Why Seattle Clubs Love the New Liquor License

They don’t have to deal with the city.

Two years ago, Mayor Nickels unleashed a storm of fury from nightclubs when he proposed that they be required to get a special license that would allow the city to shut them down if things got unruly. But Governor Christine Gregoire just signed into law a bill that would create a new state nightclub license—and the club industry is all over it. “It’s a positive development,” says Jerry Everard, owner of Neumos and other clubs. (Also see “Two-Tone Tommy” in this week’s issue.)

The license will be issued by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and will allow local jurisdictions to petition the board for restrictions on a club’s license—like a Good Neighbor Agreement, a document containing a long list of security measures that the city has been pushing on clubs for some time, much to their irritation. (See the infamous battle over the Blue Moon Tavern: “Full Moon Fever,” SW, June 14, 2006.) The Board wouldn’t write GNAs itself; local jurisdictions would do that, according to Rick Garza, the board’s deputy director. But he says clubs “have the option of coming forward to the Liquor Board and saying this Good Neighbor Agreement isn’t fair”—and the Board might very well agree.

“I would much rather have the Liquor Board deciding these issues than the city,” says Everard. Whereas clubs view the city with great wariness after an array of strong-arm tactics like the raid known as Operation Sobering Thought, they see the Board as “a neutral third party,” says lobbyist Tim Hatley, who testified in favor of Senate Bill 5367 on behalf of the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association.

The law also drops the current requirement that clubs serve food for at least five hours a day, one that Everard calls “a holdover from Prohibition.” It was such an incongruous and burdensome requirement for some establishments—whose raison d’etre, to be frank, was booze—that they met it by serving TV dinners.

In large part, though, the law is aimed at letting jurisdictions know just whom they’re dealing with, Garza says. Previously, the only option for clubs was to apply for a restaurant liquor license. A city might not realize from the applicant’s name that it had a club on its hands. This way, a city will know, and if it wants to ask for restrictions, the Board will hear it out.

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