A Neighborhood Bar
A neighborhood bar isn’t so different from your local coffee shop. Familiar faces greet you as you walk through the door and, if the service is on point, the person behind the counter knows your drink as well as your name. You can learn a lot about a place and its people by spending a little time in the local hangout – whether it’s first thing in the morning or right before last call. Folks conduct business, fall in love, and plan revolutions at cafe tables and bar tables alike, beverage in hand. As Hemmingway said, “…if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”
The Double Header
One such place, where all of that and more was happening, was The Double Header in Seattle. Established in 1934, as the Great Depression and Political Extremism threatened the world, a certain set of Seattleites found a shred of peace, acceptance, and hope at a neighborhood bar in Pioneer Square. It was just another typical saloon at the time, when Seattle was still considered a frontier town, but a place is the sum of its people. Seattle’s hidden gay community, who already tended to meet up and hang out in Pioneer Square, found a safe haven in a cozy bar with a great owner. At a time when simply being gay was against the law, the Double Header became the first gay bar in the United States.
Joseph Bellotti, Sr. didn’t mind that the men in his bar might share a dance or a kiss in a shadowy corner. His son, who inherited the bar and continued the counterculture embrace through the 60’s and beyond, says his father was simply a very liberal, enterprising man: “He was just one of those people… It is what it is and they’re all just people.” – Brendan Kelly, Seattle Times. They were good, loyal patrons looking for a place to get out of the rain and relax – like anyone else at any bar in town.
Except that, at other bars, there was a price to be paid if anyone got wind that you were gay, where barkeeps might rip you off or sell you out. Joseph Bellotti, Sr. was the opposite, even paying off the police to ensure that his saloon remained a safe space, free from both judgment and police raids. It’s possible that his own experience as an Italian immigrant and veteran of WWI shaped his empathy for outsiders, but it’s equally likely that he was simply a good man who didn’t see the need to let common prejudice get in the way of good business. Hot on the heels of Prohibition, Seattle was a town accustomed to turning a blind eye, and more liberal in spirit than the laws of the time.
In much of the world, there’s still a price to be paid by those in the LGBTQ+ community simply to exist and to claim their rightful place at the table. Acceptance is still a revolution and the battles, both small and large, invisible or in a media spotlight, are being fought every day by those with the courage to be themselves. The Double Header may have closed its doors, but there will always be a place for the people of Seattle to make a friend, fall in love, plan a revolution, or simply enjoy a fine beverage in peace.
Pull up a chair and stay a while; at Fulcrum, all are welcome.