I first visited The Double Header shortly after moving to the International District in 2014. I explored the ID and Pioneer Square as often as school and work would allow, searching for the oldest existing bars with the cheapest existing whiskey—Joe’s, The Central Saloon, and Fort St. George were favorites.
I remember the first time I went to The Double Header because I had no idea it had ever been a gay bar—the sparse scattering of patrons appeared to be wild-haired elderly straight guys and Seahawks drones. I gradually pieced its history together from clues in the decor. For instance, what appeared to be old photos of pioneer ladies on the walls were on closer inspection obviously drag queens. Wondering if the photos were staged, I looked the place up and discovered the Double Header was the oldest gay bar in Seattle, predating even the famous Shelly’s Leg, in fact among the oldest on the West Coast.
Joseph Bellotti Sr. opened The Double Header opened in 1933 after prohibition was repealed. At the time, Pioneer Square, sometimes referred to as “Fairlyland,” was Seattle’s gay cultural hub. The Casino, an after-hours club in the bar’s basement became a veritable subterranean drag queen palace, and by the 1950’s, despite the danger of unchecked gay bashing and vice squad busts, the party had more-or-less brazenly spread upstairs.
Interestingly, it was a place where gay men and lesbians drank together, long before this was commonplace; before anyone had heard of a gender spectrum and the founders of Pony were just pink-tinted twinkles in their grandparents’ eyes. In the 70’s, the bar’s still-existing back stage was host to weekly co-ed gay polka nights (!?) featuring an Oompa band in lederhosen.
Of course, knowing all this, I came back repeatedly, and discovered that to some degree, it still was a gay bar, mainly for handsome bears with a bit of gray in their chest-hair. I remembered this when a friend exceeding the years of most of my peer group told me he was looking for a boyfriend. I was actively avoiding relationships at the time, having left a serious and turbulent one only four months prior. I took my friend to The Double Header intending to be a wingman.
For some reason that night everyone there was young and appeared to be straight. I immediately noticed a woman resembling a tiny Audrey Hepburn in a velvet cape and pillbox hat. She continuously put my favorite songs on the jukebox—Bowie, Roy Orbisson, Little Richard—I quickly forgot about the night’s goal (sorry D.) I saw the magical person and her friends getting up to leave and said I had to approach her but I didn’t know what to say. “Just write her a note!” said my friend, suddenly a much more effective wingman than I.
I gave her my number on a coaster with the message “You have incredible taste in music and your style is impeccable.” I was shocked when, after telling me she was seeing someone, she texted me later that night. She came to my reading the following day, we had coffee, and now, a year and a half later, we have an apartment together—the first I’ve ever shared with a girlfriend.
We of course would have loved to go to the Double Header for our first anniversary, but it closed on New Year’s Eve months before. She took me instead on a surprise trip to AWP in Los Angeles. I like to think of the many loves that began there as ours did, and while both of us are glad the type of queer space the Double header offered—largely a refuge from violence—is no longer necessary in Seattle, I hope ours won’t be the last.