The original entrance to Neighbours is in the alley. It’s a bit of an homage to a time when you could only get to a gay bar through the back alley, explained Scotty Linscott, the only person waiting at the back entrance when I showed up early on Saturday night for "The Rise: Neighbours’ Grand Reopening." The two-story venue has "been open as long as I’ve been out," Linscott said, marveling at the neon Neighbours sign above the still-closed doors—just before the venue's staff instructed us to head around the corner to the Broadway entrance.
Like many others, this was the first gay club Linscott had ever been to; when he was ready to come out, he clarified. At that time, the line to get in went down the alley. Inside, the packed disco was a sea of Navy haircuts, and he was “like a kid in a candy store.”
Neighbours’ reopening last Saturday was more than just another club opening its doors post/next-pandemic. The Capitol Hill institution is almost 39-years old, and opening up came after more than a year and a half of closure—and an extensive cleanup effort after break-ins and squatters left the venue ransacked and damaged beyond recognition. Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported on the damages last December.
Roxy Doll, a performer who has been involved with Neighbours for over 30 years, is the primary person responsible for resurrecting the club. “I have been here for decades. This has been home, and it will continue to be a safe place and home to many,” Doll told me. She launched a GoFundMe campaign, started an Amazon wishlist, coordinated volunteer cleanup efforts, and steered it to a successful reopening. The revived Neighbours features a brand-new dance floor, an all-new sound and lighting system, new kitchen equipment, repaired walls, and a lot of fresh paint. Still, Neighbours is in need of donations.
Rita LaRue is one of the many drag performers who got her start at Neighbours. “I”m pretty excited,” she said at the reopening. “I’ve done some work with Roxy and a couple other lovely individuals from the drag scene. This is really where I started with my whole drag career. It’s grand … I think it’s going to have a refreshing new vibe.”
One woman said, “This feels like being home. I thought it would never open again. It’s like a dream come true … I volunteered a lot here, fixing it up. This is incredible now.”
Eric Rodriguez volunteered to work the door on reopening night, even though he had to work early the next day. “You wouldn't believe what they’ve gone through to clean this place up,” he said. The fact that Roxy and a team of volunteers resuscitated the club is an act of resistance in itself. “It’s right smack dab in the middle of this neighborhood,” he said. “That means something too. This reopening in a way is our community saying to everyone, 'Hey, we’re still here, we’re coming back.'”
The reopening was especially meaningful for Linscott, who spent about a nine-year stint working as coat check and cashier at the club. He even grew familiar with the resident ghosts. “Oh there’s a young lady who’s up in the balcony, and there’s a guy down in the basement who we jokingly said is the guy who never got a date,” Linscott said. Then there was Granny, a little old lady. “Everybody was freaking out until I named her Granny. When you named her, everything was fine. They weren’t doing any damage. Why should we be scared of them?”
What was scary was the state of Neighbours last year. Images of the club strewn with waste, tagged and in ruins shocked Neighbours' community as photos circulated around the internet. Like all venues during the pandemic, Neighbours closed last spring. The break-ins started happening last July. Around that time, someone tipped off Neighbour’s property owner Moustafa “Moe” Elassiouti about the state of the club.
Elassiouti was in Egypt, and pandemic travel restrictions prevented him from coming back (he returned at the beginning of August), so he reached out to Doll for help. She remembered what it was like the first time she entered Neighbours to assess the damages: “My heart dropped as we entered the back alley through a hole in the boards. There was no electricity, so we used a battery-powered light. The condition was unbelievable at that point.”
Everything deemed of value was stolen: alcohol, electronics, the sound and lighting systems—pretty much everything not bolted down. Squatters left “needles, rotted floors from the moisture, HUMAN WASTE, 200-plus bags of garbage,” Doll said. “Basically, everything was stolen, everything spray painted and damaged.”
The pandemic already created impossible situations for some nightclubs. Long-standing venues like Re-Bar and R Place were more or less forced to pack up with the promise of (hopefully) finding a new home, although Re-Bar faced an uncertain future before the pandemic. The same was true for Neighbours when NAI Puget Sound Properties listed the property on the market for $7 million in 2019.
But Roxy wasn’t ready to let it go. She credits the support of her partner Evan Evans—“without him, I’m not sure a lot of this would have been done”—and everyone who donated and volunteered. “I truly appreciate everyone stepping up. We could not do it without the help of our community.”
Neighbours is designated as Seattle’s oldest LGBTQ+ club currently operating, although straight people technically own it. (Seattle Gay News wrote more about the Elassiouti family in 2008.) Before Seattle, Neighbours’ first incarnation was in Vancouver—perhaps the origin of the Canadian spelling of the name. In 1982, Elassiouti expanded and opened a disco of the same name in its current location on Broadway and Pike. Seattle drag legend Crystal Lane fostered a new generation of drag community at Neighbours (as well as at the Brass Connection and Double Header of yore). Lane helped spur the club’s tradition of fundraising drag events before her unfortunate passing in 1994.
Now another generation gets to break in the dance floor, along with those who have loved Neighbours for decades. The interior might be refurbished and repainted, but there are still plenty of inviting dark corners, along with three reputedly friendly ghosts.
Neighbours is currently open Thursday and Friday from 9 PM till 2 AM, and on Saturday and Sunday from 9 PM to 4 AM. Proof of vaccination is required to enter.