SEATTLE—After years of trying to deny the obvious and fit in with other downtown establishments, area bar Mad Hatters finally came out as gay this week, shocking hundreds of residents who thought they knew the Seattle tavern.

Mad Hatters owner Greg Peterson, who delivered the brave announcement to friends, family members, and regular patrons Friday night, said that admitting his bar was gay was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.

"From the very first day we opened, I could sense there was something different about my bar," Peterson said. "At first, I thought the paisley wallpaper and infused-vodka martinis was just a phase the business was going through—that whatever was happening inside Mad Hatters would eventually pass. But it never did. That feeling never went away."

Added Peterson, "We're here. We're queer. We offer excellent happy-hour specials every night of the week."

While he now feels a tremendous sense of relief, Peterson said that he spent the first few years managing Mad Hatters the way he thought other "normal" bars were run. Large television screens broadcasting football games were hung from the walls, Guinness and Budweiser were served by the pint, and in 2003, a weekly Ladies' Night was awkwardly instituted. Still, Peterson said, everything Mad Hatters tried felt forced and unnatural.

Relieved patrons felt free to express themselves at the recently outed bar Friday night.

"The more I tried to fight the truth, the more I realized just how different Mad Hatters was from those Irish pubs and sports bars down the street," Peterson said. "I can't tell you the number of dartboards I bought thinking it would change the types of people we were attracting. It's embarrassing, but I even considered changing our name to Stallone's at one point."

"To think of all those years I refused to get a karaoke machine because of how it might make us look," Peterson continued.

When asked why he waited so long to have his bar come out, Peterson said he was afraid people would treat Mad Hatters differently once they discovered the truth. In addition, Peterson reportedly worried that the news might make some customers uncomfortable or even embarrassed to be seen around the bar.

Despite his worries, Mad Hatters has so far received overwhelming support from neighboring establishments, with representatives from the Green Apple Diner calling the decision courageous, and managers from a nearby Rite Aid claiming they're "totally cool with whatever Mad Hatters wants to be, or is, or whatever."

In fact, many residents who have known the bar since their high school days said that Mad Hatters' announcement came as no surprise.

"It's about time," said University of Washington sophomore Dale Stephenson. "I don't know who Mad Hatters thought it was fooling, but I'm glad the whole charade is finally over. Seriously, that place was so gay, it practically had a sign out front."

Stephenson, who cited the bar's interest in fashionable decor, its tidy appearance, and the fact that Madonna was always playing on the jukebox as "dead giveaways," wasn't alone in his suspicions.

"I've only been to Mad Hatters a couple of times, but I always got the feeling that something weird was going on there," resident Frank Klein said. "One time I saw two guys kissing in the bathroom, but I somehow convinced myself that they were just drunk. Now that I think about it, though, the whole thing makes perfect sense."

Since coming out, Mad Hatters has inspired other closeted businesses to reveal the truth about themselves, including an after-hours nightclub, two local parks, and 13 area hair salons. While proud of the difference his bar has made, Peterson said that his newly liberated gay business has been hurt by those closest to it.

"As long Mad Hatters is under my roof, it'll do as I say," said financial investor and building landlord Michael Weinstein. "Either that damn bar gets its act together, or it can pack up and move out. No property of mine is going to turn out queer."

Although many of the bars regulars transitioned easily into the new atmosphere, some have refused to have anything to do with Mad Hatters since the announcement.

"Goddamn gay bars taking over everything," former patron Dennis Averill said upon hearing the news. "All I want is a normal bar where I can get a beer, watch the game, hang out with no one but men, and maybe get jerked off by a 19-year-old twink in a Dolce & Gabbana tank top before last call. Is that so much to ask?"