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Friday, October 13, 2006

The End of Thumper’s

posted by on October 13 at 0:21 AM

Re-bar’s not the only legendary gay landmark headed for the exit. Thumper’s, the grand old gay restaurant/piano bar at 15th and Madison on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, is closing its doors after 21 years.

Thumper’s final night will be next Saturday, October 21. The next-to-last-night—Friday Oct 20—brings “a gala evening of cabaret,” featuring such talents and Thumper’s mainstays Arnaldo!, Charles Baker, Ruby Bishop, Jeannette D’Armand, Mikel Poulsen, the Boys from Gaydar Productions, Cheryl Serio, and Marcus Wolland, with proceeds benefitting the gay/straight youth chorus Diverse Harmony.

The email announcing the benefit came with a press release laying out Thumper’s backstory, and if you’re at all interested in Seattle/Capitol Hill history (and aren’t prohibitively snooty about less-than-elegant press-release writing) you should definitely give it a read after the jump.

Press Release

Last Call at Thumper's

Steve Nyman and Nathan Benedict are sad to announce that after 21+ years of serving Seattle's gay community, Thumper's Restaurant and Bar will be closing on Saturday Oct.21, 2006.

Thumper's had their Grand Opening Party on April 27, 1985. It was a great party to mark the beginning of what has become an institution in Seattle gay life. Steve and Nathan hired the gay chief de cuisine from La Furno (one of Seattle's best Italian restaurants in the 70's and 80's) to be in charge of the kitchen. The goal was to provide gay men and women with a comfortable, open, proud, and nice place for them to enjoy each others company and have a great night out of drinking and dining. With a reservation book full for 2-3 weeks ahead of time, it was obvious that the gay community needed and wanted an open, clearly gay restaurant to celebrate the continued freedoms and "liberationā€¯ that had started in the seventies. If you are under 40, you can not imagine how much it meant to everyone.

Over the years, Steve Nyman and Nathan Benedict have created many first experiences for Seattle's gay community. At the Inside Passage, their previous venture, they created the first sidewalk dinning and drinking space on Capitol Hill and one of the first in Seattle. With the help of world renowned landscape architect R. David Adams, they managed to convince the stubborn Seattle government bureaucracy that Seattle was ready for a European style street scene and got the appropriate permits. At Thumper's they gave Seattle the Northwest's first class-H video bar, the first and only Seattle National Gay Softball Championship Team, the first and only real log fireplace in a gay establishment, and the first gay bar with unobstructed picture windows with great views. Many of Thumper's early customers felt that the large plate glass windows, with no blinds or curtains, which allowed any passerby to see the goings on in a gay establishment exposed the community to too much to the world. If you are under 40, the world really was a very different place. Thumper's provided a place for out men and women to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, first dates, and just being alive in open view of straight Seattle.

Thumper's has been the site of many festive evenings and special events. In 1987, the dining room was closed for a private dinner for selected contestants and promoters of a Pacific Northwest bodybuilding contest hosted by ex-Mr. America John Burkholder with a guest list including the then Mr. America Gary Strydon and world famous bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenager. It was the first and only time that the post contest event was held in a gay establishment and the promoters paid Steve and Nathan a great compliment by taking the publicity risk of doing so. In 1995, Thumper's presented Ann Hampton Callaway in a rare intimate cabaret performance which was free to all customers and was "broadcastā€¯ throughout the establishment. In 1996, Thumper's brought the gay side of Mardi Gras to Seattle with the formation of the Krewe of Rabbits, a social group whose only initiation requirement was a $100 donation to a charity of your choice. Over the years, the Krewe sponsored several Mardi Gras costume parties with live jazz provided by the late great jazz pianist Buzz Arndt and his trio. Special times were spent with Quentin Crisp, the Pointer Sisters, Maurice Hinds, and many other celebrities.

Live music has always been an important part of Thumper's and it is one of Seattle's longest running venues to offer live piano music in a dinning room setting. Over the years many pianists have played in the "Oak Roomā€¯ at Thumper's. The list of local favorites includes Buzz Arndt, Ruby Bishop, Bob Brunneau, Don Carey, Victor Janusz, Brad Kevelin, Larry Knapp, Barbara Rollins, Daryl Spaddaccini, Scott Warender, Don Werth,, and of course, the legendary Marge Starks. Marge is fondly remembered by many, many people and raised money for Rosehedge House through releasing CD's. Two of them "Live at Thumper'sā€¯ and "Twenty Four Carrotsā€¯ were underwritten financially by Steve and Nathan which helped Marge raise more than $50,000 for Rosehedge House. (This is back when $50,000 was a lot of money).Marge's nightly performances at Thumper's will be remembered by many fans for years to come as will the CD release parties, Marge's 70th Birthday Party, her retirement party and, with great sorrow, her wake.

In 1999, at the urging of Jonathan Frank, Thumper's initiated its "Cabaret on the Hillā€¯ evenings. At first held mostly on Sunday nights, they became so popular that they were expanded to other nights of the week. Many memorable shows have been produced with many of the best local musical theater performers appearing in a very special and intimate performance setting. Among the many shows to be remembered for years to come are: Arnaldo's Halloween and Valentine's Day Shows as well as his Ertha Kitt and Shirley Bassie Tributes; "The Stopsā€¯ by Eric Lane Barnes; "Cannibalā€¯ by Trey Parker; the Gaydar productions of "Bed, Boys, and Beyondā€¯, "When Pigs Flyā€¯, "Dirty Little Show Tunesā€¯, and "Tell Me on a Sundayā€¯; "Vic and Phoeniciaā€¯; Three Girls, Two Guys, and a Cabaret; performances by Jeff Caldwell, Julie Cassciopo, Jeanette D'Armand, Jonathan Franks, Jimmy Hoarde, David Edward Hughes, Mary Lofstrom, Mark Rabe, Sylvia O'Stayformore, Jennifer Pazz, Mark Rabe, Angie Rolfs, Cheryl Serio, Karen Skrinde, Billie Wildrick, Marcus Wolland, and Ann Evans Zavada, who all play major parts in the Seattle theater scene; Peggy Platt's "Brunch-o —Ramaā€¯ ; and, the underground icon, Dina Martina in "Spring Forward, Brunch Backā€¯ . Steve and Nathan would like to thank all the people involved in making these shows happen as well as all the other performers who have appeared in their own great shows which are too numerous to mention here. What great memories these shows have produced.

Over the years, Steve and Nathan have lost many, many friends and customers to AIDS. The list is far too long for even a partial listing. They have always promoted safe, responsible sex and had a local gay artist, Rick Mace, design beverage coasters with fun safe sex messages to place under every drink. They would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that AIDS is still here and the many treatments that have been developed are just that, treatments. The only true protection is to take full personal responsibility by practicing safe sex and watching out for your partner's health. The tragedy of the early AIDS epidemic was the loss of thousands of gay men who had no knowledge of the disease that was killing them. The tragedy of the continuing AIDS epidemic is that thousands of gay men knowingly expose themselves to the AIDS virus while having full knowledge of its existence.

Steve and Nathan would like to personally thank and remember several gentlemen who have been personal friends for many years and who also advised and inspired them to help create the Thumper's experience. Don Cheever, who gave them the confidence to open and held their hands over the first several years of operation. Don will be remembered by Seattle bookophiles for owning "The Literate Seagullā€¯ which was one of Seattle's early independent bookstores which was located on Pier 70. Petter Petterson, well known restaurateur and owner of many different fine establishment and catering companies along with his partner, Leo Gillespie, who both helped us through many tight spots over the 21 + years Thumper's has been open. Chet Harold, founder and late owner of the Madison Pub, and a loyal friend and customer from the very first days of the Inside Passage, who spent many very late nights talking business and politics with us at Thumper's and was present one night when the liquor inspector stormed in after hours and actually sniffed all our drinks at 3:30 in the morning. Ray Hook, who with his partner Dwayne Damish, owned the much loved Ritz CafĆ© on 15th , and who during Thumper's last remodel, kept construction on track so that the work would get done. Bob Bedord (the legendary BeBe) who owned the great Seattle early gay institution The Mocambo, and who inspired Steve Nyman to own his own bar and restaurant. BeBe selflessly supported many other gay businesses of his time, fought and helped break the police bribe system long in place at that time in Seattle, and helped the developing open gay community to have a presence in the Seattle of the 60's and 70's. R. David Adams, who inspired our love of outdoor space and the "whimsicalā€¯ in life. David Burget who was a part of the expansion of the gay bar scene, owner of several early gay bars, and who improved our debating skill by constantly providing contrary opinions. And of course our beloved Labrador retrievers: Samantha whose nickname gave Thumper's its name; Sandy (AKC registered name-"Queen Sandra of Thumper'sā€¯) who attended many parties at Thumper's wearing her favorite babushka; and of course, Kelly (the Character) who currently rules the roost from the second floor.

Sometimes it seems like a lost dream, the type that once you wake up, leaves you with a vague feeling of fulfillment and happiness but also a feeling of unreality. The last 15 years of the old millennium were wrapped in a cloud of the final realization of the American Dream. The Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall came down, the east -west divide of the Soviet threat and the world wide division of "us vs. themā€¯ was finally gone and it seemed possible that people worldwide including gay men and women would finally be free to live their lives in peace and fulfillment. The gay community had finally come into its own with its own institutions, bookstores, restaurants, magazines, lawyers, insurance agents, landscapers; anything you needed could be bought through a gay business. When Thumper's opened one of its goals was to do ALL business with only other gay businesses, food suppliers, artists, accountants, lawyers. The gay community could even mobilize all of society to battle one of the world's most enigmatic, awful, hidden diseases that had ever appeared on the face of the earth and still survive.

Nights at Thumper's were filled with music from the piano and music and voices from the bar. No one lived in their own little world of ipods, text messages, and instant pictures. People answering cell phones were considered an oddity since why would you talk to someone who is not here when you could interact with someone sitting next to you. Gay men still had to go to a real place in real time to cruise and converse with other gays. They could not sit at home and cruise world wide with a flick of the finger. Gay men (even in Seattle!!) dressed for the evening, whether it be the obligatory Levi button 501's and very white, clean (!), t-shirts or the latest fashionable, dry-cleaned, and starched shirt and slacks. Can you imagine that most gay men felt the need to wear pressed shirts to a bar!! Even if you went to the leather /levi bars, your leather and boots had to shine and your jeans were clean even if they were rubbed raw at the crotch on purpose. And for years one of the most fun times of the week was to be "thereā€¯ when your own personal, favorite gay "characterā€¯ would make their entrance: Marge, Steena and entourage, "Deniseā€¯, the Duchess, or Precious. What will they be wearing this weekend? Which one of Marge's many, many pairs of glasses would she be wearing? Will Denise be wearing a veil on her hat? Will "Preciousā€¯ be in town after his round the world cruise on the QE II? And will the Duchess be wearing Gucci or ... It did not matter if it was all "unrealā€¯...that was the entire point!!

What a far away world it all seems from the post-9/11 world of a torn planet, with people "livingā€¯ on the internet, with the left over fallout of Kurt Cobain's sense of personal style both in dressing and music, and in political debate that is so strident the message and truth are lost.

To mark the end of this Seattle institution known to gay men and women of a certain age around the world, Steve and Nathan have planned a grand final week at Thumper's.

On Saturday.Oct.14th, Arnaldo! appears in "The Witching Hour Returnsā€¯. On Sunday, Oct.15, Jacob Mahoney, Mikel Poulsen and Gaydar present the one man show version of "Tell Me On A Sundayā€¯. On Monday,Oct16th, Ruby Bishop will entertain one last time in the Oak Room from 8-11 and Jim will host Fusion in the bar from 8-12.On Tuesday Oct.17, Ann Evans Zavada presents an open mike night " Sing a Songā€¯ with Mark Rabe at the piano , and Riley will host an 80's beer night in the bar from 8-12.On Wednesday,Oct.18th, Rob will host the last SIN party from 8-12 in the bar and Don Werth will play piano in the dinning room from 7-10.On Thursday, Oct.19th , Thumper's presents the final performance of "Tell Me on a Sundayā€¯. On Friday Oct.20th, there will be a gala evening of cabaret to benefit Diverse Harmony. Entitled "One Night Onlyā€¯, many talented Thumper's performers will mark the last show at Thumper's with a grand musical finale not to be missed, and Steve and Nathan will continue their tradition of giving back to the community.

And on Saturday Oct.21, the grand closing party "Last Callā€¯ from 4pm to 2am will mark the end of an era!!

Steve and Nathan want to once again thank the Seattle gay community for all its support and business over all these years of operation.

For more information and reservations, call 328-3800.

RSS icon Comments


What a valedictory! Lived here my whole life and never set foot inside. Shortly after it opened, rumor had Thumpers packed with grampapas of the aspiring class, plus the odd Maple Valley chicken delighted by the term "video bar" and intrigued by the sugar daddy idea. I occasionally would wonder if the coming year would find me mature enough to seek the company of poor-spelling sentimentalists around a "real log fire." I waited too long, girls. Carpe fuckin' diem.

Posted by tomasyalba | October 13, 2006 9:19 AM

Boy, that press release is trying to do a lot, isn't it? I thank my lucky stars for rhetoric class at the University of Iowa, which taught us hayseeds how to compose a paragraph. (more or less ;-)

As far as Thumpers goes, too bad. It was always a nice place for a drink, and I always loved the smell of the fireplace when walking by on a cold night. I knew that both it and Dave's Appliance were slated for redevelopment, but I didn't know it was coming that quickly.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | October 13, 2006 9:32 AM

Nice place. Great view, slow pace, decent drinks. Pleasant patio, parking.

And the owners are a couple of nice guys, Nathan and Steve, helping a variety of non profits.

About ten years ago, i helped collect money for Hands Off Washington, and we did a tour of all the bars with buckets. At Thumpers, the owners put their check for 500.00 in the bucket. I was impressed.

Classy place, classy people. Will be missed.

To above -- What the screw does age have to do with anything? Oh, I forgot, some gay men are always boys, even with grey and wrinkles. Sad.

Posted by Jack | October 13, 2006 9:37 AM

Yeah, it's their lash hurrah. Let'em have their day.

Posted by yeah | October 13, 2006 9:50 AM

The Dina Martina brunches at Thumper's will be cold-sorely missed.

Posted by Explorer | October 13, 2006 9:58 AM

I'll always have a fond memory of Thumper's - it was the first place where I ever got felt up by a girl.

I won't miss it nearly as much as the Timberline, but still, it's a teensy bit sad.

Posted by Geni | October 13, 2006 11:58 AM

I wish to thank Thumpers for always extending a warm welcome to the members of the Seattle Men's Chorus. A great place to grab a drink, some food and good chat after our Monday night rehearsals. Thanks once again and yes you will be so missed!

Posted by Omar Hernandez | October 13, 2006 2:00 PM

Can I call on the wealthier fags in this town to open up a couple bars to make up for recent losses? I really miss the Timberline, and while I only went to Thumpers as part of Pike/Pine bar crawls, I rather enjoyed wandering in and seeing gay men in tuxes flirting with twinks in mesh shirts.

Posted by Gitai | October 13, 2006 3:01 PM

Good bye old friends! It saddens me to see the only decent place to have a drink an/or dinner and a show go away! After being here only 6 years in Seattle, Thumpers became one of my favorite spots to start and finish the evening.I only hope someone else takes up the ball and opens another alternative to Thumpers! With all the friendly staff, good drinks and food and wonderful live entertainment!!and of course, a little drama too! :)

Posted by Donald Jenny | October 13, 2006 4:45 PM

Well, we were warned the the writing was bad, but through its sentimentality, grammar errors, run-on sentences and multi-topic paragraphs, the point is made. It is an over-the-top remembrance though. Don't forget all the bouts of hepatitis coming at the hands of chefs who'd spent the previous night fisting someone and forgot to clean under his nails, only to have those tiny fecal scraps fall out into your nicoise. Oh well, it was kind of like Cabaret -bad drinks, scary food and a damn good time. Marge was the highlight for me. How I enjoyed it when she and her handsome son Jim would join us for a pre-performance martini or three. All's forgiven, and these aged eyes watch yet another memorable spot become but another memory.

Posted by Axel - the rod | October 14, 2006 7:03 PM

Yeah!!! I remember the few times I stopped by for less than 30 min, and felt harrased by the old drunk men. Everything changes for good in this world, it is about time that seattle changes too!

Posted by Me | October 16, 2006 4:38 PM

I'm not shocked by what I read here in The Stranger's "Slog" or "Post a Cowardly Comment" columns.
Leave it to most queens to immediately bring up all the things that were "wrong" with this Seattle institution.
News Flash - they survived 20-plus years in this community. That's quite an accompliishmend.
How many of your "trendy", "image", "scene" bars and clubs are still going strong? Think about that for a while. You'd be surprised that the places with the longest track records are most likely the places where you never even pass on the same side of the street.
Sad - Sad - Sad. The internett has done so much good for our community BUT it has also spawned an entire generation of cowardly finger-pointers, nay-sayers and some of the most hateful things that I have ever read about people and places they didn't honestly know anything about other than "tele-graph-tele-phone-tell-a-fag" bitterness which continues to keep this community at odds with each other.
Cowards - plain and simple. No guilt or responsibility for what they way or how it affects those it is hurled upon.
ON a personal note - I will miss the venue immensely. I also realize that there comes a time with every bar owner then it's time to move on to the next phase of their life. I praise them for all the tireless work done for the Community - not for show - but because it was the right thing to do.
Brava Thumpers! As I've learned over the years losing many friends to alphabet diseases - no one, nor no place will never truly be entirely gone as long as those with the stories keeps sharing with those who never knew or those too young to realize what cocktail culture was originally like in the gay and lesbian community.
Thank for letting me vent - but the mind-set of an anonymous guilt and responsibility free attack needs to end.
Thanks for listening.
Yours Sincerely -
The Queen The Stranger Loves to Kick Around -
Mr. Mark "Mom" Finley

Posted by Someone Sad - But Not Surprised By The Bitchy Vitriol | October 16, 2006 5:13 PM

i will miss this place greatly, Rob is one of the beest bartenders ever. Thumpers has great service and whenever i go in there then its i get the special treament, there won't ever be a place like it ever ever. i don't like seeing this place close.

Posted by Justin Badonkadonk | October 17, 2006 12:46 AM

wow, between this and rebar, our beloved dina martina will have no where to perform...

i didn't go here often, but the outdoor patio was sweet..

is the building being torn down? at this rate, you won't recognize capitol hill..all the old buildings will be gone; replaced by the empty banality of modernista condos and chain stores...ugh..

Posted by michael strangeways | October 17, 2006 9:24 AM

fireplace mantles

Posted by fireplace mantles | October 18, 2006 2:36 PM

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