Sure enough, minutes after the Central's burly bouncers cleared the sidewalk, a fight broke out. DeMeerleer says people were running back and forth, throwing punches. "It was mass chaos," DeMeerleer says. The Central's bouncers jumped in to break up the fight--which had started in front of Larry's Nightclub, two doors down.
Larry's Nightclub--a First Avenue South bar, with a sleek black awning above the leopard-print curtained door--has been the source of closing-time fights lately, say nearby businesses. "There have been a lot of fights outside of Larry's," says one business owner, who did not want to be named. "This last couple of weeks they've been more frequent." One guy who works at the Central claims there were fights every night during the last week of May. Other clubs are skittish over saying anything about Larry's--they don't want to highlight the neighborhood's problems and risk "hurting the good guys," one explained.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board has issued several warnings to the club this year, according to the city. At the Seattle Police Department, a file on calls to Larry's address is slim. However, there is one SPD fight report from May 15 describing 15-30 intoxicated males cheering on a fight. Strangely, one detail in the report--the race of the participants--is blocked out, possibly to curb speculation that the police are targeting a black hiphop club.
The race of the crowd at Larry's is a sticky issue for the neighborhood, as it's the main hiphop venue in Pioneer Square (the club used to feature blues music). Neighbors sidestep the issue of race, or stress that race isn't the problem. The crowd at Larry's last Saturday night was at least half white. One bouncer, skirting race, sums up the crowd at Larry's as "urban," compared to the "drunk, white, testosterone-filled frat boys" who line up to get into the J&M Cafe. "What happens is you've got two different types of crowds at the hot-dog stand [between the clubs]," says the bouncer. "Demographics interfering," another club's owner calls it.
Other bars speculate that Larry's deeply discounted drinks are fueling the fights. Indeed, during last Saturday's chilly, damp evening, a cute girl in tight black pants stood behind the rope outside Larry's door, lettings passersby know that everything was two bucks until 10:00 p.m. Inside, the DJ reminded the crowd about the specials every few minutes. "It's probably leading to overservice," says a woman who works at another First Avenue bar. (Larry's owners deny overserving.)
The police are keeping an eye on the club. "We are tracking the situation," says the SPD's Officer Sean Whitcomb. And Larry's owners, brothers Larry and Charlie Culp, are working with the cops to curb fights (which Larry says are not happening every night, despite neighborhood talk: "That's extremely exaggerated," he says). In April, the police met with Larry's owners to go over things like security. The Culps have also tried to hire off-duty officers, but say their request--which goes through the police union--has been denied.
Last weekend, West Precinct Captain Linda Pierce spent time at the club, Larry says, making more suggestions and checking out the club's new camera system. And the club is now open until 2:30 a.m. to "chill down" the crowds before they head outside.
Finally, Larry says his drink specials and music format aren't the source of problems on the sidewalk--and he points out that other bars' crowds are involved. "It's not relevant to drink specials. It's relevant to popularity," he says, explaining that the club is doing very well with their current lineup. "With increased volume, the probability of anything is going to increase. But no one is working harder at addressing these problems than I am right now."