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After five years on E Pike, Lobby Bar looking for new home on Capitol Hill

The Lobby Bar in the midst of Capitol Hill Block Party mayhem (Image: CHS)

The Lobby Bar in the midst of Capitol Hill Block Party mayhem (Image: CHS)

(Image: Lobby Bar)

(Image: Lobby Bar)

The Lobby Bar, a bastion of LGBTQ nightlife smack in the heart of Pike/Pine, is leaving its E Pike birthplace and taking the next step in its search for a new Capitol Hill home.

“The Lobby Bar is not finished,” longtime manager and bartender Dave Orton said. “In the long run, it will be really nice to move into a fresh space.”

Management says the 900 block E Pike bar will celebrate one last weekend with November 22nd planned as its final day of business. The five-year-old night spot must be out of the 1910-built building by December. Orton said the Lobby’s employees were informed about the closure so there would be no surprises as rumors began to spread about the changes.

The building’s owners want to “cash in on the changing neighborhood,” a person familiar with the situation who declined to speak on the record tells CHS about the rising rent and what is coming next. There are no plans currently on record for the space to indicate any planned construction but Lobby’s Orton said it is clear that the landlords already have something lined up. “We were not given the option to renew the lease,” he said.

(Image: Lobby Bar)

(Image: Lobby Bar)

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

CHS has messages out to our only contact for the Chao family but have not yet heard back about the situation. The family purchased the building for $650,000 in 1992, according to King County Records.

Lobby’s neighbors in the historic but dilapidated building, in the meantime, are expanding getting some company. The city permit for a construction project to transform the long-empty space between Lobby and the Comet Tavern was renewed in September filed last November but delayed by a DPD violation involving the more than 100-year-old building’s masonry and windows. Records indicate the additional space will be part of the new Comet, The Comet was acquired, overhauled and reopened earlier this year by business partners David Meinert and Jason Lajuenesse. Meinert and Lajuenesse also opened Lost Lake on the 10th Ave side of the building taking over the former home of gay sex club Basic Plumbing. UPDATE: Meinert said the empty space between the Comet and Lobby Bar isn’t part of his projects and that his partnership isn’t having lease discussions about that space or Lobby. UPDATE 11/17/2014 7:50 AM: We’ve updated this paragraph further to fix the error pointed out by Dave Meinert in comments below and better clarify the permit status. We have updated the paragraph to include information about the correct permit, filed last November. Here is the information about Project: 6388352. Applicant Babienko Architects also handled buildout permits for previous work at the corner.

The Comet is a CHS advertiser. The Lobby, by the way, was too.

(Image: Lobby Bar)

(Image: Lobby Bar)

CHS asked Meinert about rumors that his partnership is taking over the Lobby Bar space. Meinert tells CHS he was not aware the bar would be closing. In October, CHS reported that Meinert, Lajuenesse and manager Joey Burgess were taking over 11th Ave’s Grim’s and its upstairs The Woods dance club with plans to assess “all operations” before taking over the business completely in December and deciding on any new directions.

The confirmation of Lobby’s exit after five years of business comes the same weekend E Pike celebrated its new Out of the Closet thrift shop and new location of AHF Pharmacy. Meanwhile, the core two blocks of E Pike around Neumos will also soon have another new tenant in the space left empty earlier this year with the exit of Platinum Records. In other Broadway “lost lease” news, much-loved Red Light Vintage and Aprie clothing boutique also announced closures this week.

The Lobby Bar opened on E Pike in December 2009. First-time bar owners Curtis Bigelow and Paul Villa told CHS they hoped to create a space for members of the LGBTQ community who were “interested in getting a good, reasonably priced drink in an comfortable, inviting environment.” It arrived in the midst of rapid change — both for Pike/Pine’s nightlife and for gay culture in the city. From being at the center of the Hill’s celebrations of R74 to signing on against the Defense of Marriage act, the Lobby Bar became the place in the city where the TV vans set up to cover LGBTQ news events.

“We’re called the Lobby for a reason,” Villa told CHS this weekend. “We lobby for LGTB causes. We were there for R74. We were there for ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.'”

But after replacing the ill-fated King Cobra, Lobby also found itself an island in a sea of heteronormative Pike/Pine nightlife.

The rise of The Woo! Girl won’t mean the end of the Lobby, however.

Villa said the search for a new space for the nightspot has been underway. There are plenty of hopeful examples in the neighborhood to follow. CC’s has survived and thrived after its move to E Olive Way to make way for development of the Bullitt Center. Meanwhile, there are survivors. R Place just celebrated 30 years on Capitol Hill. The big hope, he says, is to find a new home he and Bigelow can buy and own outright to control their own destiny.

“We’re going to take our time looking and we’ll see,” Villa said.

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26 thoughts on “After five years on E Pike, Lobby Bar looking for new home on Capitol Hill

  1. Lobby is my favorite gay bar in Seattle. I hope this isn’t a sign of the demise of the gayborhood. I would invite Lobby to move South; I think First Hill is a great area and could use a gay bar.

  2. This doesn’t make me happy. While I’m not surprised a landlord chooses to fuck over an existing business in order to get somebody else in, I’m not happy about it.

    I love the Lobby but its present location isn’t as close to another deccent gay bar as the little grouping of Cuff, Pony, Mad Pub, Diesel… Maybe they can snag a spot near CCs and Eagle?

    • I’d like that a lot! But the building has set empty for so long that whatever building issues killed the Broadway Grill are still there.

  3. Wasn’t there talk about the Chop Suey location being for sale? That would be great. I like the Lobby but I have never liked this space or location. Not sorry to see them vacate this space, hope they find somewhere they like even better.

    • Did a little digging on the last CHS article about Chop Suey. Chop Suey (the business) is for sale for $100k, but that’s not the building nor the lease. The same article said the landlord would just re-lease the space if Chop Suey doesn’t find a buyer. I wonder for how long, though? Not sure why Lobby would need to buy Chop Suey’s business if all they need is the space.

  4. ” in the meantime, are expanding getting some company. The city permit for a construction project to transform the long-empty space between Lobby and the Comet Tavern was renewed in September after being delayed by a DPD violation involving the more than 100-year-old building’s masonry and windows.”

    This is untrue. You are reading the records wrong. The permit you are referring to was for Lost Lake and expired. There is no permit I’m aware of for the space you are talking about, and if there is, it’s unrelated to The Comet. To set the record straight, we have not taken over The Lobby Bar, nor the space between The Comet and The Lobby Bar. Please correct your article.

    • You should try either CC’s or the Eagle if you want a really unpretentious gay bar. However, the Lobby bar deserves a few extra points for its LGBTQSA inclusiveness and its lack of sexploitation and seediness.

      • Yet it’s odd that the Lobby made a big deal out of the LGBT etc.when one of their employees was interviewed by a local rag (can’t remember if it was gay or just alternative) who mentioned that it was a “gay” bar and as soon as the article went live the employee was dressed down for mentioning the gay thing. Go figure.

      • Somebody should have told the TV vans then. Lined up as an easy place for live cuts whenever there was LGBTQ news that made it on the TV news radar. But sure.

  5. That space was cursed with all the previous tenants that never seemed to last very long–Easy, Sugar, King Cobra. It’s surprising that they’re ejecting the one tenant who’s managed to run a successful operation for 5 years there without even offering a lease renewal. It doesn’t sound like they’re redeveloping the building if Tgd Comet isn’t going anywhere.

    • It’s always about money of who will be making that money. The owners of the property evidently found something else to hang on to that will better line their pockets.

    • The Easy was quite successful, and its closure, also after 5 years, was a surprise. IIRC, the owners were offered a bucket o’ cash by the partnership for a buyout and they decided to take it.

      And yes, I am very sorry that we don’t still have a 2nd high profile lesbian bar in this town.

  6. I’m sad to see lobby leaving its current location. I was so fond of margaritas in the loft and hanging out at the bar in the main area. I really hope they can find a spot in south Capitol Hill/first hill. Also, it would be awesome to see another space welcoming to queer women and the trans community (or at least a weekly night!) The rose is lackluster given the number of lesbians in the area. Good luck, lobby bar!

    • There are plenty of bars in Seattle that are ‘welcoming to queer women and trans’. The question is, do they go out? This is the 4th big city I’ve lived in and every one of them has had exactly ONE (exclusively) lesbian bar, and not from a lack of customer base. It’s a supply/demand thing. If there was more demand there would be another one, because the money is here.

      • it’s an interesting question. Demographically speaking, lesbians do spend less money, but not NO money. I think it’s a combination of things: lack of spending force, greater integration into general business and less overall “need” in younger generations (who are going to be the thirstiest/bar-sustaining ones) for their own space, and subsequently less support for a space just because it’s lesbian-identified.

        Which is a shame – when I travel, I *always* look for lesbian bars and all I get are gay (meaning for the menfolk) bars. In the post-homophobia world (not) I guess that central community watering hole is less crucial.

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