We stayed home for the entire month of April. We will stay home for the entire month of May. But, until last week, I thought it was irrational to think bars and nightclubs would still be closed by the time we got to Pride.
On Friday, that changed when Gov. Inslee unveiled his plan for reopening the state, which will come in four phases. “At minimum, it looks like we won't hit phase four until mid-July,” wrote Rich Smith in his report on Inslee’s plans. That fourth phase is when nightclubs and gatherings of over 50 will be permitted. Seattle Pride is at the end of June.
The writing was really on the wall when San Francisco canceled its 50th anniversary Pride parade, which was scheduled for this summer, in the middle of April. If San Francisco was willing to put off such a big milestone, there was no hope for Seattle. We canceled our Pride parade a few days after the San Francisco announcement. Seattle plans on hosting this summer's events online, but details are still TBD.
Obviously, Pride has never been just about a parade. Pride is about filling a city with bodies, all the different types of bodies that make up the clumsy and hopeful acronym that encapsulates the queer community. On Pride, we have a physical reckoning with our straight world, together, if only for one week a year.
Lately, I stay up much later than I used to on Fridays and Saturdays. I'm up until 4 or 5 in the morning. I'm not doing anything special. Just sitting at home, waiting for something to happen. Nothing really does. I just miss going out.
Out of habit, I walked down to Re-bar and Kremwerk this Saturday, which exist on one block near the Denny Triangle. I wanted to see if the clubs were still there. They are.
In The Stranger's review of Seattle's '10s, Dave Segal correctly summarized how the block felt for the majority of the last decade:
When Kremwerk opened in 2014, it immediately established itself as a hub of electronic-music producers and DJs and experimental drag artists. Previously, the Denny Triangle had been a Bermuda Triangle for edgy art, with the exception of Re-bar, which used to be an epicenter for both punk drag and avant-electronic music. Now clubbers into underground sounds and unconventional drag can simply make a left at the Market House Meats joint on Howell to get fresh cuts of beats and ham at Kremwerk.
When it comes to music, Kremwerk favors talent and diversity rather than overpaid prima-donna DJs who make bros and hoes punch the air. You could say it's the Berghain of the Northwest—but without the problematic entry policy. When it comes to drag, the venue has facilitated big breaks for unconventional performers such as Cucci Binaca, Arson Nicki, Betty Wetter, and Cookie Couture. Kremwerk's shows often have up to 50 drag queens acting outrageously around the complex, which also includes Timbre Room and Little Maria's Pizza. According to one aficionado, "It often feels like an anarchic drag school that's always throwing a party."
Now everything is very quiet. The clubs feel like they're in comas.
The only activity on the block comes from the mammoth apartment buildings that surround the venues. When Kremwerk opened, these buildings were parking lots. I won't be silly and pretend that I preferred the parking lots, but the juxtaposition between these dark queer bunkers and the soaring glass towers is stark. These new buildings look toward a different future, one where the huge Seattle Convention Center expansion redefines the Denny Triangle. It's a future that probably doesn't include these clubs.
I guess it's fitting that during these strange days I have found hope in, of all places, the video livestreaming service Twitch.
Until recently, Twitch was a platform mostly for gamers to livestream themselves playing video games. In this pandemic, many drag and nightlife performers have migrated to the platform, using it to perform for their old audiences and make money through tips.
I first mentioned the possibility of digital drag shows in March. At that time, the only queen who was making the jump to digital in a big way was a performer named Biqtch Pudding, most known for winning the second season of the RuPaul's Drag Race rival, Dragula.
Pudding's first digital drag show was streamed live on her channel on a Friday night in the middle of March. It was around four hours long, incredibly DIY, and featured a massive range of queens, from popular RuPaul's Drag Race winner Alaska Thunderfuck to amateur queens from Atlanta, San Francisco, and Houston. It was weird, entertaining, and successful. Almost immediately, similar shows spawned across the country.
Digital drag has quickly become the norm. There are drag brunches on Instagram and bingo nights on Zoom. The trend must have hit the suburbs, because the Seattle Times has even started to notice it. I've talked to a handful of local queens who've told me they've made more money in tips performing three minutes on Instagram Live than they did performing three hours in a nightclub. The question now is how long this enthusiasm will last.
Eventually we will pass Phase 4 and fill streets again. For now, Pride must stay online. Our favorite clubs will be empty, but I expect our comment boxes will be full.
In the words of Vera Lynn and the Queen of England...