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The fall of Bremerton's Winterland

Winterland owner Tony Winters stands outside the now-closed hard rock bar in East Bremerton. - Lynsi Burton/Staff photo
Winterland owner Tony Winters stands outside the now-closed hard rock bar in East Bremerton.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/Staff photo

For rock musicians it was a stomping grounds, for patrons, a place for 50-cent tacos and karaoke. For one woman, it was the place she met the love of her life.

But Winterland, the Sylvan Way bar that was home to Bremerton’s hard rock and metal scene, has made its last call last week.

Owners owed more than $10,800 in back taxes as of Januray, plus penalties and a six-month advance of additional taxes, according to a state Department of Revenue notice issued to the bar last week. Its last day of business was Jan. 24, the day before the notice was delivered.

Winterland’s regular performers and customers are taking collections to help pay off the debt, hosting a benefit concert and offering discounts at their businesses. Owner Tony Winters said that even if enough money is raised, Winterland’s fans will likely never enjoy a rock show there again.

“I don’t know if I have the energy to do it anymore, to be honest,” said Winters, who took over the former Hanson’s bar in December 2007. He said the slower-than-usual summer last year set the business back financially.

The closure is mourned by local musicians who played there, saying it was a favorite live venue that can’t be replaced.

“I’m pretty bummed about it,” said Dan Washburn, of Bremerton, who plays guitar in the band Trailerpark Tweed. “To me, that place is a huge fixture in the whole music scene here. It seems like it’s a big family of people there. To lose that kind of a place, well, it sucks.”

John Ronkar’s Bremerton band Steelscape has used Winterland as its main venue since before it was taken over by Winters. Steelscape has performed there at least once a month, he said.

“We’ve been playing there for so long, and they treat us so good, it’s like home to us,” Ronkar said.

Steelscape is now looking for other places to play in Seattle and Tacoma in Winterland’s absence.

“I think people are going to have to start looking elsewhere other than Kitsap County,” he said.

Sally Jane Rhodes, of Sequim, has friends who performed there and drove an hour and 20 minutes with a group of 10 friends every several weeks to go there.

“It’s just a super rad place,” she said.

It’s also the place where she met her boyfriend of two years.

In December 2008, Rhodes was watching her friends in a band when she noticed her now boyfriend at the bar and she told him he was handsome.

“If it wasn’t for that place, we wouldn’t have met,” she said. “We’ve been dating ever since.”

Without the Winterland, there is no longer any reason for her or her friends to go to Bremerton, she said. It was a landmark local music destination, even if she had to travel from Sequim.

“It’s one of those places, you’re always going to remember the Winterland,” Rhodes said.

Local businesses are pitching in to help pay for the bar’s debt. Jet City Pizza has been taking 20 percent off its prices since Jan. 30 for people who ask for the “Winterland discount” and giving that 20 percent to Winterland. The Manette Saloon hosted a Round Robin Rock-a-thon benefit concert Thursday night. Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Cafe is accepting donations for Winterland.

Heidi Yoxsimer, co-owner of Hi-Lo’s, went to Winterland with her friends regularly for Taco Thursday and karaoke. Several Hi-Lo’s employees perform there.

“All of us here went to Winterland a lot,” Yoxsimer said. “Where are we gonna hang out now?”

Winters has been amazed by the community response to Winterland’s financial troubles.

“It’s been very humbling and overwhelming,” he said, adding that bands from Minneapolis and New York City have called asking to help. “It blew me away.”

Musicians say Winterland’s closure will leave a gap in Bremerton’s music scene. Whereas the Charleston on Callow Avenue was home to the local punk scene, Winterland was at the center of the area’s heavy metal and hard rock.

“We do have the Charleston, we do have the Manette and all these other places, but Winterland had its unique scene and there will definitely be a void there,” said Andy More, who co-owns the Charleston and has performed at the Winterland several times with his band, YIA. “It was probably one of the coolest things to happen to Bremerton.”

In the immediate aftermath of the closure, the Charleston has taken on six to eight bands originally scheduled to play at Winterland, but in the long run, More said the bar’s absence will make Bremerton a less attractive stop for touring bands.

“What makes a good scene is more places to play,” he said. “I think it’s going to be really hard for other bars.”

The venue’s friendly atmosphere and professional staff drew bands from all over the region, Washburn said.

“A lot people got used to being part of that Winterland family,” he said. “Not that there’s nowhere else to play, but you won’t have that family sense there that they built up.”

In the beginning, Winters simply wanted to open a place where local bands could play music and customers could enjoy it. But after the challenges of the past year, he’s not sure he would do it again.

“It’s never been a moneymaker, it’s always been a passion,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful experience, but I don’t know if we’d ever be able to overcome this obstacle.”

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