Compared to, say, building another Amazon tower, the City of Seattle is not known for making it easy to open a spot for a DJ to lay down a late-night set of scintillating '90s house while you throw back a tallboy of Rainier. The city has many well-enforced rules about amplified sound, building use, alcohol sales, operating hours, and the other minutiae of nightlife businesses.
But plenty of other growing cities around the world have decided that, in fact, what happens after city hall closes up for the evening is no less important than what happens during daytime business hours.
Enter the night mayor. In 2012, Amsterdam kicked off a global trend by designating a nachtburgemeester, which translates from the Dutch as "night mayor." Despite the moniker, the club promoter Amsterdam picked was not a city employee but rather head of the outside voice of the nightlife industry with a direct conduit to city hall—not unlike the Downtown Seattle Association's role on behalf of downtown business owners.
Amsterdam's night mayor successfully deployed nighttime social workers to steer boisterous patrons back indoors in thumping nightlife neighborhoods before angry neighbors could file noise complaints. He also convinced city hall to issue the first 24-hour licenses for nightclub operators.
The night-mayor concept took off, spreading to London, New York, Paris, Washington, DC, San Francisco, and even Iowa City. Most of them work inside city government and have backgrounds as bar owners, DJs, performing artists, or other denizens of the night.
So as Seattle's storied nightlife grapples with our constant growing pains, do we need a night mayor to stand up for Seattleites who relish the 5 to 9 more than the 9 to 5? The good news is that we already have someone.
Scott Plusquellec is the city's nightlife business services advocate. It's a wonky title similar to many of his peers across the world, who often shy away from that powerful word "mayor" in their official job titles. But you can call Plusquellec our "night czar."
At the start of a recent workweek at the Seattle Municipal Tower, Plusquellec was dressed in Monday casual—blue jeans and a teal polo shirt—and fresh off a Saturday night show at Fremont Abbey to see Flock of Dimes. He told me he was previously an actor, which "gave me the flavor of what it's like to make your living after 6 p.m. and what it's like to be starting your day when others are wrapping theirs up."
Plusquellec brings that experience to bear on his now two-year-old role, which comes after five years as the city's lobbyist in Olympia. "Cities are waking up to the idea that nightlife isn't a nuisance to be gotten rid of, but an economic driver to be supported," he said.
"Our first step is not to close something down; our first step is to figure out how to keep something open," he said. Such was the case with Vue, a Belltown club—heavy on bottle service and scantily clad servers—that opened last fall. Vue owner Chuck Wang had been wrongly informed that he did not need a change of use permit for his building. Once Wang received the unfortunate news, Plusquellec said that he walked him through an expedited permitting process to remedy the error. (Wang did not return a request for comment.)
Plusquellec also lent a hand to Beacon Hill establishment Clock-Out Lounge, due to confusion over zoning for an old building with records still on microfiche. Owner Denise Burnside downplayed the issue—"just a little bump Scott helped us work through"—but sang our night czar's praises. "Scott is fantastic—really responsive and helpful," she said.
Elsewhere, Plusquellec has organized active-shooter, sexual-harassment, and naloxone anti-overdose trainings. He is working with SDOT on a management strategy for the weekly Capitol Hill ride-hail flood, which sees 20,000 to 30,000 weekend visitors. His appeal to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board for a later last call was met with "not interested at this time," which Plusquellec's lobbyist instincts see as an open door for a future conversation.
Most excitingly, he is spearheading an "agent of change" policy that he hopes the city council will take up next year. Agent of change is simple: The business or person responsible for a change is responsible for managing the impact. So if a developer builds condos next to an existing nightclub (ahem, Kremwerk), the developer must soundproof the units rather than the nightclub having to turn down the volume. Such a safeguard could be crucial in the midst of our building boom, the architects of which Plusquellec views as insufficiently creative.
Ultimately, he argued, we have to make room for nightlife or risk fighting more arduous battles like the ongoing Save the Showbox saga. "Multiple other venues are tenuous and could very easily be the next Showbox," he said.
Jerry Everard, a local nightlife impresario, is sour on the status quo for legacy nightlife businesses. He recently bought a historical landmark building in Belltown to relocate at-risk pinball bar Shorty's and pizzeria Rocco's.
"One would think there would be all kinds of support for this at city hall," Everard told me. "Instead, they made the most onerous judgment calls regarding code applications and made me sit at the back of the permit line behind big Amazon towers for a year and a half."
Plusquellec is more sanguine. He fancies himself a Seattle nocturnal flaneur who strolls different neighborhoods to keep tabs on the nighttime vibe and occasionally conducts ride-alongs with police and code-compliance officers. His bet is on Sodo and White Center as emerging nightlife hubs. White Center, he noted, had a trendy ax-throwing lounge even before Capitol Hill.
"It used to be the case that if you had very specific tastes, you could be hard-pressed to find what you wanted—now we're getting to a point where there is something for everyone in the city," he said. "This is what excites me about Seattle and the growth we are going through."