Downtown skyline, viewed from Space Needle
Hilly, scenic, and progressive Seattle is one of the most gay-friendly cities in America, and also one of the most beautiful. Here's a gallery of attractions and businesses you might encounter here, from offbeat coffeehouses and indie bookshops to slick restaurants and lively gay bars. The gay Seattle scene is concentrated especially in Capitol Hill, but you'll also find plenty of gay-friendly diversions in downtown, Belltown, Wallingford, Ballard, Fremont, Queen Anne, and elsewhere. For tips on where to stay, visit the Seattle Gay-Friendly Hotels and B&Bs guide.
Looking south, toward the downtown Seattle skyline, from atop the Space Needle.
BOKA Kitchen + Bar, at downtown's Hotel 1000
Outstanding BOKA Kitchen + Bar inside the fashionable Hotel 1000, a gay-friendly, luxury property downtown. The kitchen here tends to use regional ingredients in her elegant yet accessible contemporary cuisine. Here's a sampling of BOKA appetizers, including pork-belly steam bun sliders, grilled Painted Hills beef satay with Thai chili sauce, sugarcane-skewered Dungeness crab cakes with lemongrass aioli, and rhubarb bruschetta with Rogue blue cheese.
Dahlia Lounge, in Belltown
A mainstay in Seattle's acclaimed Tom Douglas dining empire, Dahlia Lounge is one of this renowned restaurant groups sexiest and most inviting venues. The swank Belltown eatery across the street from the hip Hotel Andra, has been going strong since 1990. The menu shows off classic regional Pacific Northwest fare, such as lemon-scallion Dungeness crab cakes with flying fish roe. Grab lighter fare and sinful sweets just a couple of doors down at Dahlia Bakery.
Pike Place Market
Few attractions in Seattle are more famous than the always bustling Pike Place Market. To think that during the 1960s urban planners lobbied to tear it down! Seattleites voted to protect it as a historic site, and so today this sprawling 1907 market continues to buzz with fishmongers and food stalls of every ilk - all told you'll find 200 year-round businesses, 190 craftspeople, 240 performers and musicians, and 120 farmers who rent table space. Pike Place sort of tumbles down a hillside toward Elliott Bay, and there's a fascinating assortment of book, clothing, gift, crafts, and antiques shops occupying the lower floors and adjacent buildings. For $8, you can also take a walking tour of the facility, Wednesday through Friday as well as Sunday at 11 a.m. (reservations are required, so call first). Some of the better food vendors include Crepe de France (made-to-order crepes), Daily Dozen Doughnuts (coffee and donuts), Le Panier (artisanal breads and chocolate croissants), Razey Orchards (organic Yakima Valley cherries), Pike Place Market Creamery (cheeses from all over the region), Pike Place Fish Market (the freshest Dungeness crab you'll ever taste, plus smoked salmon packaged to go), and Sisters Cafe (heavenly focaccia sandwiches). The original outpost of Starbucks is across from the market, along a strip of additional shops and restaurants, and you can always find plenty of the freshest imaginable produce in the farmers market.
Original Starbacks location, across from Pike Place Market
The original branch of Starbucks Coffee opened in Seattle at Pike Place Market in 1971 and has been in this space at 1912 Pike Place since 1976. The facade of the store retains its endearingly crude lettering and appearance, per the historic codes of the neighborhood. The coffeehouse is along a strip of retail shops across from the many food stalls, produce sellers, fish markets, restaurants, and shops inside Pike Place Market.
Hotel Andra's lobby, in Belltown
Hotel Andra, a stylish boutique property in Belltown, close to downtown. See the Seattle Gay-Friendly Hotels Guide for more details on this property.
Savor Seattle Food Tours
You're not alone if you came to Seattle with hopes of checking out the city's astounding culinary bounty. You can and should, of course, venture out to the city's hundreds of superb restaurants. But another very cool way to learn about, and partake of, the local nosh scene is to book one of the fascinating walking tours conducted by Savor Seattle. I've tried the Chocolate Indulgence Tour (pictured here is our guide leading us along on a quite delicious adventure).
Savor Seattle offers a few different tours in addition to Chocolate Indulgence, including a Pike Place Market walk, a Downtown Seattle Gourmet Food and Cultural Tour, and a Craving Capitol Hill food excursion through the heart of Seattle's GLBT 'hood. These food rambles vary in length from about two to three hours and include behind-the-scenes visits to local restaurants and food shops, all kinds of quirky and enlightening trivia and culinary lore, and enough samples of delicious food to pretty much cover the cost of the tour (plus, participants are given discounts to many of the shops and restaurants along the route).
The company also offers a more extensive Gourmet Kayaking Expedition around the San Juan Islands - this one lasts three days and two nights and includes some amazing feasts, great exercise (although beginners are welcome), and spectacular scenery.
Savor Seattle's staffers are utterly thrilled to be sharing their food wisdom with you - this is one energetic and sharp team of guides. They can also work with you to develop your own custom, private tour of the city, which is ideal for small groups with specific interests (I'm thinking "cheese tour", but that's just me...).
Nordstrom Downtown Seattle
Nordstrom Downtown Seattle is one of the Northwest's great shopping meccas, part of the reason downtown is such a popular spot for gay and lesbian shoppers. It's right in the heart of a retail district along East Pine Street that includes Macy's, Pacific Place shopping center, and the immense Westlake Center Mall.
Seattle Skyline, viewed from just north of Pike Place Market
Just north of Pike Place Market, across the the very first branch of Starbucks Coffee, you'll find a grassy knoll affording superb views of the downtown Seattle skyline.
Spur Gastropub, in Belltown
A favorite destination for well-crafted, contemporary Pacific Northwest-inspired bar food in Seattle's relentlessly hip Belltown neighborhood, Spur Gastropub (113 Blanchard St., 206-728-6706) walks a nice balance between a unpretentious and sexy vibe, and downright sophisticated yet accessible cuisine. It's open late (2 am), draws an eclectic and urbane crowd, and makes for an ideal group-noshing experience - friends can order a few small plates and share. Pictured here is the excellent cheese plate.
Chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough mix things up regularly, but on a typical night you might expect to find dishes along these lines: hamachi tartare with chiogga beet, champagne vinegar, and horseradish leaf; tagliatelle pasta with oyster mushrooms, parmesan, and a duck egg; and Oregon rabbit with rutabaga, ham hocks, and mustard. There's also a worthy selection of local beers, wines by the glass and bottle, and groovy cocktails. Prices per dish (mostly $10 to $25) are quite reasonable, but bear in mind rather diminutive portions - at the end of the night, you'll spend about what you would at any upscale restaurant to feel adequately (and happily) fed.
C.C. Attle's, neighborhood "bear" bar in Capitol Hill
A friendly, no-attitude neighborhood gay bar with a particularly loyal following among bears and cubs, C.C. Attle's (1701 E. Olive Way) opened on East Madison Street (as pictured in this photo) in the early '90s and has been a fixture of Capitol Hill's gay cruise seen ever since, although it's now installed in a different space a bit north, on East Olive way.
C.C.'s is home to the Northwest Bears and stages an official "bear night" the first Saturday of each month, but you'll always find a pretty bearish bunch here, tending toward age 35 and up.
Pike Place Market Fishmonger
Pick up fresh wild sockeye salmon (as well as salmon jerky), whole Dungeness crab, Alaskan halibut, and other delicacies from the sea from one of Pike Place Market's colorful fishmongers - it's good fun to watch these guys work, tossing and wrapping fish at rapid speed. It's as interesting simply to watch the goings-on at the market as it is to actually shop or grab a bite to eat.
Daily Dozen Doughnut Company, at Pike Place Market
One of the many food stalls at Pike Place Market, Daily Dozen Doughnut Company is a perfect stop for morning pastries and coffee.
Bauhaus Coffee & Books, on Pine Street in Capitol Hill
One of the scads of great java hangouts on gay-popular Capitol Hill, Bauhaus Books & Coffee (414 E. Pine St., 206-706-2900) moved a few blocks up the hill from its former location (pictured here) in 2014. The new space is as comfy as ever, and carries a wide selection of books and newspapers (much related to design and architecture), and pours some of the best coffee in a city that's famous for it. This is a terrific place to study, read, cruise cute fellow coffee drinkers, and chat with friends, and it's near several fun gay bars and restaurants, including R Place.
Hotel Monaco Seattle (guestroom), downtown
A room inside Kimpton's hip and gay-friendly Hotel Monaco. For more on this popular property, visit the Seattle Gay Hotels Guide.
Chocolate Box boutique and chocolatier, near Pike Place
With a convenient downtown location near Pike Place Market and just a short walk from the Westlake Center shopping mall, the Chocolate Box (108 Pine St., 206-443-3900) is easy enough to reach. But really, if you're a serious fan of exquisitely crafted artisan chocolates (including a few superb local brands, like Theo, Fiori, Oh!, and Vitale), Seattle's highly regarded Gelatiamo gelato, fine sipping chocolates (i.e., salted-caramel hot cocoa), and exceptionally tasty baked goods made with - you guessed it - fine chocolate, it's worth traveling for miles to get to the Chocolate Box. This beautifully laid-out boutique is also a featured stop on some of the walking tours given by Savor Seattle
Hotel 1000, on 1st Avenue downtown
Downtown's gay-friendly, tech-savvy, and eco-conscious Hotel 1000 has artfully decorated, stylish rooms. Perhaps most notable are the curvy, deep soaking tubs, which are filled from a spout in the ceiling. You can see the tub here from the rest of the guest room, but if you're shy about soaking, just activate the electronic privacy shade. Here's a full review of the hotel, along with its restaurant BOKA.
Pike Place Food Stalls
A big part of experiencing Pike Place Market is touring the food and produce stalls, where you'll find countless vendors selling berries, cherries, veggies, flowers, and edible goods of all kinds (including plenty of fresh-caught fish). It's hard to stroll through this place without filling a couple of shopping bags with goodies. Once you're done with the food stalls, wander across the street to buy smoked salmon at one of the many retailers and restaurants across Pike Place, including the original branch of Starbucks.
Totem Smokehouse Salmon Shop, across from Pike Place Market
Other than fresh coffee beans, few souvenirs in Seattle are more popular than smoked salmon. One of the best purveyors of this local treat is Totem Smokehouse, along Pike Place across from Pike Place Market, and just down the street from the original branch of Starbucks (where you can pick up those coffee beans). Totem carries sockeye salmon, plus smoked scallops, smoked trout, smoked oysters, smoked salmon pate, and other gourmet gifts.
Westlake Center Mall and Macy's, in downtown Seattle
Seattle enjoys a robust retail scene, particularly downtown along East Pine Street, where you'll find Macy's, Nordstrom, Pacific Place shopping center, and the immense Westlake Center Mall, which is also the downtown terminus for the Seattle Monorail (which you can take to the Seattle Center, and the famous Space Needle). Pictured here is Talbots, part of Westlake Center, which is also home to dozens of other mid-range shops and restaurants, including a very popular P.F. Chang's. Pacific Place is a bit hipper, with its 11-screen cinema, restaurants like Il Fornaio and Gordon Biersch Brewery, and shops that include Barneys New York, BCBGMAXAZRIA, Barnes & Noble, Cartier, Express, J. Jill, L'Occitane, Restoration Hardware, Tiffany, White House/Black Market, Williams-Sonoma. It's just a 10-minute walk east on Pine Street to reach Seattle's gayest 'hood, Capitol Hill, which is rife with cafes, shops, gay bars, and restaurants.
Fremont Troll, beneath Aurora Bridge in the Fremont neighborhood
One of the more offbeat - and enormous - works of public statuary you're likely ever to encounter, the infamous and beloved Fremont Troll resides beneath the Aurora Bridge and was built in 1990 in an effort to turn around a section of the Fremont neighborhood that had become dicey and unsightly. This mammoth 2-ton troll statue, a play on "troll under the bridge" folklore, has a hubcap for an eye and is clutching Volkswagen Beetle with one of its gnarled hands. It's a fun landmark, and easy to reach (taking Fremont Avenue to North 36th Avenue, then proceeding east to North Troll Avenue, right beneath the highway bridge) - definitely try to check out the troll in person.
Produce Vendors at Pike Place Market
Fresh lychee fruits, nectarines, green beans, roma and cherry tomatoes, and blueberries are among the edible riches you'll find among the food stalls at delightful Pike Place Market.
Pike Place and Neighborhood
Look south down Pike Place's cobblestone surface, toward the intersection with Pine Street, you see Pike Place Market on the right, several downtown skyscrapers in the distance, and a row of retailers and restaurants on the left.
Steamworks Seattle gay bathhouse, formerly Club Seattle, Capitol Hill
Manray Video Bar, on Capitol Hill (closed)
The sleek and contemporary Manray Video Bar was one of gay Seattle's hottest destinations for socializing and schmoozing, until it closed to make way for a condo development late in 2007. It was nearly across the street from larger and longer-running R Place Bar and Grill, which remains popular.
Bailey Coy Books, an indie bookshop on Capitol Hill (Closed)
Note: Sadly, Bailey Coy Books closed for good in December 2009, after many years serving Seattle's Capitol Hill. It had been one of the city's finest such shops. In a related note, another famous indie bookstore in Seattle (also with an excellent LGBT section), Elliott Bay Book Company (206-624-6600), which is now on Capitol Hill.
One of the better independent bookstores, with very good sections on both GLBT and feminist literature and nonfiction, Bailey Coy Books (414 Broadway E) had been a long-running neighborhood establishment in the heart of Capitol Hill.
Martin's Off Madison gay bar (closed)
Note: Martin's Off Madison closed in 2010.
Call it what you want: an affordable and romantic gay bistro, a highly polished jazz-piano cabaret, a convivial neighborhood pub. Martin's Off Madison (1413 14th Ave.) is happily difficult to pigeonhole, as it serves many functions in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood, and the GLBT community. In all senses, it's an extremely friendly, well-run, and enjoyable place to nurse a local beer, listen to superb piano music, mingle with friends, or dine on casual Italian and American bistro fare.
Martin's opened in 2005 and has developed a steady and loyal following ever since. It comprises a larger main lounge and bistro, with cafe tables, comfy seating, and warm lighting. Here you can watch different performers show their talents each night (and also on weekends for brunch). Ruby Bishop is one of the most acclaimed pianists to perform here - she's on Monday nights and for Sunday brunch. There's also open-mic on Thursdays (some seriously talented locals take the floor), and everything from accordion music to jazz standards on other evenings.
In an adjacent, smaller bar, there's a mix of bar stools and more cafe tables, and here it's a bit quieter and perfect for conversing with friends. The bar staff concocts some terrific cocktails, and there's a reliably good wine and beer list, too. For dinner, expect hearty classics, sometimes prepared with a contemporary spin: pasta bolognese, paella, steaks, burgers, crab-and-cheddar melts, and such. The prices are quite reasonable under $15 to $20 for most entrees. It's great to see a such an eclectic bar flourishing the way Martin's has, drawing a genuine mix of locals and tourists, gays and straights of all ages, music buffs and regular Janes and Joes. And Martin's is within a short walk of at least a dozen other gay bars on Capitol Hill.
P.S. - the staff dresses in snappy black-leather kilts. Fun!
B & O Espresso, Capitol Hill (closed)
B&O Espresso has closed.
One of Seattle's most enduring and reputable neighborhood coffeehouses, B & O Espresso (204 Belmont Ave. E) is a homey, independent, and very gay-popular java cafe in Capitol Hill. Although the coffee here is certainly part of the reason for B & O's following, other attributes help: a nice wine list (and cocktails, too), quite tasty breakfast and lunch fare (much of it Middle Eastern and Mediterranean inspired), and amazing (though not exactly inexpensive) desserts, such as the chocolate-raspberry torte.
Twisted gay bar, in Everett (closed)
Note: Twisted has closed.
Although it's in the Seattle metro area, Twisted nightclub (1212 California St.) is also the only gay bar in the city of Everett (population 100,000), which lies about 25 miles north and is home to a major Navy base, Boeing plant, and public marina. This friendly bar on the west side of downtown, near Everett's busy port and waterfront area, draws plenty of gay guys and lesbians from the northern Seattle area with its drag shows, go-go dancers, country-western Thursdays, and Fetish Fridays.