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Monday, August 6, 2007

Westneat Goes Clubbing

posted by on August 6 at 16:04 PM

Seattle Times’ columnist Danny Westneat hit the clubs this weekend. He wanted to see for himself just how bad things are in, as he puts it, “Seattle’s Bermuda Triangle of nightlife.” And for most of the evening things were calm. But at 1:37 in the morning…

…all hell breaks loose.

In Belltown Billiards, about 100 people are dancing and downing last-call shots when bright lights come on and the “push out” begins. That’s when every bar closes and empties onto the street to make the state-ordered 2 a.m. closing.

A fight erupts in a dark parking lot at Western and Blanchard. A man throws a beer bottle at another man, who rushes him.

Up the street it’s worse. A mini-rumble starts in the push out from the most jammed club, the See Sound Lounge. A man is body-slammed into a 10-foot window fronting a haute cuisine restaurant, Mistral. A waterfall of glass showers down on the wrestling men, the sidewalk, the street.

The men bolt. The crowd gets volatile, taunting and shoving. A bouncer tells me later that someone pulled a gun.

Westneat wonders whether later closings times—or staggered closing times, or no closing times at all—might help alleviate the problem. Most Seattle clubbers don’t start heading until after 11:30 these days. That leaves at best two hours for drinking, dancing, and hooking up. When last call rolls around people start “drinking against the clock,” pounding one or two more back before the lights come up and security starts shoving everyone out on to the streets at the exact same time. Most clubbers are drunk and few are sorted and ready to head home.

Westneat points to London as a positive example of later closing times. After being forced to close at 11 P.M. for decades all the pubs in the UK can now legally serve drinks 24 hours a day. Alcohol-related assaults down by 15 percent, Westneat writes.

But most of the news coming out of the UK makes the new 24-hour drinking rules look like a disaster. It pains me to link to these stories because I would like to see later or staggered closing times myself. But the conservative London Timesreports…

Ministers hoped that staggered opening hours and later closing times introduced by the 2003 Licensing Act would limit offences committed by the drunken crowds that surged onto the streets at the traditional 11pm closing time. But a report published by the Home Office last week shows that many of the troubles have merely been postponed.

Crime is certainly down at the old closing time. In the year after November 2005, when the changes were introduced, there were 3,523 fewer offences of violence, disorder or criminal damage between 9pm and midnight. But in the hours between midnight and 6am the number of offences rose by 13,852. The bright spot, according to the Home Office, is a 5% drop in serious violent crime during the night.

Says the panicky Telegraph

Gordon Brown has ordered a review of 24-hour drinking laws following concern that it is leading to binge drinking and more alcohol-related violence….

A Home Office report last week disclosed that offences of assault, criminal damage and harassment between 3am and 6am rose sharply in the 12 months following the reforms.

Ministers had argued that staggered and later closing times would reduce crime by avoiding the traditional 11pm rush on to the streets, which often led to violence.

Researchers at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital found that the number of alcohol related visits to the accident and emergency department trebled after 24-hour drinking laws were introduced in the capital.

The Guardian finds a little good news…

Statistics published last week showed a small increase in violent disorder, criminal damage and harassment committed between 6pm and 6am. A study at St Thomas’ hospital in London also recorded an increase in violent crime linked to the relaxed licensing laws.

It has also been argued that 24-hour drinking makes it easier for the police to handle drink-related violence as it is no longer concentrated all at one time as drinkers leave pubs.

But we don’t have to go with either 2 A.M. closing times or 24-hour drinking. Staggered closing times might be a better idea—a mix of 2 A.M. and 4 A.M. bars—or allowing clubs to stay open after they stop serving alcohol, so clubbers can stay and dance it off, hang out, and leave when they’re ready and, perhaps, a bit soberer.

But if you want to argue for later closing times, or no closing times, it might be best to look for examples other than the UK.

RSS icon Comments


This idea was brought up during the Nightlife License proposal i.e. the later closing times.

The thing about 2AM is that, while this may work during the weekdays, it's a disaster on Friday and Saturday nights. There needs to be arbitrary closing times (or none at all) at the descretion or choice of the individual clubs, so that "2Am" doesn't become this feared time of night where people might be more itchy about walking around certain parts of town, or trying to call a cab, which is near impossible at 2am on Fri and Sat nights.

London is a bad example because the difference between good and bad drunks there are extreme, for whatever reason. (Not unlike NYC.) Choose another European country for a better comparison.

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | August 6, 2007 4:11 PM

How about requiring bars to remain open for an hour after last call?

Posted by elswinger | August 6, 2007 4:30 PM

What about letting the bars/clubs choose when they close? Wouldn't some naturally stay open while others close earlier?

Posted by idea | August 6, 2007 4:30 PM

I like the idea of staggered closing times and it works well in Lisbon, Portugal. I lived in a neighborhood that had 6 bar/restaurants; four of them lined up next to each other. Of the four next to each other, two served until 2 am, one served until 4 am, and one served until 5 am. Around the corner from there were 2 other bars - one closed at 2 am and opened at 6am, the other closed at 6 am. Basically, if you wanted to, you could drink 24 hours, but you would have to bar-hop. What was great was the availabilty of taxis home at 2 (or 3 or 4) in the morning because people left when they were ready, not when the government told them to. Also, in the same block, was a 24 hour hamburger stand, and a 24 hour falafel stand - both great "drunk food" places.

Posted by J on 1st Hill | August 6, 2007 4:31 PM

What shocked me most when moving here was that time between last call and "get out now" always felt like 15 minutes. Where I came from the last call law was enforced way harder than the "get out now" issue and so usually you had another hour or so after last call to burn some more alcohol. What's the deal with that here?

Posted by stone | August 6, 2007 4:31 PM


It's way more fun in Fremont, quite frankly.

And, just walking a block to the Fremont Outdoor Movies, I pass something like 4 bars - most of which are fine, mind you.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 6, 2007 4:33 PM

"or allowing clubs to stay open after they stop serving alcohol,"

Well, maybe, but will the clubs have that much incentive to do so if they can't bring in enough revenue from the bar?

Posted by tsm | August 6, 2007 4:34 PM


Bars that stay open after hours already exist in Seattle- the one the comes to my mind is The Cuff (and I think Neighbors is as well, although some other homo will have to verify that)

At 1:30 there is last call, at 2:00 they forcefully remove all alcohol, and the club stays open until 3:00.

So if it's an option to stay open later, why don't ALL clubs make it common practice...? For the simple reason that alcohol can't be served during this period, so paying staff to hang around hurts the bottom line.

o until this is required, the only bars that will practice it will be the one's who give a rats ass about their patrons.

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | August 6, 2007 4:37 PM

#7 is right. There is no rule that says a club can't stay open past 2am (Neighbours stays open until 4am, for example), but most places have no economic incentive to do so.

Posted by yup | August 6, 2007 4:40 PM

Hmmm...perhaps they need to look at someplace other than Britain. The British (the Scottish in particular), are not well known for their self control after a pint or ten. Other countries manage to go without last call and don't have horrible meltdowns. I mean, I don't recall a last call in Paris (possibly because I was usually rather drunk and hanging on cute French guys).

Posted by Gitai | August 6, 2007 4:40 PM

All establishments have to stop serving alcohol between 2-6am, but stay open as late as they want. Maybe it would help if more bars served food. Not all out meals, but quick and easy appetizers that would slow the alcohol some.

Posted by Mariana | August 6, 2007 4:46 PM

To all who advocate clubs staying open after the 2am alcohol cut off:

While there is no law mandating clubs close at 2am, it becomes a logistical pain in the ass for club as well as a potential liability. When 2am rolls around, it doesn't mean you have to stop serving; it means everyone has to stop DRINKING. That means at 2am everyone needs to have all alcohol out of their hands, or the club is in violation of the state liquor laws. This is a huge problem for the club because people don't come up to the bar and drop-off half-full glasses. Often times patrons will hide drinks.

For the clubs who do decide to stay open after-hours, there are really only two practical methods: "The Push Out" and "The Hunt". "The Push Out" is where the club basically closes for 10 minutes, pushes everyone out on the street and then goes through the club gathering up all glasses. After the club is all clear, they let everyone back in. Usually charging another cover. This essentially creates the same issues with the 2am closing time: You push a bunch of rowdy, drunk club goers out into the street late at night.

"The Hunt" involves the club staying open, but the employees scurrying around the club with flashlights doing everything they can to gather up all the alcohol. While the patrons prefer this to "The Push Out," it's a potential hazard for the club because, eventually, they will miss a few glasses. If liquor control or the police catch them, the club is held responsible, even if the patron was intentionally hiding the liquor from the club.

While a few tweaks in the liquor laws could change this (which would need to be made in Olympia - not Seattle) so it is more feasible for clubs to stay open later, right now the liability of staying open is way too high, given the potentially small amounts of money they'd make.

Posted by Collin | August 6, 2007 5:10 PM

A rep from SF recently tried to get 4am last call legislation through Sacramento, but unfortunately, it died.

I totally support the idea of a later last call, but you're still buying booze from state liquor stores Washington... so it seems like a long shot.

Posted by Dougsf | August 6, 2007 5:16 PM

Here in Toronto, bars stop serving at 2 am, and have until 3 to get their customers out. By the same token, it's not illegal for people to have alcohol after last call, provided they ordered it before the 2 o'clock cutoff. Most people use that time to finish their drinks, say good night, and get out the door - and not everyone is leaving at the same time, which cuts down on bottlenecks.

The bars use that window to clean up their establishments, so that their staff aren't obliged to stay until 4, 5, or later.

Granted, these rules don't always work in the club district, where there are thousands or people leaving the bars within an hour of each other, but for bars, pubs, and late-night restaurants, it's a system that works pretty well.

Posted by Kaitlyn | August 6, 2007 5:43 PM

@12 and @14 make some great points: Why does state law not allow patrons to calmly finish their last-call drink? It's the rush to slam these final drinks which definitely contributes to extra-drunky people. If the bar has stopped serving alcohol, it's a virtual gurarantee that the patrons will finish what they've purchased. Don't force clubs to snatch it from people and throw them out, that treats patrons like children.

To add the list of after-hours clubs, Contour downtown is open superlate, and apparently have fire-dancers and other entertainment after 2am. I have no idea how they handle the 2am no-liquor law (Push vs. Hunt).

Posted by treacle | August 6, 2007 6:04 PM

In Vancouver, Canada, weekend closing times were bumped back to 4am in 2003, then up to 3am a few months later (from 2am, which had been the norm for decades). The change seemed to exacerbate, rather than minimise, the street disorderliness, costing the city police (by their estimates) an extra $100k per year to try to get a handle on the beer- and urine-soaked melee that was downtown Vancouver every weekend at closing time.

Apparently a new initiative has been extremely effective: forbidding patrons from lining up to enter any time after 2am (apparently a lot of the fights occurred between patrons leaving bars and those who'd never made it in). I've read about an initiative police are pushing whereby all patrons would be ID'd, so that troublemakers kicked out of one bar couldn't bar-hop. I don't know if it's been implemented.

I had some links to news items, but the MOTHER FUCKING spam filter kept rejecting them despite many, many attempts at pruning, so if you're interested, google 'vancouver bars "closing time"'

Posted by Natalie | August 6, 2007 6:21 PM

as a bartender i can think of anything worse that standing around for an hour after closing, and an hour and a half after last call, watching and babysitting a bunch of cranky people being pressured to get out by forces out of their control. plus doing this for no tips what-so-ever. i think 4 a.m. is the best solution here. 2 a.m. just doesn't give club goers enough time to do what they want to do. the extra two hours would allow people to leave at a more relaxed pace, when they felt like it, not when they are made to.

Posted by douglas | August 6, 2007 7:02 PM


This is Slog. You're not supposed to check your pre-existing prejudices with, you know, facts or anything.

Someone alert A. Birch Steen.

Posted by MHD | August 6, 2007 7:05 PM

As a regular patron of several bars mentioned with the later closing times (Cuff and Neighbors), from my perspective it seems to work well. I'm not a barback or bartender, but people know that at 2 a.m. you have to surrender your glass, and seem ready to do so. I've never really seen problems with someone refusing, though it does undoubtedly happen. The difference with these places is that they are dance clubs (Cuff closes the upstairs bar at 2 and if you want to stay, you have to go to the dance bar below). If there is no dancing or live music, a bar is not going to have much incentive to stay open just to let people linger and drink bottled water. Staying later also opens another can of worms... at 4 a.m. at Neighbours on a weekend there are hordes of people (visibly) cracked out on all kinds of drugs that are pushed out the door at closing. Contour and Noc Noc are also open until late and can be a real trip to sketch-ville; as bars close and people stay up they funnel into those clubs. Maybe tweakers are less prone to violent street fights though; I didn't see either of those clubs on Greg's no-no list of bad clubs. Washington is so prudish and stodgy when it comes to liquor laws that I'd fall over dead if they actually pushed the 2 a.m. limit back.

Posted by rb | August 6, 2007 8:05 PM

I don't think the creeps getting into fights at Belltown Billiards are going to be pacified by later closing hours. They're hopped up on hormones too. Maybe poison gas would do the trick.

Why do we have to bend over backwards for these types of clubs?

Posted by Fnarf | August 6, 2007 8:13 PM

You (and the above commenters) might be interested to know that the Washington, DC club I work at stays open well after last call on most nights. The security staff embarks on what Collin (a.k.a. #12) referred to as "The Hunt," roaming the floor with buckets.

While I can't speak for the differences in the scene between our two fair cities, we rarely have any problems -- in over a year, I can think of only three incidences where I had to forcibly separate a drink from a patron. Plus, a well-trained and sufficiently-numerous security staff can easily spot someone trying to conceal a drink.

Posted by Jim | August 6, 2007 8:26 PM

London also isn't a good example because in some ways the increase in crime can be considered a sort of 'catch up' to the amount of problems we have having our drinking establishments open until 2AM. 3 more hours of drinking is bound to lead to more incidents. If you could somehow subtract that (& whatever cultural differences) you might be closer to the mark. But then again, they aren't us, so who knows?

Posted by K X One | August 6, 2007 9:07 PM

Wow. Not one metion of black people in these comments. FINALLY!

Posted by hopesitwasntablackperson | August 6, 2007 9:38 PM

^ mention

Posted by hopesitwasntablackperson | August 6, 2007 9:39 PM

Excerpt from \"Say Yes To War\" by Dan Savage October 2002

\"In the meantime, invading and rebuilding Iraq will not only free the Iraqi people, it will also make the Saudis aware of the consequences they face if they continue to oppress their own people while exporting terrorism and terrorists. The War on Iraq will make it clear to our friends and enemies in the Middle East (and elsewhere) that we mean business: Free your people, reform your societies, liberalize, and democratize... or we\'re going to come over there, remove you from power, free your people, and reform your societies for ourselves\"

Posted by ... | August 6, 2007 9:44 PM

I was psyched to see Westneat take this stance. His stuff on racial politics in public schools was also right on. He's a good journalist.

Dan, the studies you reference actually support later/staggered closing times, when you consider that the goal isn't necessarily to reduce crimes in general but to bring down the violent crimes that seem to be happening in Seattle with growing frequency. Public urination, drunk and disorderly conduct, vandalism, and the like are certainly a nuisance, but what's driving the Mayor's regulation effort is people getting shot.

Posted by Sean | August 6, 2007 9:47 PM

ditto to douglas @ 17...having places stay open after they stop serving is a flippin' nightmare for the bartenders. You stop servin' booze, they stop tipping, and all you're doing is babysitting.

Also echoing others that it's probably best not to look to the British Isles or any of their cultural descendants (e.g., Canada, Ozzy land or New Zealand) for models of good drinking behavior. They're just plain lousy drunks.

Oh and while we're at expanding hours, can we please drop the prohibition on drinking and nudity mixed together?

Posted by gnossos | August 6, 2007 10:28 PM

#10: We should get of the drinking age and then maybe we'd drink as sensibly as the French.

#20: How does one legislate against "bad" or "lame" clubs and not scoop up the others in the process?

Posted by why | August 6, 2007 10:36 PM

This is why the Times should leave this stuff to the big boys. Yeah I said it.

Posted by Mr. Poe | August 6, 2007 11:50 PM

Hm. Staggered works for us, in South Australia. Mind you, its been a while - but back in the day (when I was young and all that) we'd leave the Havvy at 12 midnight and roll to the Royal until 4am ... I don't actually remember any last calls at the Royal, I just remember heading on to the Kent until about 7am and then wandering through the city to get breakfast.

Good times.

Posted by Fran | August 7, 2007 5:28 AM

I think you should compare with countries where there's not been an enforced closing time in recent history. And people who've been "taught" to drink sensibly. The British are many things, but they're defnitely not that.

Posted by Griet | August 7, 2007 9:20 AM

simple question: do any of the "problem" clubs stay open afterhours?

Posted by infrequent | August 7, 2007 10:01 AM

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