It’s been a nonstop party for Zac Levine since mid-July. The owner of the recently opened Supernova in SoDo, Zac’s been scrambling to keep crowds entertained with novel nightlife.
“We've been doing fun theme parties bimonthly on Fridays,” he says. “We had an event where we had fifty pounds of gold glitter in a kiddie pool on stage. … And I think we're the first nightclub to do a Hanukkah party.”
Supernova’s just one of several new clubs warming SoDo, an industrial area best known as the place you glance down at as you pass through on light rail. The Comeback, a spiritual successor to Capitol Hill’s R Place, held a quiet launch last Friday with a grand opening slated for mid-February. They join longtime SoDo destinations like Monkey Loft and Club Sur — and, if local visionaries are to be believed, they’re on the cutting edge of the evolution of an entirely new Seattle nightlife district.
“Nightlife goes from one neighborhood to another,” says Scott Plusquellec, Nightlife Business Advocate in the Office of Economic Development (or Seattle’s "Night Mayor" for short.) “It used to be Pioneer Square,” he says, “then Capitol Hill, now it seems like Belltown.”
But keep your eye on SoDo next. That’s where Floyd Lovelady, formerly the general manager of the fondly remembered R Place, found a home for The Comeback along with his business partner John Fish.
“I started looking back in February,” Lovelady says, when he first learned that R Place would close. “I looked in the Central District, Queen Anne, looked all over Capitol Hill and just couldn't find anything that piqued my interest,” he says. That’s when he connected with SCORE, a nationwide network of business mentors with a Seattle chapter. They pointed him in the direction of the SoDo Business Improvement Area, which advocates for economic development in the neighborhood, and the BIA showed him an intriguing space. It was much larger than anything he could afford on Capitol Hill, and allowed for the installation of modular walls that could transform the space depending on the needs of different events. It had a large kitchen, so they could serve food — an important feature in the era of COVID closures. It was close to other venues, to transit, and to the sports theaters (or “stadiums” for short).
At first, he worried about “losing the foot traffic from the Hill,” Lovelady says. But not too worried. “A lot of people have moved off the Hill to First Hill, Beacon Hill, and down south. That's why I wanted to make sure it was accessible by light rail.”
The Comeback's plan is to cater to what Lovelady calls “the game crowd” with traditional sport-snacks (nachos, chicken wings, hot dogs) and team-appropriate lighting. Queer sports groups have already expressed interest in holding pre-game events at the bar, he says.
SoDo has often been a more affordable neighborhood for businesses compared to the rest of the city. But the relatively new transit connections have prompted prospective business owners to give the neighborhood a closer look.
What’s more, Plusquellec says, the relatively small amount of residential space reduces the risk of noise complaints from “neighborhood residents who maybe forgot that they moved into a nightlife area when they signed their lease.” Because most of the surrounding structures house daytime businesses, nightclubs are able to party without disturbing anyone’s sleep.
Building nightlife in SoDo isn’t just a boon for business owners — it’s helped producers and performers whose livelihood has been decimated by the pandemic.
“We really think about our local queer talent, many of whom rely on us and Supernova to sustain their monthly incomes,” Wesley Fruge, co-founder and executive director of Beauty Boiz, told The Stranger's Jas Keimig last month. “I think we need to rethink ‘gig labor’ at the policy level, but that starts getting into health insurance, guaranteed income, and so many other issues it makes my head spin…”
Comeback co-owners Lovelady and Fish hope that The Comeback can help sustain local queer performers. “I already had relationships with a lot of drag queens in the community,” he says. “Cookie Couture is going to be my programming manager. She'll be doing the bookings. ... And we'll continue on our tradition of bringing the stars from Ru Paul’s Drag Race.”
Last weekend, The Comeback opened its doors (now that it has some; supply-chain issues had held them up) for a pre-grand-opening soft launch. "The drag show was a blast and the stage is HUGE!" reports drag performer Old Witch. "My favorite part of the whole night was you saw the genuine excitement and the anticipation towards the end of the drag show—when everyone is floating high and the place flips to a dance club. It’s such a beautiful flow of human energy you don’t get really anywhere else other than a gay bar."
“I believe firmly that SoDo is the next arts and entertainment district for Seattle,” says Supernova’s Levine. He wants to see more murals in the area to enliven it and shift the perceptions of people who only know it for wholesale flooring warehouses. “That's what gets me excited. The more I see art going in, the more I'm certain people will want to conduct business that incorporates art.”
Plusquellec is focused on expanding accessibility, and has been in talks with SDOT about expanding its Night Owl service, particularly when the trains have to stop running. “I want to see if we can expand on that and add more routes,” he says, a conversation that largely depends on funding controlled by Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Council, as well as King County Metro.
“It’s all down to money and the budget,” Plusquellec says.
He also has his eye on a less visible aspect of SoDo’s popularity: DIY nightlife spaces, that is, someone deciding to throw a rave, renting a space, and inviting their friends for a night. He’s been working with the Seattle Fire Department to improve the safety of events like those, and worked with The Vera Project to create a program whereby event promoters could get a “safety kit” from the city with fire extinguishers, portable illuminated exit signs, flashlights, and Narcan kits.
Ensuring that nightlife thrives in all corners in the city isn’t just about leisure for Plusquellec, for business owners, and for the workers who do the labor of creating parties every night. “It’s a major identity for the city,” he says. “We keep these places thriving and support them [because they are] an economic driver… We need to be sure we are providing them with the resources they need to thrive and grow.”
That sentiment is echoed by Old Witch. "I am so glad this place exists," she says. "Floyd and John have really created something truly special and I can’t wait for next weekend!"