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Purr's Barbie Humphrey: Local woman makes good
Purr's Barbie Humphrey: Local woman makes good
by John Griffin - SGN Contributing Writer

Barbie Humphrey is a person everybody can be proud of. She's familiar to many of us as the friendly, upbeat owner of Purr, and has become a sparkling personality known throughout the city.

A native to this area, Barbie hails from Edmonds, where her family was "all born and raised." "My parents were high school sweethearts, they went to Edmonds High School," she said with an affectionate smile, "I have a great relationship [with them]. I have one sister and we're very close." In fact, Barbie's family has always played a vital role in her life. They have offered the support and understanding that so many wish they could have had, "They love to come in here & they come in and support all of our big events that we have, yeah, they're fantastic," she said, justifiably proud.

After high school, Barbie became a beautician. Later, she was in sales and marketing for a hair care company, but "wanted to get out of that completely." After taking a bartending class, she started working in the restaurant business - which she found to be a requirement for operating a lounge - as a hostess at the Red Robin downtown. "My first week at work, my car got stolen under the viaduct," she remembered. "It was crazy. I got out of work at like midnight and walked up and down & I know I parked under here. Sure enough, they found it a month later, all smashed up." She moved into her present career by managing the bar at Dukes, and later for three years at the Broadway Grill. Barbie worked at Spintron when they opened, and later at Wildrose. This culminated in managing Manray for six years for its absentee landlord, who only wanted it to run smoothly and not be an issue to occupy his time.

While saving money, Barbie did everything else she could to achieve her goal, learning accounting and how to formulate a business plan through courses offered by the SBA. Meanwhile, she bided her time, waiting for the right combination of elements to present themselves. When the former Bad Juju Lounge became available, it seemed to be a workable opportunity. Far from the comfortable place we remember as the Encore, the space had degenerated into a filthy, run-down dive. It inspired a scream of dread when Barbie finally got the keys and turned on all of the lights. "Oh my God, what did I do?" she asked herself. Daunted but determined, she set to work. She found support in "a whole slew of friends, most of them are in the Gay Community just because it's where I've worked over the last & 12 years or 13 years. & [I've got] a really nice core group of friends that do a lot of socializing, [we] go on vacations together, and that kind of thing."

Those friends helped with cleaning parties, repair parties, painting parties; you name it, they made a party out of it. "Everybody really stepped up and helped," she recalled. "They all took pride in doing stuff." That anchor she had always been able to rely on was there for her again, as her family pitched in, too. Her dad, with 40 years of experience in the plumbing business, came by after his regular work hours and on his days off to install the toilets and sinks, using his plumbing expertise to make sure a "street ninety" wasn't used where a "san tee" with a clean out was needed. Her dad was also responsible for the handsome remodel of the bar area, installing shelves where the snake tank had been, and making the woodwork shine. Their efforts gave the place the warm, comfortable feeling that the Purr name stands for.

In just two months - two long, trying, exhausting months, from Barbie's perspective - it was ready to open. The dark, dank relic of the grunge era was transformed into what friends and acquaintances had told her they wanted: an inviting, comfortable place to hang and enjoy each other's company.

However, even though the work settled more or less into a routine, it had only begun. Barbie has never lost sight of the fact that her place is a part of the community. Through many sponsorships, such as Purr's sports teams - men's softball teams "The Alley Cats," "The Thrusters," and "The Xtreme;" men's volleyball teams "The Stray Cats," and the "Purrfect Sets;" men's rugby team "The Quake;" and the "Rain City Soccer Club" - she has helped her staff and patrons take an active part in Seattle's Gay life.

"I'm mostly open to anyone that wants to come in and do & some type of fundraiser," she says. Barbie has proven this amply by supporting many charities, including the Lifelong Aids Walk, Lifecycle Aids Bike Ride, Dine Out for Life, HRC Dinner/Auction, HRC Bowling Fundraiser, Seattle Men's Chorus Dinner/Auction, Paws Dinner/Auction, GSBA Member, GSBA Scholarship Fund Dinner/Auction, Lambda Legal, Garden Party, Breast Cancer 3-Day (breast cancer is a particular favorite cause for Barbie), Rise 'n' Shine Sponsor a Child at Christmas, Rise 'n' Shine Big Bailout (sending kids to camp), Dunshee House, Emerald City Softball Association, Official Sponsor of the 2008 Men's Softball World Series, Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Sponsor, Sponsored a Toy Drive last year for the Country Doctor, Sponsored Mr. Nude Seattle Contest for Charity, Juvenile Diabetes, Sponsor of the Taxi Cab Program for safety, Gilda's Club, Community Visions, LGBT Community Center, DIFFA, she has given back to the Gay Community, and the community at large, demonstrating again that her bottom line isn't dominated by dollar signs.

The Rise 'n' Shine Bartenders Auction for charity on April 30 will be Purr's latest chapter of involvement in local affairs. There is also another aspect of involvement on a more individual level, as she offers invitations to local artists to display their work for two-month shows, and presents each show with a formal opening.

Barbie has also been involved in the two-sided crisis, in which we all faced horror, and so many put the very best they had to offer on the line. Like all of us, she has lost a lot of friends to HIV, and still has many living with AIDS. From the beginning, those events and organizations that have brought us together to fight the disease have had her active support. Again her family was behind her, putting aside their fears and educating each other to the facts of AIDS. Barbie tells proudly of her elderly grandmother asking timidly if the few dollars she had to offer to the AIDS Walk would be enough.

The proof of her success was evident last year when she took her dad on a South African safari to celebrate his retirement. "It was really fun, it was one that I had bid on at one of the auctions & so that was really great," she said. We all know the feeling of leaving something important in the care of someone else. In this case, that "someone else" was her manager, Rock, who "took the job and ran with it. He's been just fantastic. I rely on him a ton and I never have to worry." Rock gave her the confidence to relax and enjoy her trip without a ringing cell phone to yank her tether from halfway around the world. "I like to do a lot of traveling. & I like to go to Vegas & quite often, a little home away from home." Her staff was also rewarded with a company holiday party in Las Vegas last year.

As for goals, Barbie wants to see our neighborhoods become safer places for people to gather and enjoy themselves. Barbie still has a back burner item in mind for the long term, too: to meet a guy who is interested in her for who she is - "one that has his own money," she jokes. Although she loves her Gay and Lesbian friends, she'd still like to see the right guy show up. So if you know some really cool straight guys that have their shit together, take them into Purr for a drink.

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