On first arrival to Tacoma, a new queer transplant might wonder what there is for them in a city not as well known as nearby Capitol Hill. How do you make new friends, find a safe space and support the community in this new city? Seattle has the hill, San Francisco the Castro, but is there a “gayborhood” in Tacoma?
The answer is yes, and if you want a tour it would be a good idea to start on St. Helens Avenue near Market Street and meet Brock Leach, co-owner of The Mix.
“I basically live on [St. Helens],” Leach said. “I get my wine, beer and cheese at Stink. I get my haircut at Supernova, I work out at the [YMCA]”
Leach Is the co-owner of The Mix with Travis Scheff and Matt Henderson. Leach is also a math professor at Tacoma Community and Pierce colleges. He moved to Tacoma 10 years prior and has become a big part of the neighborhood, which he describes as laid-back.
“Don’t get me wrong I love going to Seattle,” Leach said. “But I feel like we connect more here. Bigger cities have more cliques and small groups.”
The Mix is one of the two official gay-bars in the city of Tacoma. Scheff and Henderson also own The Office Bar and Grill located on Pacific Ave, which is described as a “gay-friendly” bar but is not strictly a bar for the LGBTQA community.
A quick walk down St. Helens Avenue from The Mix towards Broadway will take you to Tacoma’s longest-running gay-bar, Club Silverstone. The club is celebrating it’s 20th birthday in May. A walk down the stairs on a Friday evening after work and you’ll see a few regulars at the bar or playing pool, chatting with the bar keep and singing drunken renditions of “Friends in Low Places”.
“Some of these people have been coming here for 20 years,” Assistant Manager David Pate said. “We are a tight-knit community down here. We like to know our customers by their first name and treat them like family.”
Pate has been working at the club for over two years and says he feels like part of the Silverstone family. Club Silverstone is owned by Randy and Cheryl Fields. The Fields also own a few bars, such as The Cuff, in Seattle on Capitol Hill. Their son, Matt Fields, grew up hanging out in the bar and now sells some of his favorite patrons beers on the weekends. Although Pate is a straight married man, to the disappointment of some of his customers, he says he has always kept the LGBTQA community close to his heart and feels that Tacoma has one of the few, authentic neighborhoods in the area.
“Capitol Hill, like the Castro, has become commercialized,” Pate said. “And everyone in this area keeps in touch and tries to work together.”
Both Pate and Leach said if they were going to tour a new queer friend around the area they would go and get coffee at the unofficial “gay Tully’s”, show them the local theaters, visit some of the kooky shops on Antique Row, eat some delicious snacks at Black Kettle and of course introduce them to some of the queens and kings of Tacoma.
“Every first and second Friday of the month we have drag karaoke,” Leach said. “Queen Indika Haze hosts the show for everyone.”
By why St. Helens Avenue? What made that the hot spot for some of the most colorful people in the City of Destiny? Manny Santiago, executive director of the Tacoma Rainbow Center, says the local nonprofit had a lot to do with it.
“Our original location was on St. Helens,” Santiago said. “And because of our educational outreach many of the businesses and organizations in Tacoma are LGBT-competent. They told you about St. Helens Avenue but you can go to Proctor and they are very friendly and then you can go to Sixth Avenue and find a lot of friendly businesses there too.”
The Tacoma Rainbow Center, located on Pacific Avenue, is also about to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Established in 1997, the center is a hub of resources and a safe space for the LGBTQA community to meet for different events and gatherings.
“This was started by a group of friends who wanted to know where they could hang out in Tacoma,” Santiago said. “They wanted a place to connect to their fellow community.”
The Rainbow Center features a lounge, a library with computers, a large community kitchen, games and resources for those with questions about sexuality, advocacy, or who were victims of hate crimes.
“We provide multiple classes that can be workshops, discussions or lessons on anything of interest in the community,” Santiago said.
Santiago became the center’s executive director last May after he moved back to the area with his husband to be closer to family. In that time he has helped organize the 2017 Pride festival and is now working on the 15th annual Gayla, a fundraising dinner and auction for the nonprofit. Santiago said before moving out of state a few years back he lived in Seattle but he has felt more at home in his Tacoma community.
“From my experience as a queer latino, Seattle is very segregated,” Santiago said. “It’s segregated in very many ways. In Tacoma I can walk around and go to different places in this city and see people who are Latino, queer, queer Latino, seeing people being comfortable as trans. I see them everywhere. Tacoma is way more integrated and has worked better. I think that is good.”
The “gayborhood” of Tacoma is growing in size too. The annual Pride parade and festival, held on St. Helens Avenue, has grown in size in regards to numbers of events and festival goers in past years.
“Last year we saw over 2,000 people,” Leach said. “And we are hoping to see more.”
Throughout the year there are many different holidays, events, galas and community programs for any Tacoma resident, LGBTQA or not, to attend in the neighborhood. All of which highlight the friendly feeling of the area.
“You know we coordinate together and work together on things,” Leach said. “I have never felt discriminated while being in Tacoma. And I feel like the businesses here try to be inclusive and friendly. You can walk down the street and see many friends.”
“It’s the Tacoma-chill,” Pate said. “It’s just a friendly place to be.”
Want to visit the area and meet some new LGBTQA friends? Check out one of the great events below:
The Rainbow Center:
Mpowerment Tacoma – Mpowerment Tacoma is social program for gay and bi men by gay and bi men ages 25 and up. According to the center’s website, Mpowerment Tacoma will work to create a healthy, gay, and sex positive community for gay and bi men 25 and over in Pierce County. The group meets at 6 p.m. every Thursday at the Rainbow Center.
50+ Lunch Bunch – The Rainbow Center’s 50+ Lunch Bunch is a social and educational opportunity for LGBTQ individuals 50 and older, according to the center’s website. This is a brown bag lunch event that meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the third Friday of every month at The Rainbow Center. Visitors are asked to bring their own lunch. Beverages and snacks will be provided.
LGBTQ Book Club – This book club focuses on LGBTQ books, themes and authors, the center’s website states. The group meets at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every second Saturday of the month at the Tacoma Rainbow Center. A list of books and the current club read can be found on the center’s website.
Saturday Morning “T” – This group meets from 10 a.m. to noon every first and third Saturday of the month at the Tacoma Rainbow center for Transgendered individuals to make new friends, allies and to hold conversation. “We’ll supply the coffee and tea; you bring your friends, your own beautiful self and perhaps a yummy treat to share,” the center’s website states.
Come dance! – The dance floor is open on Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Karaoke – Karaoke for all is open from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursdays.
Play pool – Free pool games are available on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Check out more coming events on the club’s Facebook page.
The Mixtape – “Drag queens, audience mini-challenges, karaoke prizes, more queens,” the bar’s website states. Performances on the hour from 8:30 p.m. to midnight every first and second Friday of the month.
Queens of the Night – “Sexy, funny, dance entertainment with drag queens and other cabaret performers,” the website states. From 7 – 9 p.m. every third Saturday of the Month. There is a $5 cover charge. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Alternative Tuesdays – A place for the alternative side of LGBTQA. The Dragula show starts at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays with an emo playlist to follow.