The stains on Laki Kazakos' blue T-shirt give him away as a hard-working, do-it-yourself small-business owner. He's spent his morning unloading supplies from the back of a truck into Georgia's Greek Restaurant, a clean, well-lighted slice of Athens that looks out on 85th Street in North Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. He did take a break at one point to conduct his daily ritual of the past three months, calling the Washington State Liquor Control Board to ask if he was allowed to reinstate his biweekly music nights.
A year ago, Kazakos invited bouzouki player Hank Bradley and guitarist/ violinist Cathie Whitesides to perform traditional songs in the corner of the white-walled dining area that expands out from the Greek deli Laki and his mother, Georgia, opened in 1993. "We wanted to share our culture, the music and dancing, with our customers and friends," Kazakos says with an accent that's stuck despite 30 years in America.
In December, he received a call at home from one of his employees; a liquor board agent had come to Georgia's and said the music must stop. The liquor license for Georgia's allowed Kazakos to sell beer and wine, but it didn't give permission to host "added activities"—code for live music and dancing. Reluctantly, Kazakos told Bradley that his bouzouki was no longer welcome, though the regulation struck the Greek immigrant as absurd.
"It's ridiculous," he says. "We don't have strippers in here."
In the eyes of liquor board agents, he may as well have invited exotic dancers to shake it to the tune of "Zorba." A restaurant or club with a liquor license must apply for an "added-activities" permit with the liquor board according to a law passed in 1937, less than a decade after the close of Prohibition. Because the law stipulates that the liquor board's permission is dependent on the approval of local authorities, Seattle establishments must apply for two separate permits. (Seattle has an informal policy of granting permission for "added activities" based on neighborhood input, past records, and other factors.) Without "added activities" approval, it's illegal for a licensed restaurant to host any type of live entertainment.
The bureaucratic web this system has created would make a spider jealous, but it's the reasoning behind the law that irks Kazakos and a growing number of Seattle business owners and lawmakers. Why, they ask, is the Liquor Control Board involved in regulating live music?
"It's important for us to know what's going on in an establishment," responds liquor board spokesperson Gigi Zenk.
The liquor board's curiosity aside, its policies about music are sounding more and more off-key. The threat of losing its liquor license forced the Speakeasy Cafe, which served alcohol in an all-ages environment, to stop booking live music, depriving the city of one of its few avant-garde venues. In reaction, City Council member Richard Conlin wrote to the liquor board with a passionate plea for an exception in the case of the Speakeasy. He received no response.
He now says it's time to rethink the liquor board's policies. "It's clear that the alcohol is the problem, not the music," quips Conlin. "I would like to see us engage in a serious dialogue addressing the whole way society relates with alcohol."
Kazakos, who says he was exposed as a youth in Athens to live music in an environment where adults were drinking, fervently agrees. "To this day, I remember going with my mom and dad to tavernas," he says, noting that this is the Greek equivalent of restaurants, "and listening to music, dancing, and eating the food with friends and children. When we played, the adults socialized. When they danced, we danced with them. That's how I grew up. I didn't become a bad person. It taught me values."
In a rare exception to its policies, the Liquor Control Board recently ended the three months of waiting and approved Georgia's for "added activities" with all-ages interaction allowed; Bradley and Whitesides can begin strumming their lively folk tunes at 6pm, three hours earlier than the liquor board usually allows. More exhausted than exuberant, Kazakos still feels the laws need to be changed.
The City Council and the Liquor Control Board aren't proposing severing the link between "added activities" and alcohol, but both are in the process of streamlining. The council's Public Safety Committee is drafting a new "added activities" law based on a task force's recommendations. Sally Clark, an aide to committee chair Tina Podlodowski, says the result will mean less headaches for business owners. The liquor board will soon hold hearings to assess the "added activities" policy as well. "Times have changed, and we've acknowledged that," notes the liquor board's Zenk.
But the whole discussion will be moot if Seattle attorney David Osgood has his way. Representing the dance club Jersey's All-American Sports Bar in a suit against the liquor board and the city of Seattle, Osgood last week filed a motion for summary judgment that would declare any "added activities" ordinance unconstitutional. Requiring extra permission to host live music or dancing, the motion alleges, is an example of prior restraint.