The Lumberyards patio in tootier times.
The Lumberyard's patio in tootier times. The Lumberyard

“It’s really hard to run a business at 25% of capacity,” says Nathan Adams, co-owner of The Lumberyard in White Center. The bar was allowed to re-open its doors in June, thanks to the business classification afforded by its full kitchen. But that came with safety precautions that present challenges of their own.

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“We only have like seven tables that we can use inside,” Nathan says. Though there’s some additional space on the patio, capacity is quite limited and the mood isn’t the same with half staff and everyone wearing a mask.

The Lumberyard is one of several queer establishments that had anchored a burgeoning gayborhood in White Center, along with The Swallow and an upcoming project from The Unicorn that looks fucking amazing. But The Swallow has confirmed that it won’t re-open, and quarantine has thrown everyone else’s future plans into upheaval. So are we looking at the death of another gayborhood before it could even get going?

“The first year a bar is open is always the toughest, and just as we were really getting our sea-legs, COVID came along and shipwrecked everything,” wrote The Swallow’s Marcus Wilson in an emailed statement to confirm they’re closing for good. “White Center is a wonderfully diverse & welcoming neighborhood, and we thank the local community and all of the other businesses in the neighborhood for their kindness and support.”

And even for those businesses that have managed a re-opening, these are precarious times.

“I think the big fear for everybody who’s made it through is the fear of a rollback,” Nathan says. “We’re all sitting here like, ‘if you roll us back, those doors won’t open again.’”

For now, he’s confident that the neighborhood has more than enough queers (and friends) to sustain it. And in fact, Nathan wonders if this period might make White Center even queerer, since working from home might push folks out of downtown and Capitol Hill in favor of less-overpriced neighborhoods.

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“I don’t think there’s any one major city that’s had a continuous gay neighborhood,” he says. Seattle’s gayborhood used to be Pioneer Square; San Francisco’s was the Tenderloin; and just this week LA Pride announced it's leaving WeHo for destinations unknown. (My money’s on DTLA next year.)

So at least for the time being, it seems as though the queering of White Center will proceed as planned, with gays filtering in for now and heterosexuals expected to become aware of the neighborhood in approximately eight years. White Center’s LGBTQ scene isn’t over yet, pandemic notwithstanding.

“I saw someone come in on a first date the other night,” Nathan reports. “They’d been talking online, I can’t remember if it was Scruff or something else, and they had agreed to come here and meet. … They sat with their masks on when they weren’t drinking and there was no public affection, but they had a great time talking.”