Life on Mars Tries an Alien Concept—Adding Vinyl and Veganism to Booze squib

Run by two Seattle power couples, Life on Mars is betting vinyl and veganism will enhance your drinking experience. by Dave Segal

Life on Mars's four owners mainly regard their new business as a bar. But what makes the Capitol Hill spot stand out from the rest of Seattle's hundreds of watering holes are its formidable wall of records and its plant-based menu. It's a paradise for vinyl-loving vegans—and also not a bad place for those not obsessed with analog musical formats and eco-conscious eating.

Run by two Seattle power couples—Amy and John Richards (KEXP DJ/associate program director), and Leigh Sims and Steven Severin (Neumos co-owner)—Life on Mars opened in June, and business has been exceeding expectations, according to Severin and Sims. They renovated the space—which formerly housed 95 Slide and War Room, among other notable venues—while trying to retain what Severin calls the "histories and soul that are built into the place." LOM's subtle amber glow and comfortable vibe encourage you to linger and geek out about music while imbibing and chowing.

Being attuned to music as they are, LOM's principals appointed the room with sound paneling, so that conversations can occur without shouting while keeping the music in the foreground. Few bars bring that kind of thought into their environments. "We put 16 small speakers all around, so nothing's blasting, and it gives it a full sound," Severin says. Guest DJ sets by Tacocat, Noah Gundersen, and the Black Tones have proved to be popular ways to test that system.

Another aspect that distinguishes Life on Mars is its happy hour policy of allowing customers to pick album sides to play on the bar's system. Toward that end, they've devoted an entire wall to vinyl LPs. From 4 to 7 p.m.—and all day Sunday—patrons can choose from 6,000 titles, some of them from Severin and John Richards's personal collections, as well as many more donated by local music pillars Easy Street Records and Sub Pop, plus other Seattle labels. One Silicon Valley buddy of Severin's bestowed 2,000 records. A quick scan of the shelves revealed releases by Stereolab, M.I.A., Curtis Mayfield, Sheila E., the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Dusty Springfield, Kendrick Lamar, Magnetic Fields, Kraftwerk, and... Nurse with Wound.

"I've watched total strangers [at the wall] just start talking about the music that they're going through and getting excited about it," Sims says. "We're excited about music. So it's just totally fun to be able to share that."

When customers aren't controlling the soundtrack, a playlist curated by Richards and Severin pipes over the PA. They've compiled 2,500 of their favorite songs to stream in a constant loop. (Don't worry, they consistently add to it to avoid burnout.) What you hear from 7 to 10 p.m. will be slightly mellower than what you'll get from 10 p.m. to close. Richards's years behind the decks at KEXP and Severin's long tenure as a talent buyer at one of Seattle's top clubs ensure that refined taste and meticulous care have gone into the selections.

Speaking of taste, the food at Life on Mars shows variety and creativity, balancing healthiness with decadence. During my first dining experience there, I ordered the market board (char-grilled vegetables, seitan, hummus, fruit, etc.) and roasted broccoli, but more extravagant eaters can choose from three waffle sandwiches and beer-battered cauliflower wings, among other offerings.

Even with his two decades in the entertainment biz, Severin still marvels that his job is to "create spaces or events that people get to go and have fun." Life on Mars strives to create a novel nightlife experience where people can forget their earthly cares. David Bowie would approve.

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