CHS stopped by 11th Ave’s Purr Cocktail Lounge to talk to owner Barbie Humphrey on a warm afternoon when the majority of patrons were drinking on the patio. Inside, zebra-print benches and flat screen TVs playing a Goldfrapp music video encircled a bar framed by wooden pillars. A former employee of Manray and The Wildrose, Humphrey opened Purr in 2006. The space previously housed the Bad JuJu. According to Humphrey, this was a relatively brief break in its inhabitance by gay bars, which dates at least back to the 80s. We discussed her own experience of running a bar in the space, the Gay Softball World Series, and a novel use for peanut butter.
What do you think are the most important features of a successful gay bar, besides a steady supply of attractive gentlemen and good drinks? Taking the time to get to know your customers. I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve really gotten to know people. People want to be recognized and feel safe.
Why do you think there’s only one lesbian bar in town, not counting my apartment? (Laughs) Seattle is different than any other city. You go to DC or LA and gay men and lesbians just go to the same bars. I’m straight, but I worked at the Wildrose briefly — there just aren’t enough people going out to support more than one lesbian bar. We do get a nice mix of gay men and lesbians at Purr. When I opened Purr I wanted it to be a place where everyone feels welcome. When my cats are purring, it’s because they feel safe and happy, and I want my customers to feel the same way.
Has one of your entrees consistently been a favorite, or does the popularity of dishes fluctuate? We have a predominately Mexican menu, but we do a $6 beer and burger special on Monday. The place fills up. We make our own burgers, and season them ourselves. We also make some killer nachos.
How did you come up with the recipe for the chocolate chip and peanut butter “Funcakes” you serve at brunch? That combination sounds like it could make regular pancakes feel inadequate. They’re called “Barbie’s Funcakes” because when I was a kid I always wanted peanut butter, chocolate chips and syrup on my pancakes. It’s like Reese’s Pieces! You have to remember to treat yourself as an adult. Me and some friends just went to Yogurtland—they had all kinds of toppings, gummy bears and malt balls — it was so much fun.
I notice the cartoon kitty on your sign is wearing a studded collar. Is Purr a favorite of Crypt patrons? We love the Crypt patrons. The Crypt has been a good neighbor to us. My first reaction when they moved in was, “Oh my god, there’s going to be a sex shop next door, what if my parents come by?” But my realization has been that 90% of our customers shop there. We cross-promote with them now, and give them discounts.
I heard Purr has a VIP room and also a room nicknamed the “sex closet.” I thought the only difference between a VIP room and a sex closet is one of them has champagne in it. What actually goes on in these rooms? (Laughs) There’s no sex closet—I don’t know where you heard that—but the VIP room is upstairs, and it’s available for private events. It holds 50-60 people, and we provide a bartender. It’s open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights.
How was the neighborhood different the year you opened? Well the neighborhood has grown—that whole strip with Boom Noodle on it is completely different. The Cha Cha moved up the hill. It seems like a lot of things were further down the hill and have moved up. Cal Anderson is finally done—they did a great job on that. The neighborhood is definitely growing, and improving.
Which businesses on the Hill do you frequent? I don’t really go out too often, because I’m here. Today I went to Six Arms and Yogurtland. I try to go to The Cuff at least once a year during Pride. I haven’t been to The Lobby as much as I’d like, even though we recently held an event there where we auctioned off dates with our bartenders. It was one of our benefits for Rise n’ Shine, which provides support for children affected by HIV. We do a lot of fundraising and support GSBA, HRC, and GLAAD. We also sponsor 9 gay softball teams, two gay volleyball teams, Quake Rugby, and Jet City Hoops gay basketball league, so I go to a lot of games. Two of our softball teams are in the world series this year, and I’m going to Chicago with them next week. I’m a firm believer in supporting this community as I can. Without their support of me, I wouldn’t be here. Last year when I battled breast cancer, this community stepped up with prayers, well wishes, flowers, emails, and cooking food for my family. I am forever grateful!
Humphrey has been asked to carry the “healing flag” in the September 16 Susan G Komen 3-Day For the Cure opening and closing ceremonies. You can support her by donating here.