Heading to Seattle? Tips from a true insider on the best LGBT-friendly places to eat, drink, sleep, party and sip that renowned Northwest joe.
A quirky, sweet little metropolis, Seattle is in the midst of a metamorphosis: from the little sister of other Pacific Northwest hubs into a bustling capital in its own right. Its small-town-nestled-within-urban-jungle feel has never been more tested than in recent times, thanks to an inflating population. But with its first gay mayor in office and a smart transportation expansion still cutting its teeth, Seattle is in the midst of exchanging its little-girl shoes for a pair of gender-neutral Doc Martens—and everyone wants a golden ticket to witness the transformation.
As with any notable growth spurt, there are bound to be pros and cons. Channeling my inner Rory Gilmore from the coming-of-age series “Gilmore Girls,” in the pros column, you’ve got a brand-spanking-new rainbow crosswalk strutting its splendor throughout the gayborhood, there’s a troll literally living under a bridge in Fremont and there are chickens in virtually every yard in Magnolia. In the cons column, the housing market has become more than unstable with homeowners and renters working multiple jobs just to afford the bare minimum, the traffic is beginning to resemble Southern California freeways, and there aren’t enough people tipping their servers now that the minimum wage increase has begun its ascent. Luckily for all of humanity, there is a plethora of saving graces available to residents and travelers alike.
Whether visiting the Emerald City in the spring, summer, winter or fall, Seattle and the surrounding areas offer what many other cities cannot—a range of options for every type of traveler. Embark down the snow-covered slopes in the Cascades or the Olympics; take off on a whitewater raft alongside bald eagles in Skykomish; skydive over Puget Sound; race for virtually any cause under the sun on almost any given weekend; hike and camp to commune with nature; shop for the latest and greatest in clothing, art, design, food or gear; or build your own itinerary with a compilation of all of the above. A trip to Seattle is a vacation of one’s mind, heart and spirit. It’s a “choose your own adventure” kind of city with an open invitation for rejuvenation. And if given a week, sure, you could successfully manage a wide range of any of these activities (with a little soreness before, during and after—as if that’s ever stopped you!). But let’s start with the most important things: where to eat, drink, sleep and party.
Whether you’re queer, queer-friendly, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, ally, or otherwise labeled (or unlabeled), Seattle is a city worth celebrating. Here’s a little guidance, from a tried-and-true local.
Pick the Right Hotel
You traveled all this way; now you need a good place to rest your pretty little head. Don’t ruin the trip by staying somewhere mediocre. You’re better than all of that nonsense. Stay where the Beatles stayed. No, really, stay where the Beatles stayed.
The Edgewater Hotel (2411 Alaskan Way, 206-728-7000, $$$$) is literally located at water’s edge. As in, if you were drunk and stepped outside, you might actually fall into the water. Located on a pier (the only Seattle hotel able to claim this little gem), the hotel is marked with a flaming “E” on the outside of the building, and visible for miles. The lobby feels lodge-like with celebrity mugs lining the walls and oversized chairs meticulously placed for privacy. If you’re looking for some pampered relaxation, welcome to the Edgewater.
The famous Beatles Suite may cost you a pretty “Penny Lane,” but it’s worth every bit of accolade. The 750-square-foot studio-style suite offers a full panoramic view of Elliott Bay. A king bed, gas fireplace, European spa-like bathroom, large bay windows and library offer an unparalleled getaway experience. Oh, yeah, and there’s a CD wall with (surprise!) Beatles music. Advanced reservations are a must.
The Silver Cloud Hotel – Broadway (1100 Broadway, $$$) cannot be beat for proximity to night spots, dinner reservations, theatre and more. Not quite as fancy as the Edgewater Hotel, the Silver Cloud is a happy medium for the discerning traveler. Spacious rooms, a fitness center, indoor pool and access to the bustling strip outside await you.
Ace Hotel Seattle (2423 1st Ave, 206-448-4721, $$) is the minimalist’s dream come true. Citing “unfussy luxury and intentional design” as its cornerstone, Ace Hotel Seattle prides itself on its use of small materials with a big bang. The vaulted ceilings and preserved hardwood floors capture the essence of the hotel, while keeping costs down for the budget-minded traveler.
The Gaslight Inn (1727 15th Ave, 206-325-3654, $$) is the perfect place to stay for history buffs. This landmark-protected B&B has played an iconic role in the LGBTQ community. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, it served as a resting ground for the families of those affected, who were in town for funerals. In recent years it’s been home for political events for Cal Anderson, the state’s first openly gay legislator, as well as Mayor Ed Murray, the city’s first openly gay mayor.
If you’re trying to experience the city as a local, rent an Airbnb (prices vary) near Alki Beach. Removed from the hustle of the rest of the city, this powdery beach in West Seattle is a fun oasis on Puget Sound. Delicious restaurants line the perimeter and on a warm day, Seattleites can be found playing volleyball and sunbathing by the shore.
Visit the Gayborhood
The densely populated district of Capitol Hill recently installed rainbow crosswalks, making its gay presence visible for years to come. With the expansion of the tech industry and millennials moving to the area en masse, this move was a strategic one by community members and city officials to keep Capitol Hill loud and proud.
Broadway is the place to twirl the night away while in the gayborhood. Like San Francisco’s Castro District, Broadway is where it all happens when the sun goes down. Let’s be frank, it’s gay any time of the day on Broadway, and that’s why we love it! Walk through the streets holding hands with your loved one (or the one you picked up last night) and park your fancy Vespa wherever you can find a spot (paid, sorry).
Best Brews and Chews
Foodies rejoice! There’s so much to eat and so little time, so here are the CliffsNotes to “Eating Your Way through Seattle.” It’s ambitious, but so are you—and we believe in you.
Make no mistake about it: Terra Plata (1501 Melrose Ave, 206-325-1501, $$$) is a not-to-be-missed culinary indulgence. Harvesting the “earth to plate” approach to food, dining at Chef Tamara Murphy’s hot spot is an experience, not a pit stop. The James Beard Award-winning master of ceremonies offers her guests a menu that exemplifies the very best in mouthwatering options only available at her establishment. The selections are literally chosen just before arriving on your plate. In the warmer months, ask to sit on the rooftop deck near the edible garden. Yes, you read that correctly. Edible garden. Reservations are absolutely suggested.
If you’re looking for a pre-party or post-event dinner destination, gay-owned Jimmy’s on Broadway (1100 Broadway, 206-204-1188, $$) is situated right in the heart of the matter. This popular joint offers the usual three main meals of the day, but with flair. Notable menu options include Southern fried chicken sliders, crab and shrimp Louie, salmon BLT, Cuban pork panini or crab mac and cheese. Vegetarians have their choice among the quinoa and chickpea cakes, veggie burger, numerous entrée salads and Greek flatbread. Specialty drinks and beer for one-and-all are represented.
The Honey Hole (703 E Pike St, 206-709-1399, $) is a coveted spot for sandwich lovers everywhere. Yes, the name is suggestive, and it’s fitting, considering there’s a Babeland (707 E Pike St, 206-328-2914) right next door. Worth checking out, right?
Poco Wine Room (1408 E Pine St, 206-322-9463, $$$) was created for wine lovers everywhere. Choose from an impressive list of heavy pours. Whether you’re a red, white or blue fan—and we’re guessing there’s blue available, this place is for you.
The Yeti Bar (1833 Broadway, 206-320-7770, $$) is Capitol Hill’s new best kept secret. Local favorite Annapurna Cafe has expanded upwards, with a bar brimming with inventive cocktails and happy hour treats. Try the Pakoras! After you’ve filled up on cocktails and appetizers, grab the real deal downstairs.
Vegans rejoice: Plum Vegan Bistro (429 12th Ave, 206-838-5333, $$) is the tastiest option in town. Even if you’re not of the ruffage grubbin’ variety, Plum has something delicious for everyone, seriously! Their Tempeh burger is ridiculous in the best and worst way, meaning after you’ve tasted this masterpiece you’re going to be Postmating this place a lot.
Momiji (1522 12th Ave, 206-457-4068, $$) has the best happy hour in Capitol Hill. Come by between 4pm and 6pm for special deals on sushi and refreshing cocktails, like the Hannoki Falls, a lovely concoction of Gonkucho, coconut water and orange flower water.
Seattle resident singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile was the inspiration behind famous chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas’s 13th eatery in the Pacific Northwest. The Carlile Room (820 Pine St, 206-946-9720, $$$$) boasts vibes of the late-‘60s/early-‘70s in its décor and its lounge cocktails. Don’t miss the so-called “plant house” shareable plates (as in, vegetarian heavy) and late-night snacks. Across the street from the Paramount Theatre and close to all Downtown happenings, the Carlile Room is posturing to become Seattle’s favorable new “it” spot. Reservations are suggested.
Umi Sake House (2230 1st Ave, 206-374-8717, $$) takes sake tasting to the next level. With over 45 options on their menu, it’s impossible not to find something you love. Modeled after a traditional Japanese country house, try to get a table in the back garden area for the ultimate experience.
West Seattle and Georgetown
West Seattle caffeinated duo Bird on a Wire (3509 SW Henderson St, 206-280-5304) and the Admiral Bird (2600 California Ave SW, 206-305-7182) are queer-owned establishments fit to be savored. Owners Heidi Herr and Corina Luckenbach are longtime West Seattle residents serving up everything from organic Raven’s Brew coffee to beer and cider on tap. Artisan pastries, home-cooked soups, stews, waffles and sandwiches round out the offerings at these two chic establishments. As a unique treat, cut some flowers for your sweetie while you wait at the Flower Lab (2600 California Ave SW, 206-935-2587).
Mashiko (4725 California Ave SW, 206-935-4339, $$$) is a sushi spot offering a fully sustainable menu. Adding to the allure, its walls are lined with pieces by local artists, with proceeds donated to community charities.
Bakery Nouveau (4737 California Ave SW, 206-923-0534, $$) is Seattle’s take on a traditional pattiserie. Home to a variety of pastries, the most popular item is their twice baked almond croissant, a buttery, rich and flaky treat.
Fonda La Catrina (5905 Airport Way S, 206-767-2787, $$) is a modern Mexican restaurant and bar serving unpretentious, homestyle Mexican food with a twist. The Georgetown restaurant has an industrial-chic vibe but as soon as you taste the hearty and generously portioned food, it’ll feel just like grandma’s kitchen.
Love the nightlife
Whether you’re looking for a hifalutin cocktail, a humble dive, a thumping club or a hoedown, Seattle’s got your nightlife needs covered.
Women near and far flock to The Wildrose Bar (1021 East Pike St, 206-324-9210, $) to support Seattle’s only lesbian joint. As the locals well know, fancy pants will not fit in at this down-to-earth watering hole. The beer is cold, but the menu is pretty much nonexistent, so don’t come hungry. There is one exception: Taco Tuesdays are a staple at this no-frills bar and the camaraderie between DJ sets and the summertime spectacular (wet t-shirt contests) keep the ladies coming back for more.
The hottest dance party for lesbians, Girl4Girl, sets up shop just south of Downtown at Factory Luxe (3100 Airport Way, 206-380-9576, $). With sexy go-go dancers and a dapper, eclectic crowd, these events have drawn more than 2 million women onto the dance floor since 1998. Check online for upcoming can’t-miss soirees. Recommended for dancing, making new friends.
Julia’s on Broadway (300 Broadway E, 206-334-0513, $$) is the place to grab some grub before hitting the town—or a nightcap before calling it a day. Their drag show, “Le Faux,” is perhaps the most successfully attended in the city. The food is good, but you’re not really stopping here for the food. More than anything, this is a place to people-watch and hone your craft.
Hotflash at gay nightclub Neighbours (1509 Broadway, $$) has nothing to do with menopause! The dances, targeted towards ladies 30–55, are usually held on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month and feature a diverse mix. The June theme is Seattle Pride Inferno.
Break out your cowboy boots for Rain Country Dance every Friday night 7pm–10pm at the Cuff (1533 13th Ave, 206-323-1525, $). Newcomers are always welcome at this weekly hoedown and no dancing experience is necessary. Volunteers are at every party to teach aspiring cowgirls some basic two-step moves.
Co-owned by the people who brought Seattle some of its most buzzed about eateries in the Marination family, the Good Bar (240 2nd Ave S, 206-624-2337, $$) in Pioneer Square will transport you back to the early 1900s with its white banisters, marble decor and high ceilings. This elegant space is home to the best Moscow Mule in town and features delicious charcuterie platters. While there’s no bad day to stop by, once a month the Good Bar hosts a popular event for women of the queer variety to gather together and socialize.
Come get your dance on at Kremwerk (1809 Minor Ave, #10, 206- 682-2935, $$). Home of the buzzy competition “Kings: A Drag King Show,” Kremwerk is an edgy underground club with monthly LGBT events and fun dance nights. If drag isn’t your thing, Kremwerk also hosts recurring Karaoke nights every Wednesday, as well as fetish, goth and industrial nights.
Out West Bar (5401 California Ave SW, 206-937-1540, $) is “West Seattle’s LGBTQA Bar” and the answer to the modern suburbanite’s dream. Offering Trivia Night every Monday and Lesbian Karaoke Night every Wednesday, there’s always a reason to smile at this shabby chic hole-in-the-wall. As for the grub and brew, the gay owners have that covered, too. Discover what’s on tap the next time you venture over the West Seattle Bridge.
The Coffee, Yes, the Coffee!
Seriously, there’s no way to visit Seattle without enjoying some hearty coffee you can almost munch on. Okay, to be fair, not all of the coffee is beefy—there are different roasts for different folks. Here are a couple of our favorites.
Try a Beautiful Stephanie (it’s a beverage, but if you find a beautiful Stephanie while in line, more power to you) at Espresso Vivace (multiple locations, 206-324-8861, espressovivace.com, $). The rich, foamy, cream-induced coma you’ll experience from these Italian espresso drinks will stick with you forever. We guarantee you’ll want to invest in a punch card while you’re at it. No reservations, pull up a chair!
A visit to Seattle Coffee Land could not be complete without a trip to Stumptown Coffee Roasters (multiple locations, 206-323-1544, $)—even if their fine brew originated in friendly neighbor to the south, Portland. Nothing beats the fresh smell of coffee beans roasted moments before you taste them. Inhale the vibrancy as you walk through the door—there’s some serious caffeine going on here, and you won’t want to miss a moment. If you are craving something a little less coffee-oriented, try the thyme iced tea.
Located only steps away from Pike Place Market, Seattle Coffee Works (2060 NW Market St, 206-340-8867, $) is the perfect pit stop for weary travelers to recharge. It serves up some of the strongest and smoothest coffee in town.
Victrola Coffee and Art (411 15th Avenue E, 206-325-6520, $), known by the locals as simply Victrola, offers up some of the best coffee in Capitol Hill. Its mismatched outdoor seating offers up prime real-estate for a lazy afternoon of people-watching while slowly sipping a finely crafted latte. If it’s a place to study, chat or read that you’re looking for, wander inside the sprawling café and take a seat on one of the many comfortable couches.
Nuflours (518 15th Ave E, 206-395-4623, $) is the ideal neighborhood spot for picking up some freshly baked gluten-free pastries of the sweet and savory variety.
Nestled in the upper Queen Anne section of Seattle, El Diablo Coffee (811 Queen Anne Ave N #101, 206-285-0693, $) specializes in Cuban coffee. Make sure to try the Cubano and the homemade empanadas, if you’re feeling ravenous.
Tricks for the Trendy Traveler
Listen, it’s good to know you have friends in all the right places. When in doubt, these guys have the tools to help you out.
Seattle Gay News touts itself as the third oldest gay and lesbian newspaper in the U.S. with 40 years under its belt. Free copies are readily available at Capitol Hill establishments every Friday. Founded in 2010 by a wife-wife team, the Seattle Lesbian (theseattlelesbian.com) is a daily online newspaper offering local, national and international LGBT news. Nightlife daily Seattle Gay Scene offers an insider’s approach to the after-hours shenanigans in the Emerald City. In Capitol Hill, the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) is the largest LGBT chamber of commerce in North America.
Named one of GO Magazine’s Red Hot Entrepreneurs of 2014, Sarah Toce is an award-winning journalist and the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Seattle Lesbian.
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