For the first time in over a year, Capitol Hill’s Pony has reopened its doors and reclaimed its place as the neighborhood’s resident rock ’n’ roll, queer bar — a place, as one of its bartenders says, that has attracted the city’s artistic queens and gays “with edge” for years. 

When to reopen was a decision Pony’s staff had been wary of throughout the coronavirus pandemic, especially because it’s a smaller space. But the well-known dive bar once again opened for business this week for two main reasons, the first being that vaccination numbers are rising, COVID-19 cases are dropping and Washington is reopening

And second, it’s Pride weekend. 

While the pandemic has thrown the world into a mess of uncertainty, people in Seattle and throughout the state are doing their best this June to throw a celebration filled with love and pride — not just for their identities and communities, but also for a shared sense of relief at having made it through the year. 

Anouk Rawkson has been tending the bar at Pony on Capitol Hill for more than four years. (Sylvia Jarrus / The Seattle Times)

“For us, it’s more of a life celebration,” said Anouk Rawkson, who’s been bartending at Pony for more than four years. “We’re really just happy to be opening back up. … And I’m looking forward to socializing with people and meeting new, creative kids.”

Because Seattle Pride — usually one of the city’s biggest Pride events — moved its annual parade online for the second year in a row, many consistent Pridegoers said they were relieved to hear they will still be able to celebrate in person in some fashion at bars and events throughout the city, unlike last year, when the majority stayed closed.

“It’s my first-ever Pride,” said Nicholas O’Connor, a student at the University of Virginia who’s in Seattle this summer, interning at Amazon. “I haven’t had the opportunity to go to one before, so I was excited to see what it would be like, especially in a city like Seattle.”

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Another reason some Pride organizers are particularly eager to toast to the festivities this year is because Pride weekend falls a week after the now-federally recognized Juneteenth holiday.

“I’m excited abut the idea that Juneteenth and Pride will encourage queer movements to be even more intentionally inclusive of the QTBIPOC [queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, people of color] folks,” said Jill Mullins, who helps organize the annual Seattle Dyke March — which is celebrating virtually this year. “I’m really hopeful about what the future of Pride will look like in Seattle, and Pride generally.”

Vernon Riggings, center, and Jack Tusk of Capitol Hill talk with friends on the patio at Pony, the popular Capitol Hill queer hangout that reopened June 23, 2021. (Sylvia Jarrus / The Seattle Times)

While disappointed that Seattle Pride’s big parade is again all-online, O’Connor said he’s been looking forward to popping into various bars and park events on Capitol Hill and throughout the city this weekend. 

“I’m trying to use it as a way to get myself involved in the queer community,” said O’Connor, who came out as bisexual to his family while he was working on his college applications. “Publicly, they acknowledge that, yay, Pride is a thing, but they don’t really recognize that I’m bisexual. … It’s partially why I came to Seattle, for the freedom to explore the city and myself.”

“I’m looking forward to [finding] people and places that I can go back to,” he added. 

While Pony welcomed customers back this week, not all of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ bars joined in on the fun this weekend. Some were lost for good during the pandemic, including Re-bar’s Denny Triangle location (though it plans to reopen in a new spot this fall). Neighbours Nightclub and Lounge, the oldest LGBTQ+ nightclub in Seattle, remains closed. R Place, a Capitol Hill nightclub and cabaret that’s operated since 1984, lost its lease after the owner of the property died and the estate did not renew the lease. (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum.)

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And the Wildrose, one of the oldest lesbian bars on the West Coast and the only one in Washington, came close to permanently shutting down multiple times during the pandemic, though owner Shelley Brothers said they have reopened and are ready to toast to Pride this weekend. 

But Pony bartender Rawkson said one of the things he’s come to love about Seattle is how strong its community is — “I’ve always said it’s the little city that can, and does,” he said.

Jeron Sullivan, who just moved to Seattle from Atlanta last week, said he’ll just be happy to be around others, even if the main parade is online.

“I will still be out at bars and making people take shots,” he said, laughing. 

People gather at Pony, one of Seattle’s most well-known queer bars, reopened to the public Wednesday, June 23, 2021, on Capitol Hill.   (Sylvia Jarrus / The Seattle Times)

Sullivan, 29, continued, “I just want people to really look at the definition of Pride. Being gay is about celebrating. … Just be happy. I think that’s the biggest thing especially after the pandemic — there’s been so much darkness, and people just need to be happy and have fun.”

It’s his first time seeing Seattle’s Pride festivities, too. 

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Others at Capitol Hill Pride have been supporting the June celebration for years — like Matthew McQuilkin, who’s been at Seattle Pride festivities every June since 1998, with a few exceptions when he was at celebrations in San Francisco and New York. 

“I really appreciate how people are just unapologetically themselves,” said Crimzon Heinrich, 24, who grew up in Tacoma and has also been a part of Seattle Pride marches in the past. “It’s just a day about loving who you love and loving who you are.”

Heinrich said that while she’s spent the month celebrating with her friends and family, she was looking forward to the day she could celebrate in person with the rest of her community after coming out as bisexual last year.

Last year, the first time Seattle Pride went virtual, McQuilkin, a 45-year-old who lives on Capitol Hill, was one of the few people he knew who sat through hours of online festivities. 

“I just wanted to be a part of Pride in some way,” he said. “It means a lot to me as a gay man. I reject the notion that it’s no longer necessary.”

McQuiklin continued, “There are still people that come [to Seattle Pride] from a long ways away, where it’s not as accepted for them to be queer or trans or even just different. And this is such a liberating environment to be in.”

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For the most part, he was impressed with Seattle Pride’s 2020 virtual celebration — especially the livestreamed band performances and drag cabaret shows — though he thought sitting in front of a screen all weekend would be limited to a one-time anomaly. 

“But I get it,” he said. “We’re still not at a point where we can have an event as gigantic as Pride tends to be.”

Plus, he knows it just means there’s even more to look forward to next year.

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