On New Year’s Eve 1985, a group of five women opened the doors to The Wildrose bar at 11th and E Pike. After 30 years, the “place for women” where “all are welcomed” is
very likely almost the longest running lesbian bar in the U.S., not to mention a Capitol Hill cultural institution (San Francisco’s lesbian bar The Wild Side West has been open at the same location since 1976).
Part clubhouse, part refuge, part restaurant, with a heavy dose of dancing and Seahawks on the TV, the Rose continues to be Seattle’s “third space” for many of the area’s gay women.
Shelley Brothers and Martha Manning have co-owned the Rose since 2005, although both were working and drinking at the bar years before taking it over. The duo remain a constant presence inside the Rose today, holding down full-time hours behind the bar.
“Thirty years gets a little lost on us because it’s so day to day, until you sit down and really think bout it,” Brothers told CHS.
“It’s a big deal,” Manning added. “This doesn’t happen often.”
On Wednesday, Brothers and Manning will celebrate the Rose’s 30th with a Pride-style block-party bash. The celebration will shut down part of 11th Ave to make way for a heated outdoor tent, DJ’s, burlesque, a buffet dinner, and a midnight champagne toast. We suspect there will be lots of reminiscing as well.
Sarah Toce, publisher of The Seattle Lesbian, told CHS the bar was a favorite hangout when she first moved to town.
“I remember being a young newcomer to Seattle and meeting my friends for a drink and nachos at the Wildrose,” Toce said. “My wife and I stop by from time to time for Taco Tuesday, and our friends come out to support the place and what it stands for as well.”
Bryher Herak and her four business partners opened the Wildrose at a time when lesbian bars were more commonplace on Capitol Hill — and more exclusive. When Brothers arrived in Seattle in 1992, places like the Wildrose were leery of male patrons. “It was a time when there was a lot of violence towards gay women,” Brothers said.
As Seattle’s gay population has grown and dispersed to other parts of the city, gay bars have also diversified. The Wildrose seeks to be as inclusive as a lesbian bar can be (no ladies-only nights here), but the bedrock of the business continues to be providing a safe hangout for women.
“We do see a lot of the young lesbians seeking out the bar,” Brothers said. “Many of our customers come from areas where there’s not any type of gay bar, much less a lesbian bar.”
The century-old 11th and E Pike building has a long history of hosting bars. According to Seattlebars.org, watering holes have occupied the space since the Great Depression.
A bar owned by Neil C. Riley is listed here in 1935. In the 40s it was LaChateau Café, and in the 60s and 70s it was the Chamber Tavern. In the early 80s it was the Sundance Tavern, and opened as the Wild Rose on Jan 1, 1986.
Back in 2002, The Stranger compiled a good history of The Wildrose, starting with the original five female owners who opened its doors to hundreds eager patrons on New Year’s Eve. Since then, the bar’s interior has remained essentially untouched. The biggest change came in 2011 when Brothers and Manning removed the drop ceiling in the bar’s back room. The bathrooms also got a welcomed sprucing up.
As The Wildrose celebrates its 30-year milestone, lesbian bars in other cities are on the decline. Earlier this year owners of San Francisco’s iconic Lexington Club announced they would shutter sometime in early 2015. According to Brothers, the Rose will be the only lesbian-specific bar north of Los Angeles and west of Denver.
The Rose’s future appears to be solid despite Pike/Pine’s changing nightlife environment. Brothers and Manning said they have no plans to sell the bar and have a good relationship with the building owner. To start 2012, CHS reported on the $4.3 million deal to acquire The Winston Apartments building the Rose calls home. Later that year, the Rose owners secured a lease agreement with Credence Capital through 2015.
Meanwhile, Pike/Pine’s nightlife culture and residential population is undergoing massive change. The neighbors are changing also. CHS recently reported on Castle Megastore’s plans to move off Broadway into a space next door to The Wildrose. After five years as a bastion of LGBT nightlife, The Lobby Bar is also on the move after leaving E Pike earlier this year.
“It makes me very thankful to our community, to our patrons, and to our city,” Brothers said. “If the entire city wasn’t behind us, we couldn’t do it.”
Longtime CHS advertiser The Wildrose is located at 1021 E Pike. You can learn more at thewildrosebar.com.