The Place: The Double Header, 407 Second Ave., 624-8439, PIONEER SQUARE
The Atmosphere: The Double Header is buried treasure. Owned by the same family since 1934 (right after Prohibition ended!), its history lies in a very different Pioneer Square, one which served as the fulcrum of Seattle's gay scene. It's been cited as the oldest continually run gay bar in the U.S., although its basement, now a club called Volume, bears the bulk of that history. Now it reveals only small shadows of that past: a few photographs of drag queens alongside run-of-the-mill vintage alcohol swag ("Try a Jack & Coke!"); a couple of rainbows, if you look closely; the occasional benefit drag show. Bonus: It was also the first bar in the city to have both men's and women's restrooms, so when you go into that dingy, cramped, rickety old stall, remember that you are peeing on history.
This calm pillar of local lore is at once crowded by its surroundings and an oasis from them. Outside, a dulled sign that looks like it's been there since the '70s helps camouflage the Double Header into its brick exterior, especially next to its much more colorful neighbors: Volume, Fuel, Trinity, and The Last Supper Club a block over. Go to the Double Header on a weekend night and try to guess the Top 40 hits by their bass lines as they filter up through the floorboards and shake your booth, while an ancient electric dartboard beeps at you incessantly. Afterward, though, you can get past that with a killer jukebox full of old country hits and rock classics that might as well be scientifically proven to be the best songs to drink to, and start to feel as though the Double Header's walls serve as a force field. Nobody having a club night even notices this place, for the most part.
Who does come in here? My bartender, Bobbi, says that game days are pretty active—she has a whole different set of regulars then, plus "assorted other folks who just come in for the games." Occasionally, visitors who used to frequent the establishment in the '50s and '60s will come back and say, "Wow, this hasn't really changed!"
The Barkeep: Bobbi didn't feel comfortable providing her last name and doesn't like having her picture taken. "It's even that way with my friends," she insists. As I take a picture of my drink instead, she says, "While you do that, I'll stand over here," and quickly distances herself.
Fitting right in with the Double Header's atmosphere, she's tough yet friendly, but assures me that the place isn't too rough-and-tumble. "It looks like a bar where there could be a lot of heavy drinking and fistfights," she explains, "but it's not." Though she blends in seamlessly, Bobbi's only been working here about a year. She likes that it has more of a "neighborhood feel, as opposed to the chrome and glass and plastic" of the surrounding area. "It's a funky, old-style bar," she says, "a working man's bar."
The Drink: Before I finish the last syllable of "What do you normally drink?", her eyes light up and she answers, "Southern Comfort, rocks!" She makes well-practiced, short work of getting the drink ready and on the bar. Despite its sweetness, SoCo starts as grain alcohol and bourbon. It's the spirit of choice for sweet-toothed drinkers who party tough (think Janis Joplin). It's also a liquor that gets a little easier to drink once your palate has gotten acclimated.
The Verdict: Everything about both the bar and the drink is comfortingly familiar, yet refreshingly gritty. If you ever want to feel like an old Seattle salt, drinking SoCo with a tough, older broad at the end of the bar at the Double Header is a great way to go.