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Monday, May 19, 2008

Nightlife Crackdown Continues: City Forces Neumos to Reduce Capacity

posted by on May 19 at 10:36 AM

Originally posted Friday night.

In recent weeks, the city has been cracking down on Capitol Hill’s nightlife. Club owners and bartenders say they’ve repeatedly been harassed by Seattle Police, the Fire Marshall’s office and other city agencies. Now, Neumos—Capitol Hill’s largest live music venue—is catching heat from the city over their crowd capacity.

Neumos’ co-owner Steve Severin just sent an email explaining the problem:

Neumos was recently and suddenly informed by the City of Seattle of a new interpretation of the capacity rules for our venue that is leading to some unwieldy restrictions during shows. It is not a change to our overall capacity, rather a limitation on allowing people to move freely throughout the venue, from the showroom floor, to the mezzanine, to Moe Bar, and reduces the number of tickets we can sell. Instead, the City is telling us that patrons have to stay in divided areas.

We have been going through all the proper channels to correct this as quickly as possible and we have been receiving some assistance from certain departments within the city. The Fire department has been flexible and is working with us this weekend to help solve some of these problems connected with the restricted flow to these areas. The earliest we are able to have our initial meeting with the Department of Planning and Development will be May 28th. We have been pleading to get the appointment moved up, but have been unable to get that done. Unfortunately we are being expected to try to change our entire business model over night, without the time to train staff, adjust customers expectations, and re-design our business model.

The building and its occupancy have been interpreted the same way for 15 years.

We hope we can get this sorted out and put behind us so we can continue to do what we are designed to do, which is bring quality music to a thriving music city, in a responsible and professional manner.

Indeed, the city’s newly imposed crowd regulations appear to be becoming a frequent problem for Neumos. A sign on the club’s front door reads:

Due to an unexpected reinterpretation of the capacity limits at Neumos by the Seattle Fire Department, the audience at tonight’s show will have to be separated between the floor and the balcony.

Once the venue is at capacity, patrons will be able to move from space to space on a one-in one-out basis.

Seattle Fire Department Spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick says SFD has been working with Neumos, issuing permits allowing them to temporarily expand their newly limited capacity for one or two nights at a time.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development—which enforces Fire Marshall violations—was not able to provide information on any occupancy changes for the building and SFD did not return a call for comment this afternoon.

RSS icon Comments


You have got to be fucking kidding me.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 16, 2008 7:22 PM

So who do we let know that we dont appreciate our tax dollars being used this way?

This is ridiculous.

Posted by Paul | May 16, 2008 7:35 PM

New interpretation my ass. Maybe Neumos' interpretation, but individual spaces have always had individual max occupancy levels as far as the city is concerned. I saw The Kills there last night (great show) and it was the first time in a long time that a sold out show wasn't ridiculously over-crowded there. It felt full, as a sold out show should, but it was actually possible to move around. I've always felt like Neumos oversold shows.

Posted by cmaceachen | May 16, 2008 7:49 PM

Bullshit -- patrons can't move from the balcony to the floor?! I hope this gets sorted out quickly. Would love to know who you recommend emailing/calling/faxing to get this "cleared up".

Posted by Katelyn | May 16, 2008 7:57 PM

Forget about the emailing/calling/faxing: If you want something done with the city, show up at a council meeting, and show up in force.

....And doesn't it seem like time to revisit this stupid at-large council? We need districts.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | May 16, 2008 8:08 PM



Posted by wisepunk | May 16, 2008 8:37 PM

C'mon people. It's a fucking mezzanine. It has weight limits. The building code specifies a max occupancy because other parts of the building code specify how much weight it should be able to hold. Put too many people up there and it will collapse. It wouldn't be the first time an overloaded mezzanine has collapsed. Thats why there are separate occupancy levels for separate spaces.

Posted by cmaceachen | May 16, 2008 8:49 PM

Neumo's *does* let their shows get uncomfortably crowded, scary even. Raise drinks/cover 10% and lower the capacity 10%, it would make for a safer and more pleasant experience.

Posted by bob | May 16, 2008 8:51 PM

Uh huh, and if there was a fire or an accident at Neumo's and people were trampled and hurt, the Slog would be full of "everyone knows Neumo's was too crowded, why didn't the fire department do their job?"

It's one thing if we're talking stupid shit like porn or noise levels, but when it comes to safety/capacity issues you can't have it both ways.

Posted by voiceofreason | May 16, 2008 9:05 PM

Old people shouldn't try to act young, bob. That's just tacky.

You want safety and comfort, and don't mind paying for it? Get yourself a recliner and subscribe to Channel 9.

Posted by you're old Bob - deal with it. | May 16, 2008 9:06 PM

Not being able to move between the mezzanine and the floor is completely batshit crazy, but including MOE in the estimate of the capacity for Neumo's is also a bit of a stretch.

Posted by josh | May 16, 2008 9:43 PM

Surely there should be limits as to how many people can be in the building total, yes?

And surely we all recognize that if all those people decide to squeeze into the balcony at once, people will get hurt, yes?

And so the idea of separate limits for the balcony and floor doesn't sound like The Man Trying To Stamp Out Our Music and perhaps more like preventing one of those crowd deaths that we normally only see at European soccer matches, right?

Posted by Tiktok | May 16, 2008 10:04 PM

It seems to me that the issue isn't whether or not there should be occupancy limits, but that the timing and strictness of the enforcement is questionable given the other harassment by police at clubs and onerous ordinances that are all happening at once.

It is, after all, quite curious that after 15 years of the occupancy rules being the same at this venue that suddenly it's an issue after the city got embarrassed by Carr's failed war on nightclubs.

Posted by unwelcomed | May 16, 2008 10:35 PM

I don't know if any of you guys know this but the Fire department only has 210 Fire department personnel on duty to cover this entire city. If something were to ever happen there such as a big fire that included alot of injuries most if not all of the department would have to be dispatched. That means if there is another incident such as a heart attack in ballard there might not be anybody to help this person.

Posted by kiu | May 16, 2008 10:39 PM

i have heard (from staff at neumos) that the capacity for the upcoming shows has been reduced from 800 to 400.

EL-P at 400? Give me a break.

what do people who care do about it?

other than go fuck off, as many on SLOG are so apt to point out.

Posted by misspennycandy | May 16, 2008 11:46 PM

I don't know, if you're going to exist in the community, you should play by the community rules. i mean, this is my city too. The voice of democracy should trump those who would prefer money and action taking the forefront.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 16, 2008 11:49 PM

or to spell it out;

you support the rights of club owners to pack em in but don't support the rights of real estate developers to essentially do the same kind of control and decision making.

and in this case there are laws pertaining to both but yall rather turn a blind eye to that.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 16, 2008 11:53 PM

Gotta agree dudes. Been to many a show that's felt dangerous due to overcrowding. Let's not let profit stand in the way of someone getting hurt.

Posted by I'm a Nuclear Bomb | May 17, 2008 1:13 AM

@13 says:

the issue isn't whether or not there should be occupancy limits, but that the timing and strictness of the enforcement is questionable

So then the Seattle Fire Department should just do its job only occasionally and negotiate safety standards with club owners?

Posted by raindrop | May 17, 2008 7:02 AM

for 15 years that building has existed with the capacity listed as it is and now all of a sudden the fire department is concerned?
....gotta save those innocent club goers from certain death.....but only now....
who cares what happened before (nothing...)
you can't make policy based on a persons annoyance that Neumos "gets too full"
Are you all incredibly stupid or what? if you ask for less occupancy, then you won't be seeing those bands you love so much...
News Flash: it costs money to bring bands to play. If you don't care about seeing good bands, then why the hell do you go out to clubs anyway? I bet the people bitching that Neumos over fills their room, have no idea how much it costs to put on a show or how much it costs to run a club
or even what a guarantee is....

or live under the delusion that clubs are making millions.
if you cut the capacity of a club in half that is a huge hit. How can that be fair?
this is just bullying by the city.
I don't see how this is legitimate at all. if it is a concern, why now all of a sudden. Anybody who has been following the city's harrassment of nightclubs will see this for what it is.

Posted by thisisvery stupid | May 17, 2008 7:07 AM


Where have I seen this before:

Excessive and intrusive government regulation (fire department and safety codes), is infringing on our business model and the cost of doing business (packed clubs to pay for bands).

How delightfully Republican of you!

Posted by raindrop | May 17, 2008 8:02 AM

So far, we have only the word of Neumos to go on here. They SAY that they were "recently and suddenly informed by the City of Seattle of a new interpretation of the capacity rules". I call BS. They city or the FD doesn't set occupancy limits on a case by case basis. It's set in the same code which all new and modified buildings must adhere to. It's based on occupancy type and square footage and is directly related to how many exits are provided. It seems very likely to me that the fire marshal recently attended a show to check up on occupancy and saw that they were very over the limit.

Posted by cmaceachen | May 17, 2008 8:37 AM

How dare the city try to protect us from death.

If it's been done the same way for fifteen years, then that must be the right way to do it.

Because it's impossible that the prior situation was too lax. We konw this because of rule no. 2: "govt. always bad, when fighting hip club owners or others whom we see as 'us.'"

[This follows rule no. 1, which is govt. always good, when fighting evil corporations, etc. or others who are not 'us.'"

N.B.: a club like Neumos is probably a corporation but because it is full of people like us, we call it one of us.]


Posted by PC | May 17, 2008 9:14 AM

And I would point out this is certainly not a new issue that SFD has just now started looking into vis-a-vis occupancy; small theatre venues around town, including the late Union Garage, which was directly across the street from Neumo's/Moe, have been experiencing similarly enforced reductions in audience capacity for well over three years now - and frequently for the same reasons, namely, structural integrity of the venues themselves and crowd flow within them.

And, in my experience working with DPD and SFD in some of these same venues, I can say that, while there may be a certain inevitable amount of bureaucratic inflexibility (some might even say apparent capriciousness) when dealing with DPD, SFD on the other hand has always been, so far as I'm aware, as flexible in these situations as they can be, given their paramount mandate is to ensure the safety of patrons within these establishments.

Posted by COMTE | May 17, 2008 9:46 AM

I used to frequent this place during its various incarnations as Arospace/Arena, and this is not really a new problem there. They very often had to close the mezzanine, regulate movement between sections, and close off the front bar section (now Moe Bar) because of fire code violations.

Posted by rb | May 17, 2008 11:11 AM

I'd just like to salute The Stranger's staff for not finding a way to gratuitously mention Pike Street Fried Fish in this thread...although there's still time, I suppose...

Ooops! I just did it myself! Doh!

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | May 17, 2008 11:12 AM

thisis very stupid...

don't believe that the same applies to condo developers? almost to a T?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 17, 2008 1:01 PM

As a City Employee, I am loathe to speak out against my fellow rank and file. I really do believe that the SFD has the best interests of the public in mind.


When I worked at the Olympic Hotel, the SFD suddenly decided that every event in the Ballroom needed to have a special permit. The permits cost $75 per event - something we just tacked a service charge onto and put on the customer's bill, so we didn't really care - but it was odd, since the Olympic had been having events in the Ballroom since 1924 or thereabouts, and nobody had been hurt.

When I moved over to the Sheraton, the same thing was true - and the Sheraton had been functioning without a single problem, ballroom fire-wise, since 1983.

When I worked at The Cuff, it suddenly became routine that the Fire Department would do an "inspection" on any of the big event nights. Maybe it was because of the large crowds those events drew, and because they were right across the street anyway, but it seemed odd. We didn't care - we were well within all regulations, and it was nice eye candy for the patrons.

So all of the concern about Neumos seems to continue a trend I know well.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | May 17, 2008 9:31 PM

Good, that place is a fucking deathtrap. I went to a show there a couple of years ago and it felt way overcrowded. I won't go back.

Posted by Blacksheep | May 18, 2008 7:17 AM

the thing is, this IS haphazard and subjective enforcement. As far as I know, there is one live music venue in town that doesn't oversell, and it's probably the last one you would guess.

Someone at Neumo's has done something to piss off the wrong person(s) and are being singled out.

The new Hill crowd may be Belltown, but the cops are treating it like 2006's Pioneer Square.

Also, restricting where the crowd in the building is doesn't really change how long it takes for them to use the exits if shit goes down. I highly doubt the had on the spot assessments from structural engineers on what kind of load that floor can bear.

Posted by Postum | May 18, 2008 10:27 AM

Public Safety is important, but this is not about public safety. As evidence, watch for the SPD to find other, non-public safety violations to hit Neumo's for soon. This is about control, and it is brought to us from the same people who tried to close strip clubs in Seattle, and who are harassing gay bars.

Members of the SFD have even claimed off record it's coming from people in the Law Department. For sure, this is part of the same group that lobbied hard for the misguided Nightclub License, and devised the money and resource wasting raids on nightclub workers which resulted in lots of money spent, lots of arrests, and no convictions. They are now retaliating, and for some reason Neumo's, a venue with over a decade history of being well run and safe, and various Cap Hill gay bars, are public enemy #1.

Until the next election, the people who can help fight the anti music and nightlife efforts of the Mayor/SPD/ City Attorney, are the City Council. They have recognized the value of music and nightlife in Seattle and have stood up to the anti-music forces for years.

If you want a vibrant, safe, quality nightlife in Seattle with great music venues, write the Council and let them know.

write them at:

Posted by Meinert | May 18, 2008 11:00 AM

Why is it that both hyperlinks on this blog post direct you to other Stranger articles, as if these will somehow validate what Jonah is proclaiming here? Read the title of the post, then read the email from Neumos. Is this post anything other than opinion and conjecture?

Posted by I hung out at the Monastery with councilmember's twin sons | May 18, 2008 6:16 PM

There has to be a happy medium. We can make it safer without an immediate and intense crackdown.

Maybe the way things have been done for the last 15 years isn't the best way to do it, but if we've been doing it this way for 15 years, what's another 4-5 weeks or months?

Posted by Dawgson | May 18, 2008 7:48 PM

I stopped going to concerts a couple years ago because they had started to feel too crowded. It wasn't that they'd gotten more packed, I had just gotten older and a little less tolerant of standing in sweaty masses of people.

I'm not saying that's the case with cmaceachen, Tiktok or I'm a Nuclear Bomb, but I think it's something you should take into consideration.

I'd rather just go to smaller venues or places with reserved seating instead of imposing unfair regulations on crowd capacity so I can feel comfortable.

Posted by Dawgson | May 18, 2008 7:55 PM

Music is Evil! Ignorance is strength!
What time did Mayor Nickels schedule the CD bonfire for?

Posted by UnCommon Sense | May 18, 2008 11:06 PM

didn't this shit go down while gay friendly week-end event and band... i knda see some homophobia shit here.

Posted by dickweed | May 19, 2008 11:01 AM

Yeah...just like the people with nice lofts and nice buildings and great views to pick on the shitty clubs...

if Nuemos is shiity and needs to be reduced....why do so many great bands and artisits and people go there?

Posted by danielbennettkieneker | May 19, 2008 11:03 AM

I'm majorly unhappy about the cops/city/liquor nazis harassing Capitol Hill bars and clubs, BUT Neumo's is notorious for over filling that space AND it has shitty, shitty venilation. I'm surprised people haven't died in there on hot summer nights. (and if you ask about the lack of venilation, they always tell you they're working on it).

Posted by michael strangeways | May 19, 2008 11:13 AM

While I agree there could be some "targeting of nightlife" here, the reality is that a mezzanine is, by the definition of the space in the code, a limited capacity portion of a building. In reality, they should ALWAYS be keeping track of how many people are up there and start limiting them once they reach capacity. And this is not new, the code has been clear on this for many (over 15 years). It is possible that they had a lenient fire marshall to work with, who let them get away with things they shouldn't have, but the code has not really changed in this regard.

Posted by scharrera | May 19, 2008 11:22 AM

@ 36 Great point they did decide to crack down on Neumos during Trannyshack which is not even close to as crowded as some of the really popular bands that perform there.

@ 31 Normally I do not agree with Meinert since he supported Tim Burgess (who I would guess would fully support everything the police are doing) however I do have to agree with everything Meinert said here. Someone/group is behind this and it is not about safety. It is about something else. Retribution, homophobia. Something we will eventually find out about. The clubs are afraid to come forward because it means possible further retribution and getting shut down for even the smallest infraction during a big night.

I have some photos of the "shakedown" by police at Neighbours here:

Posted by Gay Seattle | May 19, 2008 11:28 AM

The SPD has been harassing the fire department to do more for some time, its escalated into a bit of a turf war. Ideally, the SPD would like to be able to go in and enforce fire department regs and close places outright for overcapacity issues. But the Fire Department won't cede the turf.

Still, SFD going in and doing some low-level harassment probably helps keep the police brass at bay. For a while, anyhow.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | May 19, 2008 11:38 AM

I agree with michael @38. If there are legit safety issues at Neumo's, and other venues, and I believe there are, then fine, make them obey regulations. But what's with these two new cops doing a walk through at just about every bar on the hill every weekend? They came into Grey Gallery and Lounge and Sun Liquor. Just walked in and checked everyone out, and then walked out. You know Grey Gallery and Sun Liquor are NOTORIOUS hot beds of criminal activity. Or maybe they were making sure none of the art at Grey involved any nudity. It's getting ridiculous.

Posted by spencer | May 19, 2008 11:46 AM

Ultimately, this isn't so much about public safety as it is about three or four crazies in the upper echelons of the SPD, who have a stranglehold on the nightlife issue, as well as the ear of the Mayor and City Attorney.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | May 19, 2008 12:09 PM

Living in a police state after eight years of Fear and no rights, you got to expect stuff like this.

That said, one unexpected fire and people will die.

Dying sucks.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 19, 2008 12:11 PM

That said, one unexpected fire and people will die.

Aren't they all unexpected?

Posted by Tiktok | May 19, 2008 12:49 PM


Except the planned ones.


Hey, can I borrow your lighter?

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 19, 2008 12:54 PM

By the way, the City Attorney is claiming there have been NO actions taken by the SPD on obscenity at any of these bars or clubs.

In a letter to me, City Attorney Tom Carr stated " The police did have some discussions with these clubs, but I have seen no enforcement actions taken by SPD on obscenity. The police would prefer to deal with the criminal element directly. If you are aware of any enforcement action, please let me know. "

So bar owners, if you're telling the truth about this issue, please let Tom Carr know. Someone is obviously lying here.

Posted by Meinert | May 19, 2008 1:06 PM

The SPD won't "take action".

They'll write up the results of their "investigations" in very overly-detailed and flowery reports, and then pass them to the WSLCB to do the dirty work.

They will technically be WSLCB enforcement actions.

Posted by DaveO | May 19, 2008 1:34 PM

Two words: "The Station"

Posted by RHETT ORACLE | May 19, 2008 2:03 PM

@4, 10, 15, 20:

You should have your genitals crushed, simply to avoid any fears that you may breed later.

And honestly? This is about Lajeunesse and Severin trying to enlist the local community into an 'us vs. them' battle to keep them from having to follow the law. They don't give a shit about the safety of their patrons, so long as they're getting paid.

Posted by God Save the Capitol Hill Royalty | May 19, 2008 2:14 PM

This is such a fucking miserable excuse of a city. It micromanages/governs the life out of itself.

Eventually, Some magazine will name us the "most boring big city" and Nickels and his fellow fatties will hold committee meetings and embark on a plan to convince people that, "Seattle's fun again."

I can already imagine the press release and article in the Times.

You can't plan culture and you can't plan fun. The parades in this city are depressing and the bars are too. Loosen up Seattle.

Posted by nolaseatac | May 19, 2008 2:25 PM


The building and its occupancy have been interpreted the same way for 15 years.

Okay, Jonah, file this under "Just because you BOLD something doesn't make it true."

In the last 15 years that space has been 5 or 6 different venues (Moe's Mo'Rockin' Cafe,, Paradise Garage, noiselab, etc.) and has gone through just as many remodels. Just 5 years ago the main showroom was a third smaller and there was a restaurant and kitchen in the space. You have to know that, Jonah! (Check the story about it in your own rag from before Nuemo's openned up: ) I mean, com'on! Learn your own `hoods history at least!!!

Hey, I love Steven to death, but all know he can be prone to hyperbole when talking to the press -- if not downright completely full-of-shit. And this, my friend, is one of the later cases.

Yes, trust your sources... Trust but verify,m'boy. Don't be made a sucker!

Posted by Timrrr | May 19, 2008 3:30 PM


So far, the only post on this entire blog that has any truth behind it whatsoever at all...

Posted by Amnesiac79 | May 19, 2008 3:55 PM

Yeah, I remember when you couldn't go up to the mezzanine, and when the only entrance was through the space that is now Moe Bar. Saw Tsunami and American Music Club and Verlaines there. Then ARO.Space turned the front into a restaurant (you could see it from outside). The mezzanine is fairly recent, actually. I can see why the FD thinks it's a problem; it was pretty relaxed when it first opened, but lately it's been jam-packed at the rail because the view's so good. I wonder if it's structurally able to take that load.

Posted by Fnarf | May 19, 2008 4:22 PM

this is ridiculous. please post a follow up on who we should contact to complain. they are tryin to take neumos down...

@8 when the floor is packed it's easy to walk upstairs. i don't know what's so scary about that.

Posted by tiffany | May 20, 2008 9:48 AM

Fact: The Neumo's showroom (floor + mezzanine) has a large plaque that clearly states a 575 capacity.

Fact: Neumo's advertises its capacity as 800.

Have the owners really believed all this time that 225 people would pay for tickets and then skip the headliner to hang out in Moe Bar (which has no cover)?

Posted by The numbers | May 21, 2008 2:48 PM

The Numbers. You are flat our wrong. I love that people state facts like the know what they're talking about. Neumos has never had or advertised that we could fit 800 people. Get your FACTS straight before you spout off like you're the all knowing one.

When is somebody not going to be too chickenshit to say who they are and stand up behind your words?

I know it's easier that way, but man, it's fuckin' weak.

My last comment on this.

Have fun y'all.

Posted by Steven Severin | May 22, 2008 11:14 AM

Being a former employee of Neumo's/Moe Bar, I can attest that sometimes the place seems pretty packed. I never once, though, caught word of the owners overselling it.

The recent capacity regulations, however, render the showroom barely half-full. Considering the numerous and clearly labeled exits (3 in the showroom, including a set of double doors, and two more via the main venue entrance--another double door--and the front door to Moe Bar) it seems like the burden of such a severe and brisk capacity reduction should fall on the SFD. If such drastic changes were so abruptly required after so many years, why? Furthermore, critics of the (non-corporate) venue should define "overselling." Could you not see the artist as well as you wanted? Was a tall person standing in your line-of-view? Such is life. Push forward if you’re so concerned.

Before, during, and after my employment at Neumo's, I never knew Severin and/or Lajeunesse to knowingly oversell an event, but, as long as I’ve lived in Seattle, I’ve known Neumo's to host some of the best fucking shows I've seen. That means something to me.

Regardless of all our uninformed conjecture, it seems glaringly obvious to me that any concerned regulators should be obliged to justify their decisions, and display the employed reasoning to public scrutiny. Otherwise, what the fuck are they enforcing other than intangible prejudices?

When’s the last time anyone used pyrotechnics at the place anyhow? You couldn’t burn that place down with napalm.

Posted by grant was here | May 23, 2008 6:28 AM

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