Before the pandemic, if you went to see live indoor music in White Center, there’s a good chance a roller skater would whip between you and the band mid-set. Maybe that band was Sandrider, a thundering Seattle stoner rock outfit. Maybe it was an Abba cover group.
After buying Southgate Roller Rink in 2011, Josh and Erin Rhoads slowly added live music (instead of the pop hits that usually dominate rink soundtracks). By 2019, Southgate functioned as White Center’s de facto indoor music venue, with concerts in the middle of the rink every Friday night, smaller shows in the back bar, and events like Pride Skate every so often. And those gatherings should return once it’s safe to do so, Josh says.
That shift toward queer and artistic nightlife is happening across the unincorporated suburb just south of West Seattle. The Lumber Yard, a gay bar, opened in 2017. So did the monster taproom Beer Star. An immense second location of Capitol Hill’s Unicorn was supposed to land in 2020, but has been delayed until, you know, a 15,000-square-foot bar can legally open. A second gay bar, the Swallow, opened in 2019 but closed permanently in 2020.
It’s been replaced by Boombox Bar, a space drenched in pink neon light. “We’re not explicitly just a gay bar, but we wanted to continue to make it an LGBTQ-friendly space,” owner Amy McCormack says. She’s heard from neighbors that White Center has long been a safe space; new businesses just make that more prominent. But as former arts neighborhoods like Fremont and Capitol Hill become bastions of tech wealth, some people are leaving the city for ’burbs nearby.
Of course, anytime you talk about development—new businesses, new nightlife—questions of gentrification arise. McCormack herself is new to the neighborhood (though she lives in adjacent West Seattle). She says she opened Boombox because she sees potential, but she’s wary of eroding the area’s rich diversity (the population is only around 40 percent white). You can still grab some of the best tacos in the region at Taqueria la Fondita alongside Vietnamese, Salvadorean, and Cajun food. “Some of me is a bit hesitant to say like, ‘Oh it’s the next Capitol Hill,’ for that reason,” McCormack says, “because I don’t want to see what happened in Capitol Hill happen there.”