An inspector for the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) says he will cite the Eagle, a gay bar on the west side of Capitol Hill, for allowing “lewd conduct” at the bar last month. On Saturday, October 23, agents conducting an inspection reportedly saw footage from a Guys Gone Wild video, which enforcement officer Lorn Richey said in an email to the bar would result in an "administrative violation" next week.
But Eagle owner Keith Christensen says he was trying to comply with rules from liquor enforcement officers. His customers routinely ask bartenders to show hardcore porn, as was common practice at gay bars circa 2005, which later led to a crackdown. Since then, Christensen says state agents have told him he may show nude images, but not penetration or masturbation. So instead of the hardcore they want, customers get show still slideshows of nude men and softcore videos like Guys Gone Wild.
"We haven’t been showing porn," Christensen says. "I don’t want that kind of attention. I don’t need that kind of hassle." Unluckily for him, agents happened to walk in on a scene that contained masturbation. Christensen, who was not there at the time, says, "At the very end [of the video], they have a guy jacking off. They didn’t used to put that on their videos." 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 footage.
Guys Gone Wild is unquestionably softcore—out of 26 videos for sale on their site (NSFW), only one makes so much as an allusion to masturbation.
Christensen’s employees told him the agents joked they had never even heard of Guys Gone Wild, just Girls Gone Wild. He retorts, “For them to come in and ridicule the behavior of gay men is completely ridiculous. I feel like this is an insult. They can do whatever they want, nobody is policing them.”
But the instructions from liquor agents to allow naked stills appear to directly contradict state law that prohibits liquor licensees from displaying pictures or videos depicting “pornography, or a sexual act prohibited by law.” It seems that the law is so draconian that state agents have half-invited him to violate it.
Under vague state rules, agents have authority to enforce violations for anything from the aforementioned images of “pornography, or a sexual act” to employees baring their butt cracks.
Susan Reams, spokeswoman for the WSLCB, likes this degree of discretion. She says, “It’s a good thing. All situations are not just cut and dry.” Asked a follow-up question about whether discretion benefits law enforcement or licensees, she did not wish to respond but did say, “An officer is going to be trained to make the best and fairest decision possible in the situation. You’re dealing with alcohol, a controlled substance.”
To get a sense of how common this enforcement is (and which sort of bars are being cited), The Stranger has filed a records request for all lewd-conduct violations issued by the WSLCB within the last year. Reams wasn't familiar with details of the case at the Eagle and the inspector was off work today and could not be reached for comment.
More after the jump.
This incident is not the first time the Eagle and other gay bars have come under fire from law enforcement. We reported on an SPD anti-porn crackdown in 2008; the Eagle and Capitol Hill’s R Place were both targeted. The Eagle was last and most infamously cited by the WSLCB for a dick-showing incident in September 2008 that took until this year to resolve (PDF), during which time Dan Savage launched a photo campaign against dicks in bars.
To get a sense of how broad the discretion is, take a look at some more aspects of the relevant state code. According to the first section, licensees “may not allow, permit, or encourage employees” to expose all sorts of private parts, including the “cleft of the buttocks.” Next time you are in a bar and the owner does not tell the barback with his butt crack showing to cover it up, you should call the WSLCB, they just broke the law.
According to the second section, licensees “may not allow, permit, or encourage any person… on the licensed premises” to touch, caress, or fondle the “breast, buttocks, anus or genitals.” Next time you are in a bar and the owner does not stop a guy from fondling his girlfriend’s ass, call the WSLCB, they just broke the law.
And according to the third section, licensees may not encourage anyone on the premises to “Wear or use any device or covering that is exposed to view which simulates the breast, genitals, anus, pubic hair, or any portion thereof.” So next time someone draw boobs on their shirt with a sharpie and the bar owner does not stop them, call the WSLCB, they just broke the law.
Christensen is frustrated. Based on what his employees told him, he expected a warning, not a full violation, which can result in a $500 fine or a five-day suspension of the liquor license. During the recession, business has declined by 80 percent and is only slowly recovering. He says, “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.”