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The CornerStone of Seattle's Nightlife Triangle

 (Photo: Andie DeRoux, featuring Nicole Stone (right), Kitty Kitty Bang Bang (left)

"My story is part of what made me want to open Kremwerk," says Nicole Stone. "I wanted to create a place that was safe for anyone to come to and feel like they could be themselves."

So begins the story of Kremwerk, which this spring celebrated its first anniversary. In this short time, it has established itself as one of the most unique and vital venues of Seattle nightlife, hosting major international artists and recurring club nights that draw Seattle's most creative bon vivants and club kids. When I sat down with Stone at the club, I was baffled to realize that it had only been a year. It's already difficult to imagine Seattle without Kremwerk, especially as the city changes and grows.

"During my transition, I struggled with it, because I thought it was too butch for me to be in that role. I tried being a hairdresser. I tried some other directions, and I always come back to building, what I know and do."

"People didn't take me seriously. When I transitioned, I would go interview for a job, and clients would tell me, 'You have a lot of great ideas, Nicole. We can hire you as the designer, but not the contractor.' That was deflating, but now I have embraced it as another challenge to give me the drive. All of my work now comes from referrals. Clients go into a house or a restaurant I have made, and they know when they hire me that they are getting a designer and a contractor, someone who is very proficient in their career. My crew has worked with me for years. They have no questions about who I am."

When it came time to build Kremwerk, Stone could be DIY about the creation of the club and have full creative control over its aesthetic, which is a seamless blend of industrial and plush. Concrete columns and floors give it a solid, cavernous feeling, accented with comfortable seating and smart light design. The result is a space that has an alluring underground vibe that is still safe and accessible. It's clearly the result of a savvy designer/builder whose ability to create spaces stems from a deep understanding of how they work.

"I've been in the nightclub business off and on throughout my life. I've bartended in nightclubs in D.C. and San Francisco and Seattle. When I was in D.C. I worked in these large elaborate nightclubs, but we'd also take a train up to NYC and party there, so it was something I have always been involved with—both sides of the bar."

"Through my design/build company, I've built many restaurants and bars throughout Seattle over the years, in addition to residential and commercial properties, so this is just something I do—and that I like to do. I like to create spaces."

Kremwerk's space has recently expanded, just in time for Seattle PrideFest. Stone has built out a spacious outdoor patio with its own full bar. The character of the entire club is altered by this. Guests who want to take a breather from the intensity of the dance floor now have a more social space to talk and take in views of the skyline...while those views last.

 

(Photo: DiscoDroppings)

 

Kremwerk is in an ill-defined, but central section of Seattle, between Capitol Hill to the east, Downtown to the south, Belltown to the west and Cascades to the north. Though the nonstop construction and demolition is exasperating during the day, there is a special excitement and energy in being among these major projects. Because Kremwerk is not part of a larger strip, sharing a block with only one other nightlife establishment, Kremwerk is already something more of a destination, a place "you ought to know" if you are in the know.

It won't be off the map for long, though. The odd mix of low-rise buildings, car dealerships and repair shops have largely been swept away. In their place are new high-rises and some very large pits, which are fast becoming the foundations of new commercial and residential towers. That includes the lot immediately adjacent to Kremwerk. This will become one of two forty-story, residential complexes with restaurants and retail spaces at street level. Adjacent to these will be another office complex of over twenty stories. If all goes according to plan with construction and if these buildings fill with the continuing in flux of new residents, "In two years, there will be two thousand people living next to Kremwerk."

This, too, will change the makeup and nature of Kremwerk, but Stone has fought too hard and too long let it lose its status as a haven for individuality. A life in which one never questions all facets of one's identity is a life unexamined, and LGBTQ people—especially trans people—bear the brunt of anger and confusion from those who have never asked such questions of themselves. When these questions are relentlessly foisted upon one, it can be brutal, but Stone feels she is stronger for it, and she is seeing the world around her become wiser over time.

"I think the politics and the environment have changed enough that it's okay for people to be themselves, more and more—to be out. My intention with being out was to give other people the courage to be out as well, to recognize their own strength to be themselves."

"The youth coming up don't have the same hurdles. It's not easy, but it's a different world. I might feel a pang of jealousy, when I think about how much I had to struggle, but then I think about the strength that I have now as a transwoman because it was such a struggle." She pauses, and then says with passion and love, "And I feel so fortunate for my family, my kids. I have kids because of those same struggles. If I succeeded in transitioning when I was in high school—and growing up in a military family, that wasn't an option for me—I wouldn't have my kids, and I can't imagine what life would be like without them."

Despite all this, Stone identifies a number of interpersonal challenges that trans people face. We might like to think of nightlife—being so pageant and artistic—as also being progressive, but this isn't always the truth, even in the gay community.

"When I opened Kremwerk, I didn't come out right away. I get into situations that make me feel like I have to wear a scarlet letter and identify myself as a transwoman to everyone. I have these relationships with people—whether it's professional or personal—and if they don't know up front about my past and they don't ask, and a year passes they seem shocked that I haven't told them."

(Photo: Keith Johnson, Nicole Stone (left), Julia Camp (right)

"As a transwoman, a lot of people will judge you. It doesn't matter whether it's women or men, there is some level of judgment, and I can embrace that and try to open people's minds, because I know it doesn't affect who I am in myself. I have come out and felt some rejection and shame that put me back in a state of not being true to myself, but my core identity has always been there."

"When I finally transitioned again to the place where I am now, I started dating again and ended up in a relationship that I would classify as very..." she pauses and laughs. "...heterosexual? So I came out, and then got into this thing that put me back in the closet. How bizarre is that? And then I had this venue and I was doing all these events, and I had a moment where I thought to myself, 'Well, wait a minute... Why am I acting this out?' So I felt like I had to come out again."

A prevailing misogyny that affects women of all backgrounds—a general hatred of everything feminine or feminized—is at the root of a lot of these issues, including transphobia and homopphobia, and the club scene as a whole can be very masculine. This goes back to jazz clubs, prohibition era bars and taverns where a female presence was entertainment for a mostly male clientele. As part of the larger culture, nightlife continues to reflect a degree of male dominance, including stigmas regarding female DJs and proprietors, and sometimes hostility toward non-gender-conforming people. As stated above, this is evident even in the gayborhood of Seattle now, where a mainstream nightlife has become the overwhelming draw of the area.

Stone has from the beginning cultivated an atmosphere where this sort of menace is made to feel so unwelcome, it almost filters itself. I note that it has a vibe like Berghain in that regard, and Stone agrees and says it was an inspiration to her when creating Kremwerk. The programming reflects this, too, including nights devoted to cutting-edge underground dance music, pageant nights of avant-garde drag (Cathedral, ArtHaus) and genderfuck (THEY), Kiss Off (girl night), as well as underwear parties, including one just before Pride. All of Pride Week is full of diverse, queer-focused programming, including "Gurl, Bye," a night of queer hip-hop artists.

 

Among recurring events, there is also a goth night called Sin, which takes its name from a clothing boutique that Stone founded and ran in the 90s. Most of the clothing was designed in house and was sold in eight other stores around the country. (She even sold Sin clothes under a different label to Nordstrom.) She lists this as another way that she was able to be herself at a time when she had not been able to fully transition and was looking for things to do outside of construction. She had an innate talent for both, it seems.

"It's fun that we're bringing it back, giving it another life. I will bring a lot of my Sin fashion to Sin night."

"What I like about design is the same thing that I like about creating spaces: It constantly evolves and changes."

This reflects in Stone's hands-on approach to the programming and the space, which she continues to expand and refresh as she goes. She has ambitions to add more bars, and "in a perfect world" she says she would love to transform the whole building, but that is further down the line and she is taking incremental steps to make sure that Kremwerk has longevity. Beyond all that, the key will always be good music.

 

 (Photo: Nark Magazine, Anton Bomb (left), Brian Lyons (right)

"I love to dance. It's what drives me to do Kremwerk, and I love all sorts of music as long as it makes me shake my butt. I feel like I have some deep goth roots in me, but when I was in D.C. it was all House. That scene was just starting, and I could dance all night to that. I still can."

 

(Photo: The Stranger, Austin Stone & Nicole Stone)

 

"I run Kremwerk with my son. It's wonderful that I get to do this with him, and he has a different perspective than I do. I would do seven nights queer, but we share our perspectives in the club and it's a good balance for us. It gives us the opportunity to bring a lot of talent to Seattle, these amazing performers who come here and interact with the scene coming up here. If you've ever come to a Motornight here, you know it doesn't get any rawer than that—bringing up electronica, some of which is being made right here in Seattle. There is quite a scene here."

 

(Photo: Nark Magazine, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang) 

Despite the ills that Seattle faces because of its rapid growth (displaced communities, nightmarish traffic, etc), this growth is necessary if Seattle wants to become a truly international and worldly destination. Having lived in other hubs, Stone is more sanguine about it than some.

"I'm an advocate for growth. I think it brings diversity. The more people that move into the city, the larger and better the community can be. I just see opportunity."

 

(Photo: capitolhillseattle.com)

 

There is no doubt that, as in so many other cities experiencing fast growth, a side-effect can be a more homogenized appearance to the city because of how drab and cookie-cutter new, quick construction often is, but the newcomers may contain a universe of their own, and from our museums to our playhouses to Kremwerk, Seattle's creative venues will help reveal the wisdom and creativity here in new and exciting ways. Stone herself is an exemplar of one who has many innate talents and has the ability to see things from many angles, and this comes in no small part from her experience as a trans woman.

"I can see both sides," she says, then laughs lightly. "It's been a while, but I can still see from both sides. And being out has opened my heart." She gets a mischievous look. "It's still shocking to me that I opened this place when I was in the closet."

That's in the past, and the future is bright, and all the more so now that Pride Week is upon us. Kremwerk will have its own float during the Pride Parade in Downtown on the last Sunday of June.

"The plan is to start the float at Kremwerk, go through the parade, then come back here. During Pride Weekend, the club will be open day and night." She smiles. "It's going to be an interesting three days."

It seems Stone never has an uninteresting day, though. We are all evolving as we go through life, but Stone is more aware than most of her own evolution and her strongest convictions. Compassion, savvy and talent have served her well in creating spaces, but I think it is her balance of adaptability and perseverance that comes through most of all in the space at Kremwerk, which in turn inspires others to seek their own identity and which—I hope—allows this new institution to only grow over time, for the benefit of a diverse community in a city that is also still finding itself.

-Article by Trenton Flock

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