On May 2, a crowd outside of Neumo's on 10th Avenue and Pike Street watched as Seattle police officers from Capitol Hill's new nightlife emphasis patrol descended on the crowded venue. SPD claimed the club's sold-out Tim and Eric show was over capacity and called in the fire marshal.
The city came down hard on Neumo's, forcing the club to drop its capacity—although the club would not say how much its capacity was reduced—and closing the VIP room in the club's adjacent Moe Bar.
"It's devastating," says Neumo's co-owner Steven Severin. "I've had the worst two and a half weeks of my professional career."
The timing of the crackdown is suspicious. Last September, the city raided 15 bars and nightclubs across town in an attempt, the city claimed, to rein in problem clubs. The city charged 26 nightlife workers for overserving and allowing minors and guns into clubs, but the city has yet to win a single conviction. But while the city hasn't had much success in court, the raids had a chilling effect on nightlife.
In the last year, clubs all across town have buckled under city pressure. Belltown club Tabella closed and the building was sold to a conservative church. Ximaica in Belltown, Sugar on Capitol Hill, and Level 5 in Lower Queen Anne all closed their doors.
Now Capitol Hill club and bar owners claim they've become the latest targets in the city's war on nightlife.
Although the city eased up on Neumo's late last week—allowing for more flexibility in how the club distributes its crowd between the bar, mezzanine, and dance floor (the club is pushing the city to raise the venue's capacity from 537 to 700)—several Capitol Hill gay bars say they've become targets of overzealous, even prudish, police attention.
Employees at the Seattle Eagle and R Place say two SPD officers—John O'Neill and Ryan Gallagher—have been showing up at their clubs, invoking state decency laws, and forcing them to remove posters and videos they deem offensive—material the state liquor board has deemed a "low priority."
Michael Engel, a bartender at the Seattle Eagle, says he feels harassed by the officers, who came in last week and sat for 20 minutes monitoring a sexually suggestive video.
Not everyone sees the SPD's increased presence on the hill as a problem. Eli Baroh, head of security at Havana, says he's been on a ride-along with officers O'Neill and Gallagher, and he's happy to have them around. "It makes my job easier," Baroh says. "People that are going to cause problems aren't going to do it in front of a police officer." King Cobra booker Jason Rothman says O'Neill and Gallagher come into his club regularly during the week and they've never caused a problem.
"I think there's a point at which people are going to have to get used to this," Rothman says. "Fighting [the city] is never a winning battle."
While the officers may be welcome at some clubs, others are not pleased by the attention. "They're looking for something to get you on," the Eagle's Engel says. "There are more important things to be doing [than being] the morality police."