At 5:00pm on Wednesday, December 30, 2015, I walk into the Double Header (407 2nd Avenue Ext S.) in Pioneer Square. It is 39 degrees outside. The bar top is clean, as are the hardwood floors. Patrons play classic rock from the jukebox. There’s a wreath of wine corks strung together in concentric circles. Two bartenders eye me warily.
One bearish man in his thirties, who I will call Mr. Bear, has worked here for nine years. The other, a graying woman with a striking unlined face, answers to Missy and is proud to claim the crown of The Meanest Bar Queen in Pioneer Square. (There are several “Missy”s who have tended bar here, this one has been for 22 years.) The two anticipate my questions about the bar’s closure, which is projected for tomorrow, Thursday December 31st. They are not especially interested in answering.
“It’s a little late for the community to show an interest in the bar,” Missy says, “The owner has been here for 53 years. The history is here. It’s been documented.”
Yes and no. There are a handful of articles that briefly describe the bar’s heyday in the 1960s and 70s. Looking around at the mostly empty bar, Missy’s frustration is understandable.
Despite the Double Header being the oldest gay bar on the west coast, it’s clear that this is a forgotten bar. It is a dinosaur of a dive compared to the DJ-oriented, electronic music-driven club venues that characterize the nightlife scene in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There are no rainbow flags here. No Safe Space stickers. No signs for gender neutral restrooms. No declarations of the bar being explicitly against homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and all the other -isms and phobias that the Capitol Hill bars purport to combat through signage.
How does an institution like this keep up with contemporary, academically driven, class-privileged queer discourse that asks for LGBTQIA institutions to be inclusive and openly proud of serving and representing the diverse community? According to a 2007 Seattle PI feature by Kery Murakami, Joseph Bellotti Sr. opened the bar in 1934 and passed it onto his son, Joseph Bellotti Jr, 40 years later. The handful of patrons cluster near the two TVs, watching football.
What’s next for the Double Header? Neither of the bartenders know.
“We just work here,” one of them told me. “There have been all kinds of folks talking to the owner. Just earlier today, two people had a very productive conversation with him for a couple hours up in his office.”
I wonder if they were connected to the queer UW history grad students who brought me the news of the Double Header in the first place.
What’s next for Missy?
“I’m sick of hearing people get shot. I’m definitely not staying in Pioneer Square.” The nearby sidewalks outside the bar are lined with homeless folks, mostly men of color, waiting to access shelter services. Some of the men walk into the bar for a drink or two.
The nearby shelters: YMCA, YWCA, Union Gospel Mission, Bread of Life Mission.
Missy greets a few regulars and picks up a bouquet of dried flowers. “Maybe I’m a little emotional,” she says pointedly before walking out, leaving the soft-spoken Mr. Bear. He scowls at me, frustrated that my questions upset her. I get up and take a few pictures of the bar on my phone, until Mr. Bear asks me for my ID. I hand my passport over. He goes line by line, slowly. I wait for the question of my gender marker to cross his features.
I watch him, wondering if I should raise the question myself. “Why do you think it says F there,” I want to ask. He’d likely say that he doesn’t care, which is fine. Which is great, honestly. That is an acceptable answer to the identity politics/callout culture game. Isn’t that a kind of equality?
“I don’t care if you’re trans, queer, mixed-race, femme, able-bodied, neurodivergent, whatever… what would you like to drink,” I imagine him asking.
But ultimately, he keeps avoiding me as much as he can, clearly more interested in helping his regulars.
No one speaks to me for a while until a Seattleite acquaintance walks in. She shakes her head at my story, clearly pinning me for another useless pot-stirring journalist.
“What’s the point of speculation?” she says, turning to her friend.
Speculative fiction is generally thought of as science fiction, fantasy, horror, but can also include alternative histories or (post-)apocalyptic/utopian/dystopian narratives. Some “literature” readers dismiss speculative fiction as genre fiction, akin to comic books.
But here’s my guess. Fuel, the sports bar next door, looks like it’s poised to move in. And then another older establishment owned by lower-income folks will be bought up by a better-monied interest. And these twenty red stools, four booths, scattered tables, two pool tables, and 15’ ceilings which hold decades of queer history will just be another sports bar in what used to be the gayborhood.