Enforcement officers for the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) have levied an administrative violation against the Eagle, a Capitol Hill gay bar, for allowing "lewd conduct" last month. On Saturday, October 23, officers Lorn Richey and David Stitt were conducting a routine inspection when they reportedly saw footage from the video Guys Gone Wild: Bad to the Bone.
This makes the Eagle the first bar in over a year—in the entire state—to receive an actual violation for lewd conduct, according to a records request filed by The Stranger. The violation can result in a $500 fine or a five-day suspension of the liquor license.
The state has charged five other bars with lewd conduct in the past year, but those establishments, none of them a gay bar, were simply issued warnings. Those warnings were given to bars that allowed, among other offenses, a male patron to rub a female's crotch and women to engage in "caressing and exposing breasts," according to records from the state. But the Eagle will receive a more severe penalty because it showed a video that allegedly included "a lubricated erect penis," says Susan Blaker, who is in charge of liquor enforcement in King County.
But Eagle owner Keith Christensen says he didn't know the video contained masturbation and he was trying to comply with rules from liquor enforcement officers. State agents have told him he may show nude images, he says, but not penetration or masturbation. So instead of the hardcore they may want, customers get slide shows of nude men and softcore videos like Guys Gone Wild.
Even the WSLCB makes it clear that Christensen has been trying to comply with state rules; Officer Richey has screened videos at Christensen's request to make sure they are allowed, according to Blaker. (When asked if this meant state money was being used to pay a man to watch gay erotica, Blaker said, "No, he was providing technical assistance.")
"We haven't been showing porn," Christensen says of his attempts to show erotic videos in accordance with state rules.
Guys Gone Wild is unquestionably softcore—out of 26 videos for sale on its website, only one makes so much as an allusion to masturbation. And the website's description of the video that the Eagle showed that night, Bad to the Bone, makes no mention of masturbation. None of the previous videos from the franchise shown at the Eagle featured masturbation, Christensen says, so employees were just as surprised as liquor agents to see the masturbation footage.
Now Christensen is frustrated. Based on what his employees told him, he expected a warning—like other bars had received—not a full violation.
Moreover, it's virtually impossible for bars like the Eagle to comply with instructions from liquor agents—who have approved naked stills and certain videos—without running afoul of a state law that technically prohibits liquor licensees from displaying anything depicting "pornography, or a sexual act prohibited by law." Under vague state liquor rules, agents even have authority to penalize bars for employees baring butt cracks. In other words, officers employ wide discretion: In some cases, agents can slap a serious violation on a gay bar that's trying to follow state rules (even letting the state screen videos for approval) while giving a bar where real-live breasts are exposed a mere warning.
But Susan Reams, spokeswoman for the WSLCB, likes this degree of discretion. She says, "It's a good thing." Asked whether discretion benefits law enforcement or licensees, she would only say, "An officer is going to be trained to make the best and fairest decision possible in the situation."
Christensen's employees told him the agents joked they had never even heard of Guys Gone Wild, just Girls Gone Wild. "For them to come in and ridicule the behavior of gay men is completely ridiculous," he says. "I feel like this is an insult. They can do whatever they want; nobody is policing them."
This incident is not the first time the Eagle and other gay bars have come under fire from law enforcement. The Eagle was most infamously warned by the WSLCB for an alleged dick-showing incident in September 2008 that took until this year to resolve. The Seattle Police Department conducted an anti-porn crackdown on Capitol Hill gay bars in 2008; the Eagle and R Place were both targeted. Officer Richey has issued two warnings (one for failing to meet food-service requirements, one for another alleged instance of lewd conduct) to the Eagle since 2008. But since then, Christensen has been trying to follow the rules from liquor agents. The Eagle can appeal the violation, which typically requires paying an attorney. But money is tight right now. Says Christensen: "I am barely keeping this thing afloat... it's not a business that shows profit. I'm just trying to keep people employed until the economy turns around."