Nightlife Orbs

Sapphic Seattle Is Reinventing the Lesbian Bar

These lavish club nights for queer femmes are a spiritual successor to gay house parties of yore.

By Sophie Grossman August 9, 2022 Published in the Fall 2022 issue of Seattle Met

The wristwear says it all at these popups.

"Are we feeling friendly or flirty tonight?”

A giggle ripples through the group. They exchange impish looks. Finally one partygoer, wearing a slick of patent leather and a headband adorned with the curled ram’s horns that mark an Aries, delivers the verdict on this May night.

“Flirty.”

Equipped with neon pink wristbands announcing their choice, they stride down a narrow, mirrored hallway at Supernova, a nascent nightclub in SoDo, bathed in strobing white light. The throb of bass grows. Beyond a door inlaid with a psychedelic 7Up soda logo, youthful figures in cat ears and iridescent mermaid leggings and glitter—so much glitter—bob beneath a phalanx of disco balls that scatter motes of pink and purple light. An enormous winged unicorn statue rears, mid-flight, from the high ceiling.

In the shadow of the stage, where a dancer is folding herself into impossible shapes around a towering pole, stands the brainchild behind it all. Hannah Balducci works in legal claims by day and started Sapphic Seattle last year, hosting themed parties and club nights such as “What’s Your Sign?”.

In a city where more than 10 percent of residents identify as LGBTQ, Balducci found a frustrating lack of nightlife options created with queer femmes in mind. So she decided to throw her own “gay house party,” issuing invites via Tinder, Bumble, and other dating apps to people in the area who identified as sapphic, a deliberately amorphous term that can apply to anyone attracted to women and femmes, as long as they aren’t a cisgender, heterosexual man.

The idea has quickly spread beyond the swipe sphere through word-of-mouth whispers and social media shares. The Sapphic Seattle account on TikTok has amassed roughly 50,000 followers and counting. Tickets to events at Supernova—and occasionally Neighbors and other queer-friendly venues—now sell out within hours. Clearly, Balducci and her fellow organizers have tapped into a demand not adequately met by the city’s singular (yes, singular) lesbian bar, the Wildrose in Capitol Hill. 

There has been much hand-wringing about the decline of the neighborhood lesbian watering hole over the past few decades, but according to the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project, those spaces never held the central significance for queer women that they did for their male counterparts. Because they had limited disposable income and often weren’t allowed in bars or restaurants unaccompanied, queer femmes kept their social realms private and temporary. In these circles, popups aren’t a trend, but a centuries-old tradition.

Even if Seattle boasted more than one permanent nightlife space for queer femmes, many Gen Zers and millennials don’t identify with the lesbian bars of their foremothers; they crave more inclusive spaces built to accommodate the fluid currents of gender and sexuality. That’s why Balducci uses the term sapphic: “It focuses more on the external relationship than it does on internal gender identity,” on allegiance and affinity rather than labels.

On that night in May, a feeling of kinship is as thick and warm in the air as the crowd’s collective body heat. “Someone jokingly said that in five years I’m going to have hundreds of wedding invitations addressed to me,” Balducci quips. The parties have filled a greater and more immediate void for attendees like Varsha Nandula, who now helps organize them. “I hadn’t found safety,” she says, “before I found Sapphic Seattle.” 

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