611 Tavern

611 2nd Avenue

Contemporary photo of 611 location
614 Tavern contemporary location
Neon sign for Six Eleven Tavern, ca. 1962
Advertisement for the 611 and 614 Tavern in The Tea Room Gazette
Pizza Grotto, later occupied by the 614 Tavern, October 1959
Storefronts on 600 block of 1st Ave., July 1958

Bars have long played a vital role as gathering spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, and one of the most popular in Pioneer Square was the 611 Tavern (1962-2003). The 611 was co-owned by John Chadwick and MacIver Wells; Wells also operated the Madison Tavern, a downtown bar popular with lesbians. For the 611, Chadwick and Wells transformed a once-derelict tavern by outfitting the space with crystal chandeliers. Red and gold drapes covered the windows and blocked passersby from peering in, a necessary calculation in the early 1960s. A neon sign hung above the front door. But what defined the space was the long deck that ran down one side and the mirrors that lined both walls. A man in the bar could stand on the raised floor and, by looking in a mirror, catch sight of another man standing somewhere else.

Almost all the 611’s customers were gay man, and all of them were prohibited from dancing together in the 1960s. For that to change, Wells needed permission from the police. He was denied, presumably because men were already dancing together elsewhere, not to mention the women dancing at Wells’s Madison Tavern. But Wells persisted, and eventually the police relented, but under one condition: Men could dance at the 611, but only if Wells bought another neighborhood bar so the police would have a place to play cards.

It was an audacious demand, but police held the upper hand. For decades, owners of LGBTQ+ establishments (as well as those popular with people of color) had been paying off cops. Ostensibly, this was for protection: Police on the take would ensure outsiders didn’t harass customers. But in truth, the payoff system was bribery, and officers lined their pockets with weekly infusions of cash. Wells was already making payoffs for the Madison Tavern and the 611, so he agreed to buy a new bar for police to play pinochle. The new space was one block west, on 1st Avenue, and was called the 614 Tavern (1965-1972). For a while, the cops used it as a pinochle purlieu on Sundays (the era’s blue laws stipulated bars had to be closed on Sundays), but by the end of the 1960s, the era of police payoffs would come crashing down – thanks in part to owners of several LGBTQ+ spaces.

The 611 space is now vacant, and the 614 is the entrance to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. Both the 611 and 614 neon signs are the property of MOHAI.

From the site of the 611, proceed down 2nd Avenue to the Smith Tower.

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