The most joyful place to buy art in Seattle isn’t a gallery, a shop, or an art show. It’s not well-lit, and not everyone there is sober. But when it comes to pure appreciation for how art can fit into our daily lives, The Hideout has no equal.
The bar sits behind black windows in First Hill, a neighborhood better known for its emergency rooms and slick office towers than a bohemian vibe. When artist Greg Lundgren co-launched it in 2005, he and videographer Jeff Scott thought of it as a temporary installation of sorts, a fun project for a few years. Eighteen years later, it’s still going, and still one of the city’s hidden treasures. (Lundgren has since launched the Museum of Museums, among other projects).
The Hideout’s signature is the two broad walls that run the length of the bar, each filled with paintings neatly tiled like puzzle pieces. Currently more than 100 hang at the Hideout, with about a quarter part of the bar’s permanent collection. The rest are for sale.
“They wanted a bit of a divey vibe, with reused materials. It wasn’t polished and perfect,” says Jeremy Buben, who curates the Hideout’s art. The chandelier above gives it a bit of a rococo feel, while the green vinyl seats lean midcentury retro. And the sheer variety of paintings—still lifes and abstracts, darkly funny puns and deeply sincere portraits—make it feel like the funky living room of an eclectic art collector. Buben calls the collection “a little bit of everything.”
Bartenders don’t push the for-sale aspect on patrons, but they keep catalogs of the current art at the bar (it’s also online). The booklets list the prices for each, shockingly affordable for original art—right now the pieces range from $350 to $7,200. Prices are set by the local artists and hang on consignment, with the bar facilitating payment plans for buyers who need time to make it work. It’s a place that wants you to own art.
Not artsy? The place works just fine as a bar—in a neighborhood that has few great hangs. The Hideout’s claim is “no white plastic or energy drinks,” and the menu is a relaxed version of the cocktail standard. A bottle of beer isn’t out of place, nor is a drink mixed of fresh juices and with a name like Jules et Jim.
Nowhere else in Seattle’s art scene is a sense of humor so central. The Andy Warhol drink? That’s a cosmo with a complimentary Polaroid pic snapped by the bartender. At one time a vending machine sold sex toys and tiny pieces of art, and at another there was a confession booth. Currently a nonworking fortune teller machine (of the Big variety) sits in the back corner; Buben says it might end up operational at some point, or maybe not.
Though pieces come and go, Buben does a full rehang a few times a year, and the bar publishes a zine of art made at the Hideout. The bar will celebrate the latest refresh mid-August with a release party, but the best part of the joint is that every day captures the energy of a show’s opening night, the free-flowing community of an art walk. Art can be a lot of things, from important to serious, from thoughtful to tragic. The Hideout doesn’t forget that it can be all of those things without pretension.