Black and Tan Hall Finds New Ways to Continue Community Holiday Party During Pandemic

by M. Anthony Davis 

The Black and Tan Hall in Rainier Valley is more than a restaurant, bar, and performing art venue. It’s a staple in the community with a rich history of providing networking opportunities, social connections, and communal support to artists and residents from marginalized communities.

Artist and co-founder Benjamin Hunter explained in an interview with the Emerald that the original Black and Tan Club in Seattle was located under a market on the corner of 12th and Jackson from the early 1920s through the mid 1960s. The original name of the club was The  Alhambra and it was one of many venues on the Jackson strip that served as the blues alley of the time.

Hunter pointed out that Jackson Street was the color line in those days and “Unless you were Duke Ellington, or Billie Holiday, or Lena Horne, you were not going to play north of Jackson Street.” At this time, black and tan clubs existed all over the country and served as venues that challenged the laws of segregation and allowed integrated crowds to enjoy music together. 

This history is what led Hunter, along with Chef Tarik Abdullah and Rodney Herold, to start the Black and Tan Hall in Rainier Valley in 2016.

“There’s a song by Duke Ellington called ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’” Hunter tells me. “Supposedly, he wrote that song after visiting the Black and Tan Club in Seattle. So, when I started writing the business plan and reaching out to partners to join me in this, I suggested the name Black and Tan.” Similar to black and tan halls in the 1930s and 40s, Hunter wanted this new Black and Tan Hall to be a place where people and artists could come together and talk about the art and their work in order to challenge and support each other in producing great things. 

Currently, the Black and Tan Hall serves food, hosts events, and provides opportunities to community members through their Good Jobs Fellows program that provides paid job training to young people. They’ve also recently partnered with MOHAI to produce an event that highlighted the history of black and tan clubs. They’ve also collaborated with the Northwest African American Museum and other community organizations to put on a variety of public events.

One of the Black and Tan Hall’s most popular events has been the annual Hall-i-Day Party. Typically, the venue brings in 20 vendors set up side-by-side to create the feel of a market. With a full bar, food, and live music, the Hall-i-Day Party created a festive, communal atmosphere as people shopped, ate, sang a little karaoke, and hung out with friends and people from throughout the community.

“When you shop in a mall, it’s kind of like business,” Hunter explains. “You hit these [stores], maybe stop by the food court, but you’re not really talking to anybody. We really wanted to be in this close kind of proximity, so that you shop a little bit, you see your neighbor, you see your friends, and you hang out.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year the Hall-i-Day Party will be streamed via Facebook Live. While people won’t be able to come and be “packed in like sardine” the way Hunter prefers, people will still be able to connect with local vendors, crafts creators, and musicians from the comfort and safety of their own socially-distanced spaces.

It was difficult to find a way to pack 20 vendors into the virtual space, so this year will feature about five. Hunter pre-recorded interviews with the vendors so that they can show their products to the audience and talk about their craft. The event will mix marketplace with entertainment and musicians who partnered with the Hall to create music videos that will be shown during the event. The event hosts will be live, there will be a live discussion with partners, and Hunter tells me there will be a significant announcement to inform people of some exciting upcoming news for the Hall.

Black and Tan Hall Hall-i-Day Party – Saturday, December 5th 7p.m.

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

Featured image: Black and Tan co-founder Ben Hunter fiddling at the Hillman City Collaboratory by Susan Fried.

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