The Garden of Allah
1213 First Avenue
Seattle’s first gay-owned bar (also one of the first in the country) was located at this downtown address from 1946 to 1956, in the basement of the Victorian-era Arlington hotel. The hotel sat midway between a gambling and red-light district at one end of First Avenue and an upper-class commercial district at the other.
The Garden of Allah, as the club was called (it had also been the name of a famous apartment complex in West Hollywood owned by Alla Nazimova), operated as a gay cabaret. From First Avenue, a guest descended a white marble staircase and slipped a $1 bill through a peephole for admittance. Inside, blue and pink lightbulbs provided a sensual ambience, and palm trees and stars stenciled on the walls gave the place a “Casbah” feeling. Tables were tightly packed in front of a stage, the centerpiece of which was a 1924 Wurlitzer pipe organ that accompanied every cabaret show (see photo, ca. 1948). The owners paid off the police to avoid raids, and an ever-present off-duty cop was stationed in the club to make sure that same-sex couples didn’t touch.
Drag entertainers were the highlight of the cabaret’s shows, and gay men, lesbians, and straight people alike made up the boisterous audiences. On opening night in 1946, the featured attraction was the Jewel Box Revue, the famous drag show that started touring clubs in 1939. Over the years, some of the Garden’s drag entertainers also performed striptease.
With a decline in interest in drag during the repressive 1950s, the Garden of Allah eventually closed. For a while, the space was used to store nuclear-attack rations. Later, it became a biracial rock club called House of Entertainment, where Jimi Hendrix once played. The hotel was razed in 1974. For more about the club, see Don Paulson and Roger Simpson’s excellent book, An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle.