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'More than just a place': Seattle's Wildrose among lesbian bars benefitting from fundraiser

There are only a few lesbian bars left in the United States and one of them is in Seattle. The Wildrose opened on New Year’s Eve in 1984 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Now, the bar is facing an unknown future. The Rose, as it's known, is a part of the Lesbian Bar Project, a fundraising campaign to help the remaining bars around the country survive the pandemic.

Co-owner Martha Manning first got a job as a bartender at The Rose in 1997 after moving from the East Coast. In 2000, Manning and a couple of her co-workers put together a business plan and bought the bar. Shelley Brothers bought one of them out in 2002. And in 2005, Brothers and Manning bought out the third person and have co-owned the bar since.

“When I moved to Seattle it was like ‘oh my God.’ There was Broadway Market, which was like a gay mall, and there were bars — gay bars, there were gay bookstores,” Brothers recalled of the time she arrived in 1992. “There was all this stuff and coming from Nevada it was...it was like coming home.”

At the time, Manning had just come out, at the age of 25, and started working at The Rose. Like so many others, the bar was a place where she could feel completely herself.

“I could dress the way I wanted, talk the way I wanted, be affectionate the way I wanted,” Manning said. “It was a place to be ourselves and it didn’t feel like there were all that many places then.”

Shelley Brothers, co-owner of The Rose in Seattle's Capitol Hill.
Credit Grace Madigan / KNKX
Shelley Brothers, co-owner of The Rose in Seattle's Capitol Hill.

Longtime patron Maggie Bloodstone remembered first going to the bar for its open mic nights in 1986. Through the years she continued visiting the bar, where she hosted what she called a “Red Rag” party to celebrate menopause.

Both Brothers and Manning have seen the neighborhood and bar change throughout the years. Most recently, they've seen an uptick in patrons who fall outside the traditional clientele — straight men and other young people who have flooded the Capitol Hill bar scene over the past several years.

But despite those changes and the ongoing global pandemic, the owners remain determined to keep The Rose afloat.

“I’ve had such incredible experiences there and relationships from there,” Manning said. I’ve just seen everything, weddings and funerals and memorials — it’s something more than just a place to me too.”

Brothers and Manning have reduced the hours because of COVID-19 restrictions, but takeout is still available. The Lesbian Bar Project runs until Thursday and funds will be evenly distributed to the participating bars. To directly support The Wildrose, donate to the bar’s GoFundMe or buy merchandise on its website.

“We still need a place we can call our own and that’s what The Wildrose has always been to people,” Brothers said. “It’s a place they can go into and feel at home and I think that’s important for every group of people to have.”