New Capitol Hill Club Brings Culture Clash and Violence
On February 23, the board of the Broadway Business Improvement Area (BIA) sent a letter to the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct requesting "a visible police presence during the closing hours of Club Lagoon to monitor the behavior of the crowd." The BIA's urgent request followed several large, late-night fights in the last several weeks around the nightclub, located at 210 East Broadway—the north side of the drag. The trouble is hardly news to the SPD. A February 3 police report concurs that there is "an ongoing scenario associated with Club Lagoon." According to recent SPD reports, a fight involving 5 to 20 individuals on February 3 "took a total of seven officers and one sergeant about one hour to gain control." And on February 17, "approximately 30 people... fighting in the middle of Broadway" got one fleeing suspect Tasered.
The BIA has struggled with empty storefronts, junkies, and declining foot traffic over the last decade as neighborhood anchors such as Bulldog News, Keeg's, Three Furies, OK OK, Orpheum, and Opus closed up shop and foot traffic went downtown or to Pike/Pine. The spot that Club Lagoon now occupies, for example, was vacant for five years. So, rather than seeing Club Lagoon as a problem, owner Ryan Howard sees it as a solution. He claims "crackheads and drug people formerly populated the location" and his new nightspot, opened in November 2006, has brought positive change to Broadway.
Howard also owns Belltown Billiards and provides a shuttle between the two sites—highlighting the irony at hand: While Broadway business owners are desperate for vibrant new mainstays, Club Lagoon is bringing in a crowd that's decidedly less Shortbus and more Animal House; perhaps not the kind of help Broadway wanted. The club's glitzy 1980s image would seem to clash with Broadway's alternative aesthetic. While megachains like Gap have failed on Broadway, independent local businesses like Bailey/Coy Books have thrived.
Perhaps the most telling difference between longtime businesses on Broadway and Club Lagoon are the tactics the club uses to drum up business. Club Lagoon is currently airing a series of TV commercials featuring all kinds of fleshy gyrating, narrated by an alluring female voice inquiring whether or not you are in fact "ready to party." (Can you imagine a similar TV spot for any other Broadway haunt, like Septieme?) Truthfully, the commercial does not even begin to capture the oddness of Club Lagoon, which features a precariously poised Lamborghini Countach on its rooftop exterior and a euphemism-ready fur-lined speedboat. Regardless of the gaudy décor (or perhaps because of it), Club Lagoon still draws in a large, predominantly young crowd on Friday nights, with eager attendees lining up to get in.
"What's that doing on Broadway?" was the initial reaction of Michael Wells, owner of Bailey/Coy Books and chairman of the BIA, upon first seeing Club Lagoon. The club's ostentatious '80s theme stands out on a thoroughfare inhabited mainly by restaurants, coffee shops, and small independent retailers. While Broadway needs new businesses to survive (which may ultimately come in the form of new ground-floor retail at the former QFC and Safeway locations), Wells points out that "the most successful businesses on Broadway are the ones that have integrated into the community. If you're not really paying attention to the community, [you're] not going to succeed."
The recent fisticuffs outside the club have been attributed to what one late-shift employee at nearby Broadway Grill describes as "straight guys... belligerent [and] homophobic." Adding, "We've had to call the police... probably every weekend night [for] people being too intoxicated and refusing to leave."
The fights forced several nearby businesses to lock their doors until police broke up the melees. There have been allegations from local workers that patrons leaving Club Lagoon are making their way through the neighborhood homophobically harassing residents, employees, and diners at other businesses.
Broadway Grill night manager Spencer Fairbanks attributes the sudden culture clash appearing in Broadway's nightlife to "a Belltown crowd that's importing itself into Capitol Hill." Fairbanks, a spritely round-faced man in his late 30s, believes the crowds arriving from Belltown are openly hostile to Capitol Hill's well-established gay community. He has overheard patrons from the post-club crowd voicing their displeasure about "all of the faggots running around."
Billy Helton—a clerk at Broadway's adult mecca Castle Megastore, located directly beneath Club Lagoon's dance floor—describes the nightspot as "hell above us." However, the official line from Castle (employees aren't authorized to speak for the store) is that "Castle Megastore is aware of the activities that have occurred in the area recently. While we hope that these are not repeated, we are confident that our neighbors are working on minimizing and/or eliminating the occurrence of such difficult events in the future."
Across the street from Castle, an employee at Charlie's on Broadway exasperatedly refers to Club Lagoon as a "nuisance since it opened."
Club Lagoon's owner seems sincerely concerned—whether simply for the sake of his investment or because he has genuinely been taken aback by the neighborhood reaction to the club—and wants to meet with community leaders to mend fences. "I'd like to sit down and talk with [business] owners and take suggestions," he says.
As of this past weekend, Club Lagoon began enforcing a new dress code and expanded its list of verboten songs (mostly hiphop) for DJs. "We just tightened up the prohibited list and... tightened up our dress code," Howard says. Baggy T-shirts or pants and hats are no longer suitable club attire.
"We're not there to be a thorn in anybody's side," Howard adds. He believes "the fight issue will go away through diversification... We're going for a more mature demographic... the 25 to 35 [year old] demographic, and that takes time."
Time is perhaps the most important factor in resolving this issue. The BIA fears there is the potential for the situation to "turn tragic" if nothing is done to improve the safety of members of the Broadway community. But as of last call on Saturday night, the only additional police presence at Club Lagoon appeared to be the incidental appearance of a lone squad car performing a traffic stop.