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Boldt's Cafeteria (ca. 1920-1970)
Boldt's Cafeteria (ca. 1920-1970)
by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer

The Seattle GLBT community has always had a struggle to find a place to hang its protective coat of many colors. Before the birth of Gay bars and Gay organizations, certain Gay friendly taverns and restaurants allowed them in but one had to be discreet. Much of society said no to Gays but as Brian Kinney of television fame said: "Fags are no different than people, tell them they can't have something and they won't give up 'till they get it."

Enter Boldt's Cafeteria at 1414 3rd Avenue in Seattle. No restaurant could match it for Gay hanging out and cruising, especially on weekends when the bars closed early, when the night was only beginning for a community that needed some self-expression.

Bill Parkin who parked his car in front of Boldt's remembers: "I'd sit behind the wheel and hold court in my restored 1940 Darrin Packard convertible I named 'Deliah'." Overhead was Boldt's famous outdoor sign, a large metal coffee cup with steam coming out of it. Jimmy Kelly wrote all his letters at Boldt's. One patron met his lover there and they are still together after 40 years.

According to party mogul and owner of the Gay Pike Street Tavern, Parkin: "In the 1950s, if you didn't score at the Gay bars or at the all night theaters, there was always Boldt's, which was often packed and open all night. On weekends it was a flaming, faggot heaven, a constant chatter of voices, like sitting inside a snare drum - except when the beat cops walked in and Boom!, not a sound. The minute they left the loud chatter began and the management never complained. We were just young and having fun, characters and all - like 'Queen Victoria' who never met a man she (he) didn't like." From the Paulson/Simpson book, An Evening at the Garden of Allah, Issac Monroe remembers: "If you met Victoria on the street during the day with eighteen people around you, she would just screech at you! She'd screech a half a block away and come swishing up with her coat flaring and collar turned up. She didn't care if she'd just broken your cover. She was saying, "You're going to come out of the closet and be yourself and stand up for who you are!"

On weekends especially, there were four waves of Gays who descended on Boldt's: the Gay evening crowd, the bar crowd (after they closed), the 4 a.m. Madame Peabody's crowd; and, at 5 a.m., when the all night theaters closed. Then the straight daily pedestrian crowd started coming in as the Gay element faded into the background until evening when it began all over again, for years. One old timer said Boldt's has had a Gay presence since the 1920s.

'Queen Victoria' said, "Boldt's was the magical kingdom of Faires and Sprites." One day she bought a jar of plastic pearls at the Salvation Army in the Pike Street Market, came into Boldt's, dropped the jar on the floor, pearls went flying and she screamed, "My mother's pearls!" Everybody in the place dropped to their hands and knees picking them up.

For artist Issac Monroe, Boldt's was a different story. In 1953, he was a teen struggling with his Gay identity, Boldt's was pointed out to him by a classmate as a "place where Queers hung out." Issac: "Boy did that go into my computer in a hurry. So, the next night, I told my mother I was going to a teen dance on Queen Anne Hill but headed straight for Boldt's. I almost lost my nerve but I knew this is what I had to do. When I saw the people I asked, 'this is me?!' All I saw were obvious queens with ducktail hair styles with their collars turned up blowing cigarette smoke ten feet in the air. Some used long cigarette holders, used them like they were dragon ladies. President Roosevelt used them but the queens used them as props as they cruised people on the sidewalk through steamy windows. Some of them smoked English Ovals - they were 'sissy.' Boys smoked Lucky Strikes.

I felt like every eye was on me and I heard someone say, 'Blond Chicken,' and 'The golden boy has arrived.' I went down the cafeteria row and bought a cup of coffee and sat down in one of those booths with the high backs and coat trees between each booth. Guys were sitting and skittering around me, carrying on in the booths and staring at the sailors' baskets. To them it was the usual Gay scene but for me it was extremely intimidating, I was near tears and felt completely alone until a cute guy came over and sat down next to me. He wasn't like the others and I was so thankful. 'Hi. Never been here before?' He was very nice and patient and good at prying me out. We hit it off right away and couldn't wait to cross the street to check into a $3.50 a night hotel room. I came out. It was what I wanted, sudden and sweet
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