Opened in December of 1973, the Leg was the first disco—straight or gay—in Seattle. Featuring a 1940s lounge decor including fake palms and neon lights, it was hugely popular, with lines that stretched around the block. In fact, the mostly gay “in crowd” often had to go to a special entrance at the back where names were listed in a Rol-O-Dex. Co-owner and namesake Shelley Bauman talked about the disco’s popularity in a 1976 Seattle Times column by Erik Lacitis:
- SHELLY: “Straight discos don’t have the capability or sensibility to put together something like this. We’ve been crowded the past nine months. Every night about 9:30pm, it’s like three Greyhound buses full of people descending on us. The word is just out that this is the place to come and dance. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t tell who’s straight and who is gay.”
From a historical standpoint, though, the most significant thing about the Leg was the fact that as the patrons entered the club, they were faced with a 4’x8’ sign that proclaimed:
- Shelly’s Leg is a GAY BAR provided for Seattle’s gay community and their guests.
Obviously, this was a radical departure from the taverns and baths of earlier decades. The sign is now in the permanent collection at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry.
Many people want to know how the disco got its name. The story goes like this: Shelly Bauman, one of the co-owners, was a wild and crazy straight woman who dreamed of opening a disco in Seattle with her friends. In the 1970 Bastille Day parade in Seattle, Shelly was riding on a float that featured an antique cannon that was planned to shoot confetti out over the crowd. Over the course of the parade, however, revelers had poured drinks down the cannon, congealing the confetti into a hard ball, and when the cannon finally fired, it took Shelly’s leg with it. She sued the City and three other parties, earning a $330,000 settlement – and she now had the money to open the disco. Finding a name for the disco proved difficult, but as Joe, another co-owner, told the History Project “this was the era of recreational pharmaceuticals” and one night the friends came up with a name that would immortalize what had earned them the money: Shelly’s Leg.