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Seattle's LGBTQ bars in 1974: Out on the Town

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Garden of Allah 1946-1956 University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SOC7421
Garden of Allah 1946-1956 University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SOC7421

In 1974, before the Kingdome, it was a different time, a different world, a different city.

In 1974, there were 18 bars actively serving Seattle's Gay community. Primarily centered in Pioneer Square, the scene was flourishing!

In 2024, the 50th anniversary of Pride in Seattle, some of us now prefer to use "Queer" or "LGBTQ+" in recognition of the need to include all segments of our community, but at that time, people would have proudly used "Gay" to include everyone.

Come Out Seattle  

The Gay scene had long been happening in Seattle. The first Gay-owned-and-operated establishment, The Garden of Allah (1946—56), opened at 1299 First Ave., now the top of Harbor Steps. There, in the basement of the faded Victorian-era Arlington Hotel, owners Frank Reid and Fred Coleman (soon replaced by Frank Carlburg) created a cabaret featuring female impersonation.

As told by Isaac Monroe, "My first impression of the Garden was of a blast of noise and smoke. The room was jammed. The place was in an absolute uproar, and everyone was screaming with laughter." Bill Parkin related, "There were two shows a night on weekdays and three shows on Fridays and Saturdays. The show would last 45 minutes. There were dark blue and pink fluorescent bulbs behind sconces, so the Garden was filled with a soft, subdued light — very, very seductive."

The venue followed in the footsteps of The Spinning Wheel (1934—50), a vaudeville theater featuring elaborate shows with an all-male cast of female impersonators, which was also partly owned by Fred Coleman, located in a basement at Second Avenue and Union Street (now home to Octave 9 on street level in the northwest corner of Benaroya Hall).

The Hub (1958—66) opened at 421 Denny Way, which is currently occupied by Zeeks Pizza across from KOMO Plaza. It was the first Lesbian bar in Seattle and was filled with a combination of early women athletes and older out women.

Come Out Seattle  

With The Mocambo (1951—78) veering Gay in the mid-1950s, Seattle's Gay scene solidly shifted to Pioneer Square, long established as the center of Seattle's rowdier nightlife. Several establishments had long welcomed gay people, including The Casino (1930—64) and the Double Header (1934—2015), although neither were aimed at or owned by the Gay community.

A very popular gay bar and restaurant, The Mocambo was the "go-to" bar for men, located at the corner of Yesler and Second Avenue S. The 1976 Gay Community Center Guide described it as having "roomy facilities yet an intimate atmosphere decorated with warm color schemes and accented with subdued lighting." It is believed to be the first Gay-identified bar in Seattle to legally serve hard liquor aboveground.

It also included a restaurant that catered to all stripes. The private dining room played host to the founding of many of Seattle's most influential Gay organizations, including the Queen City Business Guild (which later morphed into the Greater Seattle Business Association), the Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle, the United Ebony Council, and the Dorian Society (later the Dorian Group).

Bill Parkin, a dishwasher at The Mocambo, recounts that "The Mo was a mixed crowd until 1955, when it became mostly Gay — except for daytime, when office workers, courthouse workers, lawyers, and judges came in for lunch," most likely with no awareness of the nighttime clientele.

Howard Giske / MOHAI  

Bob Bedord, aka B.B., owned "The Mo" from 1969 to 1978 and was a pivotal figure in the development of Gay Seattle. He provided the space for groups to form, opened some of the other main Gay taverns in Seattle, helped other bars and organizations (including Shelly's Leg (1974—77) and the SGN) survive lean periods, and played a pivotal role in ending the long-running Seattle payoff system involving both police and Washington State Liquor Control Board agents.

Come Out Seattle  

Women's bars
Not far away was Seattle's premier woman's bar, The Silver Slipper (1968—81), owned by Ren Miller. Over its lifetime, it was the place for women to go. And its ads said it: "Girls! Girls! Girls!"

It was described thus by G. Mary Scott: "The Slipper was a women's bar. It was a Lesbian bar. Occasionally a man would come in, but he would be a Gay man. He was kind of an oddity, you know? He was there because maybe he knew one of the bartenders, or maybe he was a friend or a brother of a customer there that night, or whatever."

She continued: "It seems to me that the older women just kind of disappeared. I found out later that a lot of them just simply were overwhelmed. They just couldn't understand or cope with this big influx of feminist, out, wild Lesbians." The new crowd "didn't look or act like Lesbians, and they weren't into butch and femme."

Come Out Seattle  

Shirley Maser, a long-time member of Seattle's women's scene, decided to open a new bar, The Crescent (1974—present), one of the first two Gay bars that opened on Capitol Hill. Maser said, "The Slipper is nice, but I felt it attracted a younger crowd, and I wanted a place where older women would feel comfortable."

In the 1940s, Maser was one of the first women in the Northwest to become a motorcycle aficionado as well as an out athlete. She was a member of the all-female national club The Motor Maids of America, as well as the only out member of Seattle's Queen City Motorcycle Club. She turned a neighborhood tavern into an women's bar, but after three exhausting years, she sold it to George Vanderpool and Jim Feigley; the latter owned it until 2008. Since then its ownership has transitioned several times, but it continues to operate at the same location to this day.

More from 1974
Back to Pioneer Square and 1974.

After drinks at The Mocambo, you could wander over to The Golden Horseshoe (1961—76), The Doll House (1970—75), The Trojan Shield (1972—75), The Greek Torch (1970—76), The 611 (1962—2003), Don's Place (1969—75), Gatsby's (1973—74), or the fabulous new disco everyone was talking about, Shelly's Leg — all within easy walking distance. No taxi, Uber, or scooter needed!

If you wanted to venture out of Pioneer Square, you could walk up Third Avenue to Seattle's first leather bar, The 922 (1969—75), or walk further still and go to the original "Pike/Pine" area located between Eights and Ninth to visit Spag's Tavern (1965—87) or Mike's Pike Street Tavern (1970—77).

With a longer hike up the hill, you could venture on to the only other Gay bar on Capitol Hill, the new Eleven Eleven (1974—77).

Still had energy and looking for fun? You could go to one of several after-hours "private "clubs: the 107 (1971—79) or the Chicken Coop (1971—74) in Pioneer Square or Zach's Key (1972—74) in what is now called Belltown.

1974: What a year! What a great Queer scene!

With Gay liberation starting to take hold, the Seattle Queer community was ready to explode into the second half of the '70s!

Come out, Seattle: Gay Bar History Project

The Brass Connection, Manray, Mike's on Madison, R Place, The Timberline, Thumper's — all popular Gay bar mainstays as recently as the 1990s and early 2000s. Today they're all gone, but not yet forgotten.

Unfortunately, that's not the case for a number of older Seattle LGBTQ+ establishments — such as The Casino, The Golden Horseshoe, The Mocambo, and The Ritz — which played an important role in early Gay life in Seattle. It's why Steve Nyman and Nathan Benedict have set out to preserve stories and memorabilia of LGBTQ+ watering holes from a bygone era as part of a new history and interactive mapping project called "Come Out Seattle" (https://ComeOutSeattle.org).

"Come Out Seattle" is dedicated to documenting, exploring, and preserving Seattle's dynamic LGBTQ+ history, including community spaces such as bars, taverns, and social organizations. It is currently in the development stage but encourages people to contribute via the website to the galleries being built.

The project aims to ensure that Seattle's LGBTQ+ stories and history are not merely preserved but also celebrated with personal narratives, archived advertisements, news stories, and vintage photos (which are rare, as photos weren't typically taken inside Gay bars to protect patron identities) — all woven together in a vibrant archival storytelling tapestry.

"Preserving Seattle's LGBTQIA+ history is important so that future generations understand the past and how our community has evolved," said Benedict. "Because so many of us in the LGBTQ+ community don't have a lot of offspring, if any at all, over time our stories disappear, and our history is lost."

In Benedict's opinion, one of Seattle's earliest bars deserving of more attention is The Mocambo (1951—78). "The Mo was the Gay bar in Seattle," he said.

"Everyone in town knew The Mocambo's owner Bob Bedard, and anyone who was anybody visited the bar, even those running for mayor," Nyman added.

Nyman, who worked at The Mocambo in the mid-1970s, added, "It was an exciting and fun place to work, while also knowing that it was one of the preeminent Gay bars of that time in Seattle, if not on the entire West Coast. [It] was probably the most important of early Pioneer Square Gay bars in terms of being a cornerstone in moving our community forward and ultimately making it visible."

In 1976, the year the Kingdome opened, the first sporting event was an exhibition game: the Seattle Sounders vs. the NY Cosmos, with 58,128 fans in attendance. A few weeks later, the biggest event of the year occurred: an eight-day Billy Graham "crusade." On that Friday night, 74,000 "crusaders" packed into Pioneer Square, with another 5,000 turned away! Nyman was tending bar at The Mocambo. As the "crusaders" searched for places to eat (or sneak a quick drink!), the staff held both doors open to try to accommodate the crowds — and realized that the long-term Pioneer Square Gay nightlife scene was about to change forever.

Still in the development phase, "Come Out Seattle" draws from and builds on the excellent and extensive previous work done by Don Paulson (An Evening at the Garden of Allah), Richard Freitas (Preserving Pioneer Square's Queer Landscape), the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project (Larry Knopp, Ruth Pettis, Pat Freman, Barb Garil, Emily Hazen, and Angie McCarrell, and its "Claiming Space" map), Gary Atkins (Gay Seattle), and Michael Brown (various articles and projects, including "Queering the Map" and "Shifting Spatialities of LGBTQ Life" with Larry Knopp).

To learn more, or to contribute stories, images, or memories of unforgettable nights at Seattle's historic LGBTQ+ bars, visit https://ComeOutSeattle.org