russell. 

Although well known as a music venue, I first heard about The Shakedown from local friends who were talking about their phenomenal cheesesteak. Although there are several other options on the menu, the shared kitchen at The Shakedown and The Racket specializes in Philly cheesesteak 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 cheesesteak sandwiches use Amaroso's bread from Philadelphia and beef raised in Washington state. Philadelphians visit on occasion and several have left with the huge compliment that their cheesesteak 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. 

Together, the Shakedown and The Racket 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. 

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." 

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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