Golden Horseshoe Tavern

207 2nd Avenue S

Photo courtesy Titania DeBell
The Golden Horseshoe, interior
Handbill for the Golden Horseshoe
Tivoli Movie Theatre, later occupied by The Golden Horseshoe at 207 2nd Ave. S., Seattle.

Remember the first stop on the tour, the 611 Tavern? Remember how police told the 611’s co-owner that men couldn’t dance there because they were already dancing other places? One of those places was the Golden Horseshoe Tavern. Often called the Shoe, it opened as Seattle was preparing to host the Century 21 Exposition, better known as the Seattle World’s Fair. Close to 10 million visitors passed through in 1962, and surely some were gay. Maybe a few stepped into the Shoe. If so, they would’ve seen amateur drag shows and theatrical productions that changed every two weeks. But much like his colleague at the 611, Golden Horseshoe co-owner Joe McGonagle had also wondered: Why couldn’t men have a place to dance together?

The Shoe transformed from a social bar into a dance parlor by altering the layout and constructing a dance floor. But most important was obtaining police approval – and slipping them some cash. At the Golden Horseshoe, owners handed over $50 a week, along with paying $15 a night on both Friday and Saturday to hire a police officer: Close to $4,200 a year just so men could dance.

By then, the FBI already knew cops were putting the squeeze on bar owners because MacIver Wells, co-owner of the 611, had tipped them off. In 1958, Wells had been one of several bar owners who won a court injunction preventing police from questioning bar customers unless there was “good cause” for an investigation. An FBI agent contacted Wells, and Wells agreed to keep paying cops and tracking the transactions. McGonagle, Wells, and other bar owners paid the cops (and Wells kept records) for years, but in September 1965, Wells pressed the FBI agent to release the information. There wasn’t much the agent could do since federal laws weren’t broken. The following year, Wells turned to The Seattle Times, where he connected with reporters John Wilson and Marshall Wilson. It took months, but eventually Wells helped the reporters find cops playing cards in a tavern one Sunday night when they should’ve been on their beats. In early 1967, the newspaper ran a front-page story, followed by one on the FBI’s investigation of payoffs and another using information from an unnamed source (Wells) detailing the illegal activity. The payoff scheme crumbled.

And LGBTQ+ people danced with joy.

The old Golden Horseshoe had been a teriyaki restaurant for years, but as of October 2022 the building was for sale.

Continue south on 2nd to S Jackson Street. Our next stop is just around the corner at 210 S Jackson.

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