On a recent Kirkland weekend, a line extended outside Tiki Joe's Wetbar. Just a block away from the Kirkland Avenue bar, couples listened...
On a recent Kirkland weekend, a line extended outside Tiki Joe’s Wetbar.
Just a block away from the Kirkland Avenue bar, couples listened to live music at the Wilde Rover Irish Pub & Restaurant. And things were just warming up at TJ’s on Lake Street, a popular venue for hip-hop music.
Weekend nights in downtown Kirkland have always been known for action, with young adults frequenting the marina, taking in lakeside views by moonlight and enjoying the numerous bars and restaurants.
The crowds that descend on downtown Kirkland Thursday through Saturday nights don’t bother retired couple Ena and Ira Dauberman.
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The downtown residents recently took an evening stroll and said they love the vitality of the Eastside hotspot.
“We want more nightlife,” Ena Dauberman joked. “We like to dance, and we love all kinds of music. There’s nowhere else we’d rather be than here.”
But for Debbie Lamont, that nightlife has become a nightmare.
Lamont, the 27-year owner of Bombaii Cutters, a salon on Kirkland Avenue, said she’s fed up with what she sees as increasingly rowdy downtown patrons. She’s had to replace the carpet outside her salon with tile because of cigarette burns and people urinating on it.
Nearby restaurant owner Pete Mangouras, who owns George’s Place with his father, said they’ve had about seven broken windows in the past two years, four of them this year.
Before that, the restaurant, which has been in downtown for 30 years, had a total of two broken windows in its history, he said.
Kirkland police are well-versed in these divergent views of the city’s downtown.
For years, they say, they’ve stepped up downtown patrols during the summer months. Police say their concentrated efforts have netted a significant number of driving-under-the-influence arrests.
About 35 businesses have liquor licenses in the downtown, police said. The increasing development downtown also means a larger residential concentration.
“It’s an age-old dilemma,” said Kirkland Lt. Rex Caldwell. “When you build condos next to restaurants and bars, you will generate complaints about those that are unhappy with noise and litter.”
Caldwell insists that the downtown Kirkland bar scene is “most certainly not out of control.”
But recent incidents are hard to ignore. In June, a man was shot in the leg near Kirkland Avenue and Lake Street following a knife fight near Marina Park. In 2005, nine were arrested in a brawl outside TJ’s.
Police say that following these incidents they met with bar owners and discussed ways to better train their security staff and prevent overserving patrons and serving minors.
“The shooting was very unusual,” said Caldwell, who added that the last time a shooting occurred in the city was about five years ago.
Data from the state’s Liquor Control Board also showed that when those arrested for DUI were asked which bar they drank in last, Kirkland bars played a prominent role. Kirkland bars held five places among the top 10 cited throughout King County.
From Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2006, of the 141 DUI arrests linked to the top 10 bars, 71 of those arrested said they last drank in Kirkland bars. No other city, including Seattle, had that many mentions.
But the data are subjective, said Susan Reams, the board’s public-information officer. The numbers are tallied based on interviews of those arrested for DUIs, and alcohol can inhibit a person’s ability to recall information, she said.
The data also do not take into account DUI stings Kirkland has conducted.
“What I’ve seen in Kirkland is aggressive enforcement work with liquor-control officers to reduce overservice,” Reams said.
Kirkland police agree that their aggressive enforcement coupled with the way the city is laid out lead to these high numbers. If a drunken driver tries to get out or in, it’s easy to catch them, Caldwell said.
“There are very few arterials to and from downtown. If people are intoxicated and are driving where they’re going to be seen by police officers, they’re likely to get stopped and arrested,” he said.
But Lamont, the owner of Bombaii Cutters, said police focus too much on DUIs and not enough on business owners’ concerns.
One of the biggest problems is people smoking outside bars since the statewide smoking ban went into effect last year. That means bouncers have less control of crowds, she said.
She spent $1,000 to change her carpet to tile because of the damage, she said. She also had to replace potted plants outside her store that were vandalized.
“It’s the worst it’s ever been,” Lamont said. “It’s out of control.”
She hopes that the city will initiate dialogue between downtown businesses and bars. For example, Tiki Joe’s bouncers always clean the sidewalk after the bar closes, she said. Not all bar owners are willing to do that, she added.
Mangouras, of George’s Place, agreed that the situation has gotten worse, but said that it’s hard to pinpoint who is responsible. Their windows were broken right around the closing time of bars and have so far cost more than $1,000 to replace, he said.
The first few were paid for by the owners of Tiki Joe’s, Mangouras said. The rest were covered by their landlord.
At nearby Washington Federal bank on Kirkland Avenue, three windows have been broken in the past 18 months, said the bank’s loan coordinator, Sharina McCraine.
Mangouras attributes the growing popularity of Kirkland to increased promotion by Kirkland bars. There are also growing numbers of Seattle visitors to Kirkland, said traffic division Sgt. Mike Ursino.
But on a recent weekend there were still many from the Eastside. They said they felt safer in Kirkland, and that it was easier to get home.
Mica Johnston, 30, and her friend Kellie Tuttle, 26, came to Kirkland from Bothell.
“I like the variety they have here,” Tuttle said.
For 26-year Kirkland resident Beth Akins, the downtown area is noisy but harmless.
She remembers when it was a lot worse, during Moss Bay Days, a summer festival held in the 1970s and ’80s that drew as many as 100,000 people. The festival was canceled in 1985 due to numerous arrests.
Her husband, David Akins, agreed. He said it’s Kirkland’s uniqueness that makes it so popular.
“We’re one of the few cities that has a downtown. Most don’t have a downtown where you can actually walk around and see people and listen to music.”
Ryan Hitzemann is one of three bouncers at Tiki Joe’s. He said he has worked in downtown Seattle, Florida and Boston, and prefers Kirkland.
“This is nothing compared to downtown Seattle. It’s not at all like Pioneer Square,” Hitzemann said. “I can work where I can be beaten or stabbed, but here people come and hang out and then hop in their cabs and go home. It’s the easiest place I’ve ever had to work.”
Lisa Chiu: 206-464-3347 or firstname.lastname@example.org