Re-bar occupies a strange and lovely place in Seattle – both spatially and historically. The bar, located in the nebulous Denny Triangle, has provided a safe space for queer nightlife in the city for decades. It’s also where Nirvana staged its record release show for Nevermind (and where the band was famously kicked out of that same night). For many, Re-bar is the last remaining semblance of a Seattle quickly slipping through our collective fingertips. But the club’s owners remain hopeful they can keep the culture alive as apartment buildings are built, flanking and practically engulfing the favorite nightspot.
Sitting in a Re-bar booth doing the “dailies,” i.e. counting the money and receipts from the night before, Re-bar co-owner, Michael Manahan, explains his ambitions for the club’s future and for a new bar his ownership group is planning for Pioneer Square – a place they call Nightjar in the former Double Header location (407 2nd Ave Ext S), which closed in 2015 and that Manahan hopes will open its doors to patrons mid-May in conjunction with the first-annual Upstream Music Festival.
“We’re seeing these big buildings go up around us,” he says, “but we haven’t gotten a pink slip yet, no cease and desist or anything. It’s pretty clear that it’s inevitable but in the meantime we’re opening Nightjar. We hope to essentially copy and paste Re-bar’s style and community outreach – something that’s so clearly inherently Seattle – there at Nightjar.”
It’s Re-bar’s quirky and creative intersection of patrons that Manahan, who became an investor in the club in 2011, adores. It’s what drives and inspires him and co-owner Dane Wilson, both of whom were approached by real-estate representatives for Double Header to talk about taking over the historic location, which was established in the mid-thirties in Seattle as the city’s first and only openly gay bar. “They wanted us to carry the torch,” Wilson says.
Re-bar boasts many long-running shows, including the longest running poetry slam in Washington on Tuesdays and Flammable, the longest running house music weekly show in America, which features go-go dancers, a DJ and a familial crowd comprised of burlesque performers, service industry workers and people donning shimmering gold outfits that you might not see in any other club in the city.
“I feel like Re-bar is a very unique place,” Manahan says. “There’s a cross section of communities that call this place home. It’s underground, open-minded, artistic, queer, theatrical, and musical communities that call this place home. It’s pretty unprecedented.”
One of the reasons he attributes to this eclectic and rich cross-section is that Re-bar isn’t surrounded by other businesses that draw people who often show aggression to Seattle’s queer and out community. In a time when headlines regularly read of hate crimes perpetrated on people in the queer community, Re-bar remains a safe place where people can park their cars and walk to a friendly bar dressed in drag.
“Just parking and walking from the car to a bar is a big deal for some people,” Manahan says. “People of color, women, transgender, drag queens, gay people – feeling safe to park and walk to a venue is important. And if you don’t believe that, just look at what’s happening on the Hill now.”
While Manahan and his partners remain hopeful Re-bar won’t be going anywhere anytime soon (he estimates the club could be around at least another 5-7 years and if Re-bar were to get a pink slip they would have a full year to stay in the historic building), still thoughts of moving recur in his mind.
“Our drive is not about business,” Manahan says, “it’s about culture and preservation of this uniqueness that is the underbelly of Seattle, which has existed well beyond our years.”
Both Manahan and Wilson admit they’ve looked into applying for Historical Status for Re-bar and while the future of the club remains uncertain, what is certain is that Nightjar will soon be a Seattle reality. The club will offer a performance stage, speakeasy-type back room, craft cocktails and likely a rotating stable of food trucks parked outside.
“There’s a particular consciousness that exists in Seattle,” Manahan reflects. “I feel like there’s a community element coupled with culture and inclusivity. When those come together, the creativity and expression are profound. It doesn’t always happen in larger venues. Often it happens in smaller venues and that’s what makes it easy for the development we’re seeing in this city to mow over those nuances.”
Some words on Re-bar from a few Seattle luminaries:
Celene Ramadan (musician, performer): ReBar’s place is special. Both glitter and grit, dirt and dazzle. One of the last actual places in Seattle. I hope Paul Allen doesn’t eat it for dessert.
Adrian Ryan (theater writer): Under the care of Re-Bar’s former and original owner, a moody eccentric called Steve Wells, Re-Bar became the Seattle Fringe Theater gold standard. The longest running, most beloved, funniest, and most delightfully sordid and unique shows in the city were all born at Re-bar.
Bruce Pavitt (Sub Pop founder): Re-Bar is still holding space for the outsider Bohemianism that put Seattle in the international spotlight during the 90’s. It’s still got soul: that elusive quality that tech billionaires will never be able to buy. This club is a treasure, so enjoy it while it’s here.
Keon Volt Price (dancer, performer): Re-bar is a magical spot! The venue is open and inviting, and the people that are drawn to the location are as well. This is space just a place you can be yourself and let everyone else enjoy themselves.