Dion Dior Black and Cookie Couture at R Place.
Dion Dior Black and Cookie Couture at R Place. Photo by Keith Johnson, Courtesy R Place

“This was not how it was supposed to go down,” says Cookie Couture. She’s referring to the announcement this week that R Place, the decades-old queer bar at Pine and Boylston, will not re-open its doors. Owners Rick Flowers and Steve Timmons say they’re seeking a new location, but the news has left many regulars and performers reeling.

“We’ve all been holding out hope that our spaces will open back up and we’ll be able to fall back into where we were,” Cookie says. “But with R Place saying they’re moving locations, I’ve seen so many people being like, ‘Damn. That really hurts.’”

For now, there’s been an outpouring of memories on social media, with friends of the bar sharing photos and videos of nights they’ll never forget — from drag shows to dance parties to Pride floats and one particularly memorable proposal.

“Lightning really struck,” says Cookie. “It felt like drag got big as Seattle has grown, and R Place was the hub.”

“It was like a Cheers bar on the first floor with a dance floor upstairs,” says Sparkle Leigh.

The Ladie Chablis, who performed at R Place for nearly twenty years, described it as “an alternative bar. Nobody was ever turned away from that club.”

Numerous performers praised the bar for giving newcomers a first chance, letting them experiment and hone their craft. Her first time at R Place, Sparkle recalled, “I brought a wheelchair and a puppet cake and Butch Alice ... I did a Donna Summer Cake Out in the Rain disco remix.”

It was also a hotspot for visiting Drag Race performers.

“Latrice Royale would come every year for Christmas and perform with us,” says Chablis. “This one year, she came with Christopher, at the time her boyfriend, now husband. She said, ‘Chablis, I’m going to give you this box and I want you to come out with it. I did not know she was planning to propose! That shocked me — not only was she there at R Place to do that, she allowed me to participate.”

As awe-inspiring as the shows were, it was backstage where much of the bar’s magic was fostered.

“I was so excited to perform, but I was really stoked to get in that dressing room,” says Cookie. I’d come clomping up those stairs and be met with smiles and energy. It was such a family environment.”

During one of Latrice’s many visits, Sparkle was sitting in a corner taking her makeup off after the show. “Everybody was kikiing over by the sofa, and suddenly Latrice starts shouting, ‘Trade! Trade!’ And I’m like, ‘are you talking about me?’” At that point, Sparkle says, Latrice stood and barreled over to her like she was about to pin Sparkle against the wall. She’s like, ‘You know I’m talking to you! You know what trade means, don’t you?’ And I’m like, “Yes ma’am.’ I was dumbfounded she was engaging with me.”

Performers shared touching moments as well. Chablis recalled one audience member approaching her after her performance of As Long as I Got King Jesus and telling her, “You saved my life.” He’d been depressed, he said, and had been having some catastrophic thoughts, but the show lifted him back up.

After another show, Sparkle spotted someone sitting alone and asked if he was okay. He told her he’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness, “and I just want to dance.” Sparkle grabbed a water bottle and brought him out onto the floor to dance.

“Families were built at R Place,” says Amora Dior Black. She recalled a fundraiser a few years ago, after Sparkle was injured by a hit-and-run driver. “The way people turned up,” Amora said. “I got emotional. My sister’s hurt, but the community’s helping her patch these wounds.”

For now, the future of R Place remains murky. “We are NOT going out of business and currently scouting locations to make a bigger, better R Place,” says a statement on the bar’s Facebook page, but this isn’t exactly an easy time to scout for real estate.

Until more details emerge — if more details emerge — R Place performers say they’ll continue doing live shows online. Cookie will co-host Hump on February 11 with Betty Wetter, and Chablis will host R Place livestreams once a month.

“It’s going to continue like it has been, the only difference is there’s no building,” Chablis says. “Sit back, relax, and look forward to the future. We’re going to do something bigger and better. We’re not giving up on R Place.”