Monday, February 4, 2008

An Oral History of Pony

When you think dive bars, you think longevity. The older the better, right? The 50+ years behind it had a lot to do with everything that made my favorite Portland dive, the Paragon, great.

But the best dive I’ve ever been to existed for a mere five months—from June to November of 2007. It was something of an experiment—almost like an interactive set for a movie about Max’s Kansas City. Dubbed Pony, it was the least plastic place on Seattle’s Capital Hill for a shining moment. The bar was set up in a building slated for condoification. Everyone knew its expiration date would come quicker than the ones printed on the condoms in their pockets.

I spent three consecutive nights at Pony two weeks before it closed. Nothing compared to the first night when I walked in just after one as a show was winding down. I hardly said anything to anyone but merely marveled. The room was filled with young people ranging in weirdness from topless she-male to punk-ish gay hipster, but it was real, dangerous and fun. It was what kids like me who don’t grow up in big cities are promised by books and movies await us in the real night lives of the world. It was what, if the economic crash doesn't get here first, will cease to exist in the Pacific Northwest in the next five years.

Seattle Sound gave me the honor of being Pony’s unofficial historian. I compiled an oral history of the club for the year-end issue, which came out last month. Below are some of the best outtakes. (Read the article first if you want to know who these people are.)

Marcus on the difference between Pony and the various queer nights he has produced.
It was nice to not constantly be hustling DJ equipment, records, props, amplifiers, chicken costumes. Just keep it upstairs. There are very few people who would want to rent a space out for five months and put any degree of energy into it. It’s really not that crazy seeming to me or a lot of my friends because we’re accustomed to putting considerably large amounts of energy into one-night events. To actually be able to decorate a space and have a party go for six months instead of one night? That sounds like luxury. That sounds like forever.

…and on what’s happening to the neighborhood
The professionals who have come in and bought all these hideous condos are mostly 9-5ers so they don’t want any noise in the neighborhood even tough they supposedly moved here in the first place because there’s night life and it’s hip and cool. Well, life makes noise. So condos are going up and the residents move in and then immediately start calling the police about businesses that existed for years before the condo ever got there.

…and on why babies are the harbingers of the death of Capital Hill…
You definitely see an insane amount of baby strollers here now which I think is a really weird. I don’t think I had noticed how few children I had seen for like 10 years. I guess I don’t really notice because I don’t really care about children and then, bam! All of a sudden the line to get coffee in the morning is 3 times longer than it used to be because every other person has this SUV-sized baby carriage. And people have this sense of entitlement like everybody else is supposed to change their routine. People are like, “But don’t you see? We have a BABY!” I think there’s a time and place for that sort of thing and I don’t think this neighborhood is necessarily it.

Victoria explains what Pony was all about in anecdote form.
We get noise complaints from this lady who lives in one of the condos across the street all the time and it’s like, “Turn it up!”

There was some homeless guy who was trying to come in and I wasn’t gonna let him in. “What kind of bar is this anyway?” “Well, it’s a dirty, gay, punk bar.” And he’s like, “Why’d you have to say all those bad things about it?” “Well it is all those things! And that’s not necessarily bad, you know?”

Marcus relates the history of the pyramid of Crisco behind the bar.
The [enormous stack of] Crisco [behind the bar] came out of an idea that I had when I was completely wasted one night. I didn’t think anybody else was really taking me seriously when I suggested that, but then, lo and behold, it was actually funnier sober. Some of my fondest memories I’ll ever have of this place were that first week.

Samuel says Pony wasn’t perfect.
All these people [here at Pony] fit into the art fag, neo-bear gay retroism thing and that’s just sort of what I fell into. I used to go to Pho Bang when I was a kid. I used to watch Marcus perform [in drag].

In this town there aren’t a lot of young guys who are hip and into 70s porn and being slutty. I can legitimately say that I am one of the sleaziest young, hip guys. I have a lot of sex.

[Pony] had to be very deliberate. It wasn’t freeform. There was a vision of what would happen if there was gay porn all over the walls and you made it really divey and cheap and had a glory hole in the bathroom. I think that people expected this to be really sleazy and have sex in the bathrooms, but it only ended up half way there because it became campy. A lot of straight people would hang out in here because it was like, “Look at how ridiculously gay this is!” It was like people were going on a field trip.

The younger gays act like they like R Place and the other bars but I don’t think they really do. I think that’s just what’s there. [Pony] is definitely who the people who hang out there are. This is who Marcus is and this bar is basically Club Marcus.

But it gets straight people into this joke-full idea of being gay. I think it’s been sexual identity lubricant.

Sex in the bathroom! By Victoria.
One of our other fag hag friends has been doin’ it with guys in the bathrooms. It’s like, “Hey, tell Kelly to stop fucking guys in the bathroom!” But when it’s two gay guys, we’re like, “Oh it’s so cute. Can we videotape?

Can we expect to see a Pony II, Marcus?
I never really plan that far ahead. Things are getting torn down at such an alarming rate now, it’s hard to predict what will be appropriate real estate for any bar, but especially a bar like this. Every time you turn around, there’s another notice of proposed land action sign. So I think finding another space that isn’t going to get torn down in a year or six months is a pretty daunting task.

And finally, literally everyone I asked at Pony said their favorite night at the club was when the Chromatics and Glass Candy played last August.

Victoria: It was just so hot in here but [Glass Candy] is the perfect music to listen to with beads of sweat, you know? We were dancing and jumping on the booths and stuff. They even said that it was like their favorite show they ever played.

Marcus: It was this really awesome, hazy, dark dance party. Everybody getting really wasted and letting loose, but there was definitely a real dark quality about it.

Seth: Downstairs here gets very, very warm especially when there’s a lot of people down there and that night it was so hot. But no one really cared because the music was so good. Me and a row of people all stood on this bench here with our shirts off just jumping up and down with our eyes closed. It was a euphoric.

Photo by Ron Henry.


  1. Oh, Pony, how I miss you. The broken free air hockey, the filthy bathrooms, the smudged black-and-white cowboy porn...we weren't together long, but it was sheer magic while it lasted.

  2. sounds pretty fun. Cool post