From neighborhood dive bars to some of the biggest players in the local restaurant industry, more than 100 Seattle-area spots have signed a petition to extend last call for alcohol service to 2 a.m., seeking to replace Gov. Jay Inslee’s pandemic-prevention mandate of 10 p.m.
Restaurant moguls Tom Douglas and Ethan Stowell lent their establishments’ names to the long list asking for the change, as did bar maven Linda Derschang. The current 10 p.m. on-site drinking cutoff was instituted on July 30 as an augmentation to the governor’s Safe Start program to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The petition — authored by Dan Austin, owner of West Seattle’s Peel & Press and Flight Path in Burien — argues that “These closing hours are causing more of an issue than they are solving,” calling for the state to enforce COVID-19 pandemic-prevention rules instead of curtailing hours. It also lobbies for bar games including billiards and darts to be allowed again. “All I ask,” Austin writes to Inslee, “is that you trust me and my fellow owners to follow the mask requirements and distancing protocols you have asked for and for you to give us back our hours so we can survive.” Under Inslee’s Safe Start Phase 2 rules, Seattle-area restaurants and bars are open at 50% capacity, with indoor seating at bars allowed only if minimum food-service requirements are met, and no seating at the bartop itself.
Upscale restaurants such as Stowell’s don’t have darts, and he says he signed the petition in part out of sympathy for bar owners. Stowell says he understands “the worry that people won’t be able to control themselves … I get that whole thing, and I want everyone to be safe. But I think lumping all the good operators in with the ones who might not be [operating under COVID-19 prevention requirements] is a tough call.” In terms of his establishments, he says, “Selfishly, our thing is that we want people to be able to make a 9 o’clock reservation and have a glass of wine with it. But at 10 o’clock, we literally have to put a cork in it.”
When it comes to his patrons, “Having them finish up their glass of rosé on the patio doesn’t seem like the most harmful thing in the world after 10 p.m.,” Stowell says. “I’ve seen some bars out there that are breaking the rules,” he says, and party bars with lax COVID-19 prevention practices have become hot spots elsewhere. But he maintains that “Bad actors are gonna be bad actors,” calling for better enforcement “instead of having it be 100% on the business owner.” Meanwhile, criticism has been leveled at state and county officials for providing little direction and a lack of consistency to restaurant and bar owners when it comes to COVID-19 rules, and operators are expected to self-police, reporting employees who test positive and deciding whether to temporarily close.
On behalf of the governor’s office, deputy communications director Mike Faulk says they’ve been engaging regularly with owners about potential changes to restrictions “with the goal of allowing restaurants more opportunities to ‘make it’ in this new environment while maintaining public health and safety.” But with regard to the current 10 p.m. last call, he says, “We have heard repeatedly from local health departments and local law enforcement about the positive impact this change has had on social gatherings that lead to COVID transmission. We have nothing in the works at the moment to revert it.”
While she lent the names of her popular bars Linda’s and King’s Hardware to the petition, Derschang says she was playing a long game with last call, “hoping there would be a compromise and Gov. Inslee would allow bars and restaurants to stay open until midnight.” That’s a possibility the petition also floats. Reinstating the pre-pandemic 2 a.m. goes too far, Derschang says, citing concerns about COVID-19 spread and the safety of her employees. “Midnight’s late enough,” Derschang says. “I can’t imagine staying open later than that until we see a dramatic change in our [COVID-19 infection] numbers.”
Petition author Austin describes the response from bar and restaurant owners as “overwhelmingly positive” with “very little blowback from the public.” While he says a midnight last call “would be a good toe in the water,” he elaborates on the need for more enforcement of pandemic-precipitated rules, saying, “I’m not sure why because the state lacks enforcement that the business community is the one that has to adapt … If the guidelines work, they should work at all hours.”
COVID-19 restrictions on dining and drinking have divided some in the restaurant industry, and Seattle chef Eric Rivera took to Instagram to protest the petition, calling the signatories “a bunch of delusional [expletive] people that don’t understand … we’re still in a pandemic.” Rivera says the push to extend alcohol service now is “clearly not addressing the intricacies of a pandemic, and not understanding that they’re putting their employees and patrons in danger … You have to look at the greater good here.”
Restaurateur Douglas declined to comment on his support of the petition.