Looking behind the velvet drapes at the Hide

A dark, traditional mahogany bar dominates the space. Rough-hewn wood planks serve as tabletops. Cast- off couches, which have seen better days, face each other to form a conversation pit. Red velvet drapes block the street light. Deep plum-colored walls are decked with many canvases hung salon style. There is an overall aura of intimacy.

Welcome to the Hideout, Seattle's premier art- bar project. Located on the corner of Madison and Boren, it sits between a nail salon and a Thai take- out joint. The bar is a five-year art project in a building that is earmarked for future demolition.

Local curator, designer and art provocateur Greg Lundgren and independent filmmaker Jeff Scott started the Hideout as a friendly watering hole for both artists and local lovers of the visual arts. It is more like a well-appointed living room than a cocktail lounge.

Indeed, the American Regionalist painter, Thomas Hart Benton, once remarked that he preferred to show his work in bars because more people would see them there rather than in a gallery or museum. At this tavern you can see 75 works by different artists on the walls. Even better, all of the work is for sale.

"Eighty percent of all the paintings we sell here go to first-time buyers," Greg Lundgren says. He then offers the observation that the neophyte collector gets time to live with the painting first by repeated visits to the bar. On the walls, paintings by Toshi Asai, Cait Willis and Junko Yamamoto are some of the works available. The styles of the works reflect the diversity of visual vocabulary that characterizes the Seattle art scene.

This broad spectrum of art talent also surfaces in the publications associated with the Hideout. The "Vital 5 Review" is a quarterly publication that is composed of text and images created from the clipboards of stationary which hang behind the bar. The publication only accepts submissions that are created at the Hideout.

Another publication is "The Vital 5 Cookbook," written by Lundgren and published in 2006. The book, which is reminiscent of the FLUXUS group and illustrated by Jed Dunkerley, features a collection of recipes for art actions in everyday life.

For instance, in the first recipe, "The Phone Booth Confessional," the reader is urged to call a random answering machine and confess an innermost secret. The flavors of performance art are all represented in this compendium. The book is currently locally available at the Bluebottle Gallery at 415 E .Pine St.

The multiple projects that flow from the Hideout make the bar an art destination. It has become a convenient rendezvous for regional meetings of the Internet press. Journalists from Portland and Vancouver, B.C. have sat on the couches and conversed about regional and national arts news.

And after events at Town Hall, the Frye Art Museum and the Henry Art Gallery, informal gathering materialize here. The comfortable seating and original art on the wall combine into a heady cocktail of style, elegance and wit. It is both the ambience and the unpretentiousness of the six people working there that make this place a relaxing sympathetic venue.

The bar is very much a part of the local neighborhood. "First Hill has an eclecticism that the rest of Seattle lacks," Lundgren says. Some patrons who wander into the bar are in the area as a result of the many nearby (Pill Hill) hospitals and clinics.

Doctors, nurses, cashiers, janitors and lawyers alike have quaffed a libation or two while gazing at the myriad mountains of artwork hung salon style on the long walls of the bar. The prescription is quite simple: Leave your attitude at the door, walk in, relax and look. You might just find a work of art that you did not know you needed.

Capitol Hill resident Steven Vroom writes about the visual arts each month. He is the host of Art Radio Seattle, a weekly visual art news podcast at www.vroomjournal.com. He can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes.com.