The proposal to let people drink longer at Seattle bars may sound like madness, but some people are making strong arguments for it.
Didn’t matter that Mayor Mike McGinn was there, or that some of the city’s major club owners had come out before noon.
The real power player at City Hall on Monday was alcohol. Its price, its profit margin. Its power over police and the streets of the city, and its ability to draw people in.
The state Liquor Control Board held a hearing on a proposal by the city of Seattle to let local jurisdictions set their own hours for liquor service. Some bars would close at 2 a.m., others at 3 a.m. The best-behaved bars would stay open till sunup.
In short, the proposal would allow people to drink longer. And that sounds like madness.
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When is more alcohol ever good, except for those counting out the cash register or the tip jar at the end of the night?
Bar owners and staffers will make money, but some taxpayers will be the ones paying the price, with pillows over their ears to drown out the hoots and hollers, or both hands on the wheel to avoid the drunks on the road.
The proposal has the support of McGinn, Police Chief John Diaz and City Attorney Pete Holmes — but that didn’t sway me. McGinn and Holmes were elected to office with the help of the nightlife community. This could very well be payback time.
Before the hearing began, Dave Meinert, owner of The 5 Point Cafe and Big Mario’s pizza, took a seat beside me.
The alcohol scares me, I told him. Who needs more booze at 3 in the morning?
“This doesn’t create more alcohol,” Meinert told me. “This creates less binge drinking and less push-out.”
The “push-out” is the big problem for those who own the bars and those who live near them. Between 1 and 2 a.m., every bar in the city releases a flood of drunken, rowdy people, who then either get into their cars and take to the roads, or mill around on the sidewalks and streets.
The police are strapped. There are never enough cabs.
If the hours were extended, the Seattle bar scene would be more like a house party, from which guests would leave gradually — not all at once.
The police and the bar staff would be better able to handle a staggered (excuse the pun) exodus, rather than deal with the chaos that follows when last call forces people to drink more, and drink fast.
That made sense to me. We should try the proposal on a pilot basis and then compare notes.
If it backfires, it will be on McGinn and Holmes, their consciences and their legacies.
But I was glad that others felt the fear that I came in with.
One 91-year-old man could barely see over the lectern, but still delivered a bit of fire-and-brimstone: “What a sad country we have with all the destruction we’ve had from alcohol.”
A substance-treatment counselor named Gary Hothi put it simply: “More access to alcohol doesn’t increase public safety.”
No one argued with either.
But I also couldn’t argue with bartender Michelle Young, who spoke in favor of extended bar hours.
“If we spaced it out,” she said, “then we wouldn’t be flooding the street. End the spike at 2 a.m., when everyone is trying to get more alcohol at once.”
At that point, Sharon Foster, the chair of the Liquor Control Board, asked Young if she would ever serve someone three doubles at last call.
“Absolutely not,” Young said.
And there was the answer I was hoping for.
Alcohol is powerful, and a big part of our city’s cultural and fiscal viability.
If people can’t handle it at 10 p.m., 2 a.m. or even 6 in the morning, then maybe bartenders like Young are the best we can hope for.
Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
Cabs. Worth every dollar.