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Neighbours Nightclub to rise again

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Photo taken on Aug. 3, 2021, a few days before the club's re-opening — Photo by Nate Gowdy
Photo taken on Aug. 3, 2021, a few days before the club's re-opening — Photo by Nate Gowdy

Neighbours Nightclub on Capitol Hill was bustling with activity on Tuesday as volunteers and staff put the finishing touches on the iconic LGBTQIA+ landmark. A DJ mix thrummed from loudspeakers over an empty dance floor clad with lights, lasers, and a disco ball.

"Neighbours has been a safe place for the LGBT community for 38-going-on-39 years, and everyone is welcome," Roxy Doll, a popular Seattle drag performer, told the SGN this week. "It has been a place people can call home for decades. Many drag artists and other performers started on this stage through the decades."

Her Imperial Sovereign Majesty Olympia XLII Sahara Dior D, a female impersonator and member of the Imperial Court of Seattle since 2004, said that Neighbours is "important to the LGBT community" and has "always supported our organization and our many pageants there."

"I know there are a lot of people waiting to see it reopen its doors again, and yes, I am one of them," she said. "On a personal level, when I wasn't there in [drag] or representing the [Court], I went there with friends to have a good time.

"I really wish them well, and hopefully, they can have a comeback and become the number one place where people can go and enjoy themselves safely."

"A crazy year and a half"
In March 2020, the disco ball at Neighbours went dark after the governor and local health officials shuttered indoor operations at restaurants and bars to stem the rise of COVID-19 infections. During the shutdown, the establishment experienced a series of break-ins; was home to squatters, who left human waste and trash throughout the club; and, finally, suffered from vandals, who spray-painted and tore open walls. However, the disco ball survived unscathed.

Capitol Hill business owner Carl Medeiros of Panache said it has been a "crazy year and a half," with bars and venues being among the "hardest hit" economically during the pandemic and demonstrations for racial justice, which became an almost daily occurrence in the neighborhood. "Sadly, some [businesses] couldn't hold on long enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "Yet others are coming back, and coming back strong.

"The vandalism was horrific for so many of us. Every day, as a business owner, I dreaded driving up to my store in fear that my window would be broken or my shop looted. It was a stressful ride for everyone. Neighbours got hit badly. They were in the middle of all the protesting. I'm glad they are returning. I'm looking forward to their reopening."

Medeiros says he has a soft spot for the nightclub, because it was his first after moving to Seattle from Hawaii back in the mid-1980s. "I have a lot of great memories there," he said. "It's the longest-lasting club. Many of us, both young and old, have a fun story to tell about our time growing up and being there. We need this type of business to stay for at least another generation.

"I'm very happy Neighbours will come alive again."

The renovation
Doll, who books talent for Neighbours and oversaw the renovations, documented the progress to reopen the business on its Facebook page. She said many individuals, businesses, and generous donors made the reopening possible. She said the kitchen, dance floor and walk-in cooler needed to be replaced and that over 200 bags of trash were removed. The sound systems, lighting equipment, and cameras had been stolen and were replaced. The entire establishment also underwent a major cleaning and sanitization.

"In November 2020, my partner Evan Evans and I took on the project of bringing the community together so the club could rise again," she said. "I have been going there since I was 21 years old. My shows started here, and I have paved the way for all [the] talent within Neighbours' walls — not just drag. Neighbours has been my home away from home for decades.

"It will feel good to know our effort to save Neighbours has fully come true and that the doors are open for a safe space for all."

Doll has also established a GoFundMe for Neighbours that had raised $12,790 from 217 donors, as of press time. The fundraising campaign has a goal of raising $100,000. "More money is needed to replace so much that has been destroyed and lost," she said.

Medeiros praised Doll for her efforts. "Neighbours would not have the ability to be where it is today without the love and hard work of Roxy," he said. "Every business out there needs someone like a Roxy to be part of their team. If you find that person, keep that person."

Neighbours has had dark times before. In 1990, federal authorities notified the nightclub that three members associated with the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, better known as the Aryan Nations, had plotted to blow it up. In 2009, the establishment received a typewritten letter that threatened to poison a patron with highly toxic ricin. In 2014, a man who had told a friend that "homosexual people" should be "exterminated" attempted to light Neighbours on fire — threatening the lives of 750 people there for New Year's festivities.

"I want people to realize that it is a LGBT business that has survived many decades," said Doll. "Hopefully, it will be here for many years to come, thanks to all the hard work from so many of our community and the donations that were given to help Neighbours rise again."

Neighbours will open to the general public on Saturday at 9 p.m. The popular LEO Party, a fundraiser organized by Neighbours bartender Joe Torres, will return for its 18th year on Sunday at 8 p.m; the event will be hosted by Aleksa and Atasha Manila and will feature DJs, go-go boys, and Seattle's best drag talent. Tickets are available at www.leofoundation.us.