Olympians are fond of saying that they don't have a gay neighborhood -- because the entire city is gay. Much of the city's LGBT presence stems from ?ber-liberal Evergreen State College, attracting left-of-mainstream types since it was founded in 1967. Kurt Cobain penned many of Nirvana's songs here; the two-thirds queer band Sleater-Kinney is named for a road that runs through the city. In the last few years, Olympia has attracted older, more established queer artists seeking the counterculture that cities like Seattle and San Francisco have lost to yuppification. They're sprucing up the streets, but keeping the bohemian bent.
This alternative atmosphere is especially prevalent around the city's core hangout, Fourth and Fifth avenues, where tattoo parlors, neon signs, and art-house cinemas live in funky harmony with the early-20th-century stone masonry and cast-iron awnings of the downtown district, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The result is a frontier town?hipster vibe that's uniquely Northwestern.
1. Caff? Vita
124 Fourth Ave. East
Smack in the middle of downtown, this chic little coffee shop is a geographically perfect starting point for the workday or a night out. Subdued lighting and a gentle indie-pop soundtrack promote journal writing, brooding, or checking out the nearly always attractive clientele. No wonder the staff calls it a "veritable queer alcohol-free pickup place."
2. State Theater
202 Fourth Ave. East
Harlequin Productions renovated this 1949 art moderne-style movie house in 1998, transforming it into a 212-seat live theater. Each season the ambitious company produces unconventional treatments of classics, new dramas, and obscure modern plays, many with queer themes. Upcoming productions include The Elephant Man and Bat Boy: The Musical.
3. Last Word Books
211 Fourth Ave. East
There are things far rarer than a tattered copy of A Boy's Own Story in this vintage bookstore -- it houses one of the country's only zine libraries. Don't miss the many fabulously weird LGBT zines for a glimpse into pre-Internet alternative media, or the collection of racy pulp fiction that predates Stonewall.
4. Jake's on 4th
311 Fourth Ave. East
Olympia's only gay club draws almost as many straight people as it does gays. The reason? It's fun as hell. Dancing to Rihanna? Check. Grooving to "Virgin"-era Madonna? Check. Inexpensive, strong drinks? Check. Everyone arrives late and dances until last call in the deliciously dark space.
5. Darby's Caf?
211 Fifth Ave. S.E.
An enormous poster from the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye greets diners at Olympia's favorite breakfast joint, setting a campy-kitsch tone that also includes a heaping helping of Wizard of Oz memorabilia. But it's Darby's eco twist on decadent diner standards that really draws people: Most ingredients are locally sourced and organic, and many dishes can be made vegan.
6. The Mark
407 Columbia St. S.W.
Part high-end restaurant, part fine-arts gallery, this minimalist yet warm space draws Olympia's most sophisticated queer crowd. Foodies feast on the rustic Italian-Spanish menu while art connoisseurs revel in avant-garde exhibits -- the gallery's non-commission status allows it to show pieces normally consigned to museums.
"Olympia is all about the outdoors. Rent a bike downtown from Olympic Outfitters and make sure to ride along Puget Sound."
--Geoff Watland, Olympia