Recently, we reported on the sad departure of Purr, 11th Avenue's beloved gay bar, which was priced out of its spot. The Hill has been slowly bleeding queer businesses, and it looked like this was another casualty of the area's new, straight-leaning demographics, soon to become a woodsy gastropub or upscale Asian noodle joint with foosball tables or something equally trite. However, this story has a happy ending!
Joey Burgess, co-owner of Grim's Provisions and Spirits, and director of operations for Big Mario's/The Comet/Lost Lake, recently announced that he'll be taking over the space and opening a very, very gay bar. The Hill's gay quotient is holding, for now!
It's called Queer/Bar, which he says is an intentional choice to make sure everyone knows exactly what they're about, and also to make sure people of all identities—lesbian, trans, bear, otter, bi, questioning, het ally, and so on—feel welcome there.
It might seem a bit ironic that someone who owns what is arguably the club with the straightest scene on Capitol Hill is now loudly championing the cause of gay bars, but Burgess says he's actually been planning this for about 12 years, and originally intended to do it when he took over Grim's.
"I always wanted to open a queer space, and I originally thought that would be it," he says. "I moved in and started looking at numbers and feeling out the neighborhood, but also knew that Purr was right there. Honestly, I didn’t feel good about that."
He decided to keep Grim's as-is and keep looking, but he's very happy with how things are going there. It's one of the most diverse clienteles in terms of ethnicity, he notes, adding that the Hill could always use more of that. That said, he's also happy to be keeping a foothold for queer culture on 11th.
"We waited and waited and looked at a ton of different spaces initially, and then this happened," he says. "I have a relationship with the landlord, obviously, because we’re in Grim’s. I didn’t want to compete, but once I found out [Purr was] moving and going to Montlake, I was like, ‘That’s great!’"
Obviously, the departure of Purr, coupled with his own concern over the departure of queer-owned businesses on the Hill, provided him with plenty of impetus to open Queer/Bar, but he also cited the current political moment as a major motivating factor:
"I also want a big political platform. That’s part of it. I want to launch Queer Hall. With this administration and what’s going on, it’s not going to get better in the next three and a half years. We need this.
When I look at Gay Pride and what that evolved in, my forefathers and mothers in that community, Gay Pride initially was a struggle and a fight. They’ve done so much in our community to build us to where we are, but Pride isn’t going to be about parades anymore. We have issues that we need to get out in front of, and we need the space to be able to facilitate that.
For me, it’s also being able to embrace this kind of progressive left that’s happening, and having an action center. Being able to have a space where you can have local leaders. Black Lives Matter, all of these things. It’s like, ‘Here, this is your space.’ Be inclusive, bring it all in."
Many of the world's great social movements have been hatched over dinner and drinks, he notes, and he hopes to be something of a Dooky Chase's to contemporary champions of civil rights. Indeed, their press release describes it as a "venue for queer-focused issues in politics, activism, and community driven forums." However, in addition to all that awesome social justice work, he also intends to agitate on a more recreational level, with such such offerings as "Queer/Bingo," "Queer/Dance," and "Queer/Art." DJs and drag shows will be a big part of the festivities, Burgess says, and he plans to pay his performers well.
"Let’s bring that art here and let’s keep that culture here," he says, warning that, without cultivating spaces for queer arts, queer culture could easily get lost in the city's rapid growth. "Rainbow sidewalks aren’t enough."
As for the food, he intends to pay special attention to it, as that's something he laments a lack of in the queer business scene. Indeed, Queer/Bar sounds like it will be as much of a restaurant as it is a bar, and he envisions a rotating cast of menus from some of the city's up-and-coming queer chefs, anchored by a few staples and favorites.
"I want to have a base menu," he says, "but I want to do a queer chef series, like a pop-up. Come in here, and if you’re looking to hone an idea, come for a two-month residency. Do your thing!"
Overall, he says, he's just really psyched to do his part to preserve this aspect of the neighborhood's character. Indeed, in an era where the Hill's aging gay businesses are often replaced by boring, safe bars for heterosexual software engineers to take Tinder dates, it feels great to see a shiny, new queer business opening up. Burgess estimated it's been five years since a new, overtly queer business opened on the Hill.
"My big thing was, once they left, I wanted to keep this queer. This is my neighborhood, this is my community. Let’s keep 11th, let’s keep the Pike/Pine corridor, let’s keep Capitol Hill super queer."
Amen. They're shooting for a fall opening, and will initially be open 4 pm to late and for weekend brunch, with a potential foray into the all-day format depending on demand.