The Wildrose, Seattle’s only lesbian bar, toasts 40 years

The Wildrose, Seattle’s only lesbian bar, toasts 40 years

It’s hard being the “only one” of anything for a community. 

For four decades, the Wildrose has stood at the corner of Pike Street and 11th Avenue on Capitol Hill in Seattle. It’s currently Seattle’s only lesbian bar. 

As such, the Wildrose is more than a bar. It’s the place where people find each other for “spring fling season,” when people try to couple up in time for Pride. It’s a place where couples meet and where they break up. It also plays host to funerals, weddings and graduation parties. 

“We try to host as many fundraisers as we can and make the space open and available because we don’t have cash on hand to give donations, but we have the space,” says Martha Manning, Wildrose co-owner since 2002. “It’s been a community center at times.”

The Wildrose is turning 40 this year, and ahead of the 50th anniversary of Pride, Manning and co-owner Shelley Brothers are confident their bar is here to stay. That wasn’t always the case, though: Over the decades, Manning and Brothers have questioned if there was still a need for a place like the Wildrose in Seattle. It wasn’t until the pandemic that they got their answer.

Customers to owners 

The Wildrose first opened its doors on New Year’s Eve 1984, the dream of a group of five friends. The big, street-facing windows were the bar’s beating heart. They were a statement: We are done hiding.

“We’re not hidden in the back of an alley, they’re not painted over. They’re open; people can see in, we can see out, and it’s going to stay that way,” Manning said, reflecting on the windows. “They’ve been broken before and they’ll be broken again, but it’s important to us to be seen. I never forgot that.” 

The bar quickly gained a reputation as a safe space for Seattle lesbians. But it wasn’t a place that suffered fools, as the bar’s future owner found out the hard way. 

The first time Brothers went to the Wildrose, she got kicked out. It was 1992 and Brothers had just moved to Seattle from Nevada. At the time, the Wildrose was a tavern, meaning it only sold beer and wine. Brothers ordered a keoke, a boozy coffee drink, and was told rather vehemently that the bar was a tavern.

“I said I don’t understand what a tavern is, I don’t know the liquor laws in Washington yet, and they said, ‘Get out!,’ so I left,” Brothers said, laughing.

When Brothers came back the next day, no one “even acted like they threw me out.” She ordered a beer and a hamburger. Her first time at the bar was a disaster, but “it just got better.” She was later hired to do sound at events and work security. 

See full story here.

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