In the history of America’s gay nightlife, Seattle holds an important record. The city was home to the country’s first known gay bar: The Double Header, which operated from the 1930s to 2015. The city is currently home to one of the last remaining lesbian bars on the West Coast, the Wildrose. The pandemic is only another chapter in the lineage of Seattle’s queer nightlife—one that proved that, despite some changes, Seattle’s gay bars aren’t going anywhere. And at the center of it all, exuding star power as a local icon of queer nightlife, is a Adé A Cônnére.
Singer, artist, performer and, according to Seattle’s alternative news weekly The Stranger, “a staple of just about every gay Seattle thing worth doing,” Cônnére has brought theater, fashion and activism to the city’s most notable gay bars. She’s one half of disco-pop duo Bijoux, and has bartended for years at queer hot spots like the late Re-Bar—a 30-year-old institution that shuttered during the pandemic—over-the-top nightclub Supernova and Pony, a divey gay bar where she currently works slinging whiskey-gingers and tequila shots to crowds of queer punks, artsy queens and those who like their gay culture with a little (or a lot) less polish.
Seattle has at least 16 LGBTQ+ bars, and drinks, that collectively form the hub of queer nightlife in the city. To get to know the scene a bit better, we let Cônnére walk us through a few of her favorites: Pony for campy fun; Kremwerk for dancing, techno and drag; and Cherry, the latest addition to the Kremwerk complex that carries the torch of the bygone Re-Bar, where Cônnére’s path to local stardom began.
At Re-Bar, Cônnére created her very own drink, the Key Lime Pie Martini.
When the Colorado-born Cônnére first moved to Seattle, it wasn’t always clear where she would find community. In 2004, she lived on Capitol Hill with friends and went to nearby Jade Pagoda, a decades-old local’s spot for Chinese food and stiff drinks. “I met a few people that became kind of lifelong friends there,” she recalls. “They suggested I go to Re-Bar on Thursday night—an ’80s dance night. I went and just fell in love. As soon as I walked in the door it was like, ‘OK, this is going to become home for me.’”
Re-Bar was a venue that hosted many different happenings—fringe theater, drag, poetry slams and the longest-running house music night on the West Coast, Flammable. Somehow, all these elements just clicked into an inclusive, one-of-a-kind space. It was there that Cônnére first took the stage as a performer, honing her singing and acting chops. “Anything I’ve done of any real artistic significance has been involved with Re-Bar,” explains Cônnére.
Shuttering in May 2020, Re-Bar was one of the early venue closures of the pandemic, and Cônnére worked behind the bar until the very end, serving vodka-sodas and vodka–Red Bulls, as well as her very own Key Lime Pie Martini, to ravers, poets, actors and drag performers. (Re-Bar’s owner has plans to reopen the venue at a yet-to-be-determined location.) If time travel were an option, Re-Bar would always be at the top of Cônnére’s list: “Re-Bar is going to be my answer if I could go back anywhere.”
Wheatpasted collages from vintage magazines cover the walls at Pony.
In its first incarnation on East Pine Street in 2007, Pony was little more than a makeshift bar on a block slated for demolition in an increasingly gentrified Capitol Hill. The block included the first iteration of Bimbos and the Cha Cha Lounge—a Mexican food joint started in the 1990s that has since relocated to East Pike, a few blocks away—gay bar Manray, Irish punk bar Kincora Pub and The Bus Stop, where Cônnére got her first bartending gig. When word got out that the block would be sold and businesses torn down to make way for an apartment complex, the Cha Cha left its vacated space in the hands of longtime queer events organizer Marcus Wilson. In its place, he started a temporary bar, called Pony.
With the help of some friends, Wilson designed most of Pony’s interior, wheatpasting collages from vintage beefcake magazines, old books and op art patterns. “That was the ultimate playground for us queer misfits,” Cônnére remembers. “It was anything goes. They were going to tear it down anyways. They threw a bunch of weird, sexy, avant-garde parties there. It was wild and just so much fun.”
Pony’s temporary stint lasted nine months before it was forced to vacate due to the encroaching developers. “There was a big night where everything was closing,” recalls Cônnére. “Everyone was going back and forth between different bars, shedding tears, partying and knocking down pieces of walls.”
Kicking off the demolition themselves was both catharsis and reclamation in the face of displacement. “That’s what was going to happen anyway. Might as well get a head start and get out some aggression and sadness,” says Cônnére.
In 2009, Pony found a permanent home in the same neighborhood, in a building that was once a 1930s service station. Now, the dark interior includes a pastiche of Wilson’s original artwork, in addition to even more vintage gay smut, all framed by large papier-mâché dicks that hang from the ceiling. Italo disco, experimental pop and karaoke nights are popular draws, and though cheap beers and shots rule the day, the bar is also known for strong Daiquiris, Adios Motherfuckers and Margaritas. While it doesn’t exactly exhibit the same till-the-wheels-fall-off debauchery as Pony’s first, temporary run, it’s still the city’s home for queer misfits, and continues to defy assimilation.
Pony is known for strong cocktails, like the Adios Motherfucker, and an interior style that defies assimilation.
Opening in 2014, Kremwerk + Timbre Room Complex is a queer-owned multiclub compound just around the corner from Re-Bar’s old location. The space serves up plenty of new and experimental drag, as well as progressive house and techno music, alongside house drinks like the Hanky, a riff on the Prohibition-era Hanky Panky created by Ada Coleman. Made with Fernet-Branca, gin and sweet vermouth in its original form, Kremwerk adds soda and grapefruit for a refreshing twist. The club also puts its own spin on a traditional Blow Job shot by adding vodka and 7UP, and omitting the whipped cream.
“I would say it took over for Re-Bar as the queer melting pot,” says Cônnére. “[Owner] Nicole Stone wanted to make it an all-inclusive space. She wanted trans people and queer people to have that space, [though] there’s a lot of events that straight people go to as well.”
After Re-Bar’s closure, its long-standing house night Flammable migrated to Cherry, the largest and newest club in the complex, home to raves, industrial nights and Cucci’s Critter Barn, a show hosted by Cucci Binaca, a surreal post-drag artist. Partly out of nostalgia for Re-Bar, Cônnére heads to Flammable almost every week, sipping on Ketel One and 7UP, her go-to call drink, and one that was commonly ordered by crowds at Re-Bar.
Cônnére describes Kremwerk + Timbre Room Complex as the city’s “queer melting pot.”
Cônnére has seen plenty of changes since she first entered Seattle’s LGBTQ+ scene. With the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, queer life has become more mainstream than ever. But at the same time, a record 238 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been proposed this year by lawmakers across the country, the majority of them targeting trans people. Cônnére hopes the coming Pride season will inspire and restore community within the legacies of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ bars. “There’s a whole new generation of kids who came of age during the pandemic who have never been to bars,” she says. She sees the value in these spaces as sites of intergenerational sharing and community building. “Back in my day, we were the only people we had to rely on. We were the only people to accept us. There used to be a little more embrace for the elders, people who came before you,” she says. “You can learn so much about history from them, even the history of the place you’re sitting.”
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