Queer/Bar tries to preserve what’s left of LGBTQIA+ Capitol Hill nightlife

Proud Joey Burgess in front of his newly opened Queer/Bar (Images: Alex Garland)

Plastered in a white, clear, modern font on Pike/Pine glows the generationally controversial word “Queer,” accompanied by “Bar.” It’s intentional. This sleek new space is reserved for the Capitol Hill creators, the spectrum of anything out of the gender dichotomy, the queer. No straights allowed if they’re not allies — despite the clear sign, one only hopes they drunkenly take the hint.

Disclaimer: I am a straight, cisgendered, white female. But I also know how to respect spaces that aren’t meant for me without frustration. The Hill has far more bars I could choose from than the few I shouldn’t.

Roaming in the middle of Queer/Bar with a smile on his face is Joey Burgess.  He runs the place.

“There’s great energy in this place,” Burgess said. “It’s paramount to keep this street queer. For me, for my family, for my friends it’s necessary.”

Dave Meinert, who also is partners with Burgess in a separate company behind Lost Lake, the Comet, and Big Mario’s, said he’s “really just investing in Joey,” who he called awesome, and a great partner with a big vision.

Queer/Bar opened its doors over the weekend. The space rolls with a quiet style. It doesn’t scream at you but it’s still eye catching. The back of the bar features a step-up stage turned dance floor with red lights. There are four bathrooms simply labeled “WC.” A huge projection screen silently flickers 28 hours of black and white curated footage near the front. There are semicircle, cushioned black booths, chairs with white tables, and standing-room-only islands. They all have candles.

“I know you’re queer, but what am I?” asks a glowing white neon sign, lighting a brick wall.

Burgess and Meinert know Capitol Hill as a whole is always changing. With each year’s influx of college students and new tech workers moving in, prices have gone up and the LGBTQIA+ community has felt the pain of no longer being able to keep their cultural spaces and hangouts (or their apartments). While many still remain, the Hill can feel like a drunken onslaught of CIS-gendered, straight people taking up the once queer-only safe spaces.

“I don’t want anyone to be confused about what this place is and who it doesn’t pretend to cater to,” Burgess said, noting the name choice. “It caters to everyone in the queer community.”

Meinert has been around the Hill since the 1980s.

“It’s changed a bunch,” he said. “But the whole city’s done that and, really…almost every city right now is going through the same growing pains … I love all the new restaurants and nightlife and all that stuff. Don’t always love the Friday/Saturday night crowd but I still think Capitol Hill, especially Pike/Pine, is a really unique neighborhood.”

To maintain safety, Queer/Bar will have a security team and its bartenders trained and on the lookout for any red flags. There are 23 staff members, each LGBTQIA+.

Last Friday evening, Queer/Bar invited friends and family to break in the new space. Scotty Cayton, AKA drag queen Betty Wetter, attended and liked the space. He enjoyed himself and saw a handful of community leaders.

“I had this feeling the whole time that everybody was scared to like [Queer/Bar] too much,” Cayton said. “Even though there was a somewhat diverse crowd there, I think there could’ve been a little wider spectrum showed off in the performances.”

For Cayton, “Queer” comes with a big label and a big responsibility. It has to cover a whole range of people. His main concern is if Queer/Bar can live up to its title.

“It’s a space where we should see more than just drag queens,” Cayton said.

Queer/Bar was already busy on its opening day, a Saturday at 4 o’clock. Old and young, white and brown faces dot the room. There were loud styles and silently gathered ones. Tattoos and piercings, unkempt beards and stylized mustaches.

“A lot of gay bars were designed in a way I wasn’t fond about,” Burgess said. He felt some of the bars deliberately catered to only certain portions of the LGBTQIA+ community. “I wanted to open up something to be proud of. I could do it well and I could do it the best.”

It’s a project Burgess has thought about for 10 years, and he knew what he wanted. Queer/Bar will only serve vegan and vegetarian bar food while rotating and spotlighting local queer chefs. Then there are the drag shows Fridays and Saturdays from 9 to 11 PM which Burgess calls “M-X” to replace the notions of Mr. and Ms.

The bar will also hold a Queer/Hall where civic, social and educational conversations can take place.

“I’ve never got to work exclusively with people in my community,” Burgess said. “It was nice to hire a totally queer staff. This is a space for queer people and their friends. I’ll be diligent about that.”

Since the opening, Burgess has felt a lot of kindness and feels grateful. Some have commented on the Hill’s seeming overtaking by Seattle Guild, the company Burgess is part of that operates the Lost Lake family of businesses. Burgess, however, said Queer/Bar is a separate venture and that he’s been given full rein and called Meinert “a silent backer.

Adding to any ambiguity for some could also be the fact Queer/Bar is replacing Purr another gay bar that exited the Hill citing increasingly exorbitant rents in the neighborhood.

“Anyone who wants to invest in our community is an ally,” Burgess said of Meinert and his support in the venture. They’ve now worked together for six years.

Among the Queer/Bar customers Saturday night sat Brandon McKay and Blair Stacks. The two were glad to see a gay bar opening on the Hill, something they said was now a rare occurrence.

“They need tanktops, though, for the gays,” laughed McKay who is also gay and lives across the street. Queer/Bar sells $20 shirts. “I feel like Seattle doesn’t have enough gay bars for a city its size. This is more inclusive; I mean, look at the people here.”

Stacks said that Queer/Bar is edgier and more sophisticated than other bars. Noting how The Lobby left the scene three years ago, Stacks felt this new addition helps make up for the loss.

“It seems like all the gay bars are just going away,” Stacks said, though Mckay, sitting to the right, disagreed. “Some dislike the word choice. Queer: This is what we are. It’s not bad, it’s just different.”

Meanwhile, Cayton felt the bar’s name isn’t going to be enough of a warning sign to straight drunks. Creating a safe space needs to go beyond that.

“Going out into the world and being exactly what you’re going to be, exactly what you were brought here to be and not living in fear of that will make us stronger as a community,” Cayton said. “That’s what we need. We need everybody being themselves and representing who they are. I really do have hope that this will be another outlet for our community to grow stronger. That is my biggest hope with an opening of a bar in such a central location in our city.”

Queer/Bar is located at 1518 11th Ave and is open daily 4 PM to 2 AM. You can learn more at thequeerbar.com.

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12 thoughts on “Queer/Bar tries to preserve what’s left of LGBTQIA+ Capitol Hill nightlife

  1. It is exciting to see a new addition to the gay scene. The success of the bar will come down to music. Please have good DJs like Pony and the Eagle that play queer music rather than basic top 40 crap. If you want to hold it as a queer space, some gay porn is also a critical element.

    • If they are going to play top 40 pop songs, then they should call it extra regular, basic gay bar not queer bar. If they are going to play videos that aren’t somewhat queer and provocative, then they should call it bachelorette party and bro party weekend bar rather than queer bar. My point is that to keep it queer space will be a challenge. Music and porn are the best tools in the toolbox.

  2. I don’t understand “preserve what’s left” in the title of this article. What is that supposed to mean, is this bar supposed to be the savior to a declining gay bar scene?

    Seattle has many gay/queer what ever you want to label them as bars and they all seem quite busy.

    Wasn’t Purr booted out of this space by receiving a significant rent increase? Purr always seemed busy also and was not cheap. Will be interesting to see how Queer/Bar can afford this expensive space. Haven’t been yet but look forward to checking it out.

    • Seattle does have a number of gay bars but most of them are now 60% straight and filled w/ lots of “girls night out” parties (e.g., neighbors is now a full-on bro and ho bar). I’d like to see something less 21 year old screaming bachelorette party and more full-tilt Queer

  3. Overall, the new space is excellent. The interior design is thoughtful, modern, and clean– a massive improvement over the old Purr space.

    With the redesign comes an expected increase in prices. Time will tell whether a gay bar that charges $16 for a standard gay bar drink (double well) will be successful. There seemed to be a heavy focus on food, with most of the patrons more interested in drinking and socializing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pare down the restaurant element of the bar to be a more standard night spot like Purr was.

    Right now, there is only one bar to order drinks from, which resulted in quite a long line on Saturday night. A side bar to order beer/wells from would do a lot to decrease the wait times.

    All the bathrooms are single stall and unisex. I understand this is the theme they are going for in being “queer” friendly, however a lack of urinals in a bar where 80% of the clientele are men is going to lead to long bathroom lines. Hopefully when the upstairs opens eventually, that restroom can have a few.

    • “Time will tell whether a gay bar that charges $16 for a standard gay bar drink (double well) will be successful.”

      If that’s true, that time should be ~ 3 weeks. There are plenty of other bars in that supposedly-declining bar scene (I can think of 5 offhand, just within 4 blocks) that will be more than willing to pick up that slack.

    • I went there yesterday for happy hour. Cheapest happy hour of any gay space on Capitol Hill. 50% off all menu items, and cheap drinks.

      I stayed past happy hour and the $16 double well drinks you talk about don’t exist. Not sure if something has changed, but I paid $7 for a well, and was told there was a $2 upcharge to make it a double. Seemed reasonable to me.

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