Lake Chelan coffee bar now a music meccaMusicians who take their show on the road to Lake Chelan all pretty much agree that Mike Cooney has the touch. Mike’s the owner of the Vogue Liquid Lounge, a live music venue now regionally famous for offering a variety of excellent musical entertainment.
While other places will often limit their music schedule because they can’t afford the bands, Mike has taken a different approach: He simply asks the audience to chip in and pay for the band. He’s done that for something like 1200 shows, missing only one weekend of musical entertainment in the last 10 years – and that only happened because of the big fire last summer that cut off power to downtown Chelan.
Mike Cooney is a gifted communicator, the type who can get up in front of a room full of people who might normally squeeze their wallet like they’re saving it for retirement and convince these same people that the music they are listening to is worth reaching into their pocket IRA and flipping the band twenties like they were handing out penny candy. Not surprisingly, the bands like Mike a lot. They even spend their free time teaching Mike how to play his guitar and regale him with their stories from “the road.”
“I’m the biggest wannabe musician you’ll ever meet,” says the 61-year-old Cooney. They didn’t have a lot of rock music back in those Catholic schools Mike attended, but he remembers that he was about 12 when he got hooked on the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
But alas, Mike’s career did not take him to the stage of the Fillmore or Woodstock, or even the local Junior High School. It took him to the ownership of a large food brokerage company that he and partners eventually sold. By 2005, Mike and his wife Janice had opened the Vogue.
The concept was to do something that combined three things Mike and Janice had always loved: music, coffee and wine. The result is an eclectic mix of the three with premium coffee being the biggest part of the business. Just as Mike had envisioned when he drew his plans up on the proverbial napkin back in 2004, the Vogue has become the “gathering place” for local residents and visitors alike, doing a brisk business serving coffee and fresh homemade quiche in the morning, panini sandwiches for lunch and, later in the day, quenching the local thirst for Washington wines and Northwest microbrews.
Mike is quick to credit Janice for playing a vital role in the business, working long hours during the day while Mike will generally come in later and work into the evening. “She’s the steak,” he says, “and I’m the sizzle.”
His Chelan clientele may shudder at the thought, but the Vogue today might easily be the gathering place for Missoula residents if a real estate transaction had gone as planned. The Cooneys had put money down on a location in Missoula but a broker came in at the last minute with an all-cash offer that was accepted, leaving the Cooneys high and dry.
But they knew Chelan was another good choice. Along with their two kids – now in their early thirties and living in Seattle – Mike and Janice had been visiting the lake for many years from their home in the Woodinville-Redmond area, eventually buying a second home in Chelan. Today they live within walking distance of the Vogue – no commutes, easy strolls to the post office and bank, friendly people who know Mike and Janice will remember not only their names, but also the drinks they prefer.
And every Friday and Saturday night, Mike turns into Dick Clark, welcoming to Chelan a wide range of musical groups that come from as far away as Seattle to play for tips because they know the Vogue is so much fun. Part of it has to do with the enthusiastic patrons who welcome the musical acts with open arms. The crowd is generally middle-age on up, mixing young professionals from Seattle with everyday working folk from Chelan.
A couple times during the evening, the audience is treated to what really is a stand-up comedy act as Mike gently cajoles the audience into tipping the hard-working band. The audience laughs, the tip jar gets passed and, voila, the band gets paid. Mike has proved once again that he has the touch.
And now it will be interesting to see how Cooney’s talent translates to city government. Recently elected mayor of Chelan, Mike may have to sharpen his game just a little bit if he expects to convince City Council to reach into city coffers to throw a few twenties around to fund his favorite projects.
For more information, please visit www.chelanvogue.com or phone 509-888-5282.
PHOTOS: Mike and Janice Cooney; live music at the Vogue
PHOTO CREDITS: Photos by Sandi Ordway
RECOMMENDED LODGING: Lake Chelan lodging
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