Arts & Culture

New Nightclub License Puts Good Neighbor Agreements Back in Spotlight

By David Meinert January 25, 2010

Back in 2006, the Washington State Liquor Control Board proposed a new liquor license category for "nightclubs." The bill was the result of the WSCLB’s Density Task Force, and is intended to lift the cap on the total number of licenses allowed in Washington.

The big change: "Nightclubs" will be allowed to serve liquor without also having to serve food. To make that happen, the WSLCB created a special class of license to recognize these types of businesses, requiring the nightclubs to have other rules put on them by local governments.

The Seattle Nightlife and Music Association (I'm a member) had several concerns about the new license (read about them here). One of the biggies was this: The definition of "nightclub" would have prohibited minors, thus killing all-ages live music venues that have been thriving in Seattle (Neumo's, Showboxes, El Corazon, etc).

Well, the WSLCB and the SNMA met several times since and worked out the issues. (All-ages venues are allowed.) And now the License is finally being rolled out.

However, there is one large issue still facing nightclubs—the license requires nightclubs to get a "Good Neighbor Agreement" with the city the club is in. In Seattle this means getting a GNA from the City Attorney's office. Under past City Attorneys like Tom Carr and Mark Sidran, this would have been a nightmare for clubs, as the administrations were notorious for oppressive and irrational GNA's.

But the new Seattle City Attorney, Pete Holmes, promised to review GNA policy, not promising to do away with them completely, but definitely promising to make them at least rational, and possibly to not use them at all.

In order to test the new license and the GNA requirement, Marcus Charles, owner of The Juju (and The Crocodile, and The Capitol Hill Block Party—both of which I am partners in—alert, alert) agreed to work with the City Attorney and WSLCB as a test case, with the hopes of getting a standard, rational GNA that could then be used with other Nightclubs.

The original GNAs proposed under Carr's office were about 18 red tape pages long and as can be expected, totally wretched. They included rules on what security personnel could wear, sometimes even mandating specific dress codes and color of clothing, limiting or completely disallowing lines outside, prohibiting dancing or DJ's. However, once new City Attorney Pete Holmes took office, he started referring the Juju's GNA as a "Memorandum Of Understanding" (to avoid the poisonous GNA title) and it is just about four pages.

According to Charles, there are still some important terms to be worked out on the JuJu GNA, but Holmes has been fantastic to work with so far, he says. There are also some forces in the City pushing for unreasonable clauses to be added to the GNA, and there are some questions about where Mayor Mike McGinn will come out on certain issues.

The SNMA is scheduled to meet with the Mayor soon, and seeing as how nightlife and music were a big part of his campaign platform, there is good reason to think the issues will be worked out with his leadership.

Once the issues with The Juju are sorted, bars not in compliance with the food service requirement of the current liquor laws will be pushed into getting the new license, along with a similar "Memorandum Of Understanding", or face loss of their liquor license.

We'll of course keep you updated. But for now it looks like certain bars and clubs won't need to pretend to sell those $35 microwaveable burritos anymore, and the crazy GNAs we've read about for the last 20 years are a thing of the past. Let's hope so.
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