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Saturday, February 25, 2012

#1654 #S977 - Volume, Seattle - 12/23/2011

Volume is a new ultra lounge style nightclub, which means the standard sort of techno and hiphop music, VIP sections, and women with heels as long as their skirts.  It is a very young and primarily Asian crowd, and owned by the former owner of Aura.  The drinks are exactly what you would predict based on this.  But while the current club may be fairly unremarkable, it is located in what is probably the most storied bar space in Seattle, previous home of the Catwalk, the Casino, and the People's Theater.

The basement space is a remaining portion of the People's Theater, constructed in 1890, and the most notorious of Seattle's 19th century "box houses."  In these saloons with card rooms and theaters, women performers would serve drinks in between their stage acts, and if a patron was feeling particularly generous, the women would accompany them to curtained off boxes for more personalized services.  The People's Theater was eventually run by John Considine (AKA "Boss Sport"), who would battle it out for Seattle's theater and gambling audiences with such rivals as Alexander Pantages and Wyatt Earp (yes, THAT Wyatt Earp, who owned the Union Club on the next block).  He also battled Seattle Chief of Police William L. Meredith, a feud that culminated in a shootout in a drug store on 2nd and Yesler that left Meredith dead.

Considine would go on to establish theaters across the west and midwest, create the first popularly-priced vaudeville chain in the world*, co-found the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, and eventually move to Los Angeles and produce movies.  His lasting legacy to the Seattle bar and nightclub world was his leading role in establishing Seattle's "Tolerance Policy," a well-established system for paying off the police, which lasted through the 1960s.  It was this very tolerance policy that in the 1930s would allow the old People's Theater space to become the most famous open place for gay people on the west coast.

In 1930, Joseph Bellotti purchased the space, with John and Margaret Delevitti operating it, and it soon became a nationally known club for gays, unofficially known as "Madame Peabody's Dancing Academy for Young Ladies." With Delevitti paying off the police, men could dance openly with other men at The Casino (an impossibility in most other cities) and drag queens could remain largely unharrassed.  The Casino and the Double Header upstairs, which remains to this day, would attract gay visitors and various celebrities from around the country, including the likes of Rudolph Nureyev, Johnny Ray, Margot Fonteyn, and Tallulah Bankhead. The unrestrained Ms. Bankhead is cited by historical sources as entering the upper bar with her retinue, ringing a cow bell, and shouting to the assembled queens, "Avon calling all you beautiful motherf***ers!" To this day the cow bell remains hanging on the wall of the Double Header (which has a fairly compelling argument for being the oldest continually running gay bar in the United States).

Before it became the rather formulaic 21st century dance clubs Heaven and then Volume, the space also hosted The Catwalk from 1994 to 2005.  The Catwalk brought a modernized edge to the place's bawdy history, hosting various S&M and gothic events, as well as fetish fashion shows.

172 S Washington, Seattle, WA 98104 - (206) 467-1828
Est. Oct. 29, 2010 - Building constructed: 1890
Previous bars in this location: People's Theater, The Casino, The Catwalk, Heaven
volumeseattle.com - facebook - yelp
*Murray Morgan, "Skid Road", 1995 p149

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