"Food was flying everywhere, with no regard for the industry geeks whose suits were getting splattered": That time Nirvana got kicked out of their Nevermind release party for starting a drunken food fight

(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redfern, Isabella Mendes (Pexels))

While many musicians consider their album release parties to be exciting, fun occasions, a chance to meet industry bigwigs, and watch the unfiltered, spontaneous reactions of people listening to their newest material for the very first time, for an anarchistic band such as Nirvana, formal, industry-standard events such as these were always going to be too uncomfortable to politely grin and bare.

Viewed through the band's eyes, Geffen's release party for Nevermind was initially an awkward, stuffy and overly-corporate affair, one which could only be livened up via various drunken antics, such, let's say, a food fight, and some good-natured destruction of the venue. Chaos naturally ensued, and Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl would eventually find themselves booted out of the event, left to continue their fun from the side of a street curb, in pools of their own vomit.

Held in September 1991, on the traditionally unlucky day of Friday 13, the location's strict rules on drinking hardly helped to keep the band interested in the celebration or the party a success. 

Hosted inside the quaint LBGTQ-friendly nightclub Re-bar at 1114 Howell Street in downtown Seattle, the venue was frequently targeted by the Washington State Liquor Control Board [WSLCB] who were intent on getting the already hard-to-obtain alcohol licenses of such establishments revoked.

The bar was viewed as "a home for "grunge punks, misfits, weirdos, drag queens, poets, freaks, and celebrities, [which] has long stood as a crown jewel of Seattle's LGBT community", Re-bar co-founder Steve Wells explained in a 2015 interview: "On busy nights, and sometimes just around 1:30 a.m., even on slow nights, they [WSLCB agents] would often park their cars across the street, watching the front door, and would make sweeps through the bar, checking IDs, usually in a very confrontational manner".

Although the venue wasn't permitted to serve hard liquor or cocktails, the night went ahead, suppling the guests - including Nirvana's friends, label executives (such as Sub Pop's co-founder/event DJ Bruce Pavitt), local record-shop employees and radio DJ's - with wine and limited amounts of beer.

According to Michael Azzerad's book, Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, the band were told that the party would be "a low-key affair", one which they could invite their friends to.

He continues, "They arrived to find the walls of the club plastered with Nirvana posters. They had to schmooze with all kinds of dull music biz types and endure hearing their album played twice in a row".

As other accounts of the evening explain, at the start, the grunge trio were on their best behaviour, signing autographs and even speaking highly of their upcoming release. But as they drank more and more from their bottle of bourbon which they smuggled into the venue, their behaviour became increasingly unruly.

"Everything went great for about two hours, but then I noticed that Kurt [Cobain], Krist [Novoselic], Dave [Grohl], and others kept going up into the DJ booth, and they were obviously getting drunker and drunker... way more than they could on beer" added Wells.

"Then the free beer ran out, and things started to get kinda rowdy. Then we noticed the WSLCB's cars had pulled up into the parking lot across the street, headlights on, pointed at the front door.

"I got scared, climbed up into the DJ booth, and found Bruce [Pavitt] and his buddies chugging on a half gallon of, I think, Jack Daniel's—the large size bottle that is known as a "handle," 'cause it has one. Empty bottles littered the floor. Frankly, I would have liked to join in, but all this activity forced me to become an uptight queen.

"Suddenly, Kurt, Krist, and maybe Dave started a food fight. I guess I freaked about the whole situation, rounded them up, including Bruce, and with the help of the doormen, got them out of the door just in time for them all to barf on the curb. Soon after, the WSLCB guys approached with their flashlights and I then declared the party was "OVER," turned up the lights, and told everyone to leave, making me out to be a total asshole with the crowd."

As per Azzerad's book, the band also set their destructive sights on the venue: "After the band finished ripping all the posters off the walls [Krist] heaved a tamale at Kurt and [their old pal, and guitarist/vocalist with Earth] Dylan Carlson. Kurt remembers retaliating with a salvo of guacamole...Soon food was flying everywhere, with no regard for the industry geeks whose suits were getting splattered."

Krist Novoselic later recalled of the night: "We were laughing, saying 'Oh my God, we just got kicked out of our own record release party!'".

The party invitation card (which references the term Triskaidekaphobia, meaning the fear of the number 13) read:

"Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia,
Here's Nirvana
On Friday the 13th,
join Nirvana and DGC Records
for a release party in honor of Nirvana's
DGC debut album Nevermind.
Edible food, drinks, prizes you might
want to take home, a few surprises,
people to meet, the band to
greet ... But nevermind all that, the
important part is the music. Hear
Nevermind in its entirety and loud."

If the release party flopped, the album itself was a huge success, breaking records and revolutionising the modern musical landscape, catapulting the three punk-loving musicians from rising newbies to international (albeit reluctant) superstars.

Liz Scarlett

Liz works on keeping the Louder sites up to date with the latest news from the world of rock and metal. Prior to joining Louder as a full time staff writer, she completed a Diploma with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and received a First Class Honours Degree in Popular Music Journalism. She enjoys writing about anything from neo-glam rock to stoner, doom and progressive metal, and loves celebrating women in music.