Will the last call be extended? Some local institutions are pushing for this. In a letter to Governor Jay Inslee, Dan Austin – owner of the Peel & Press gastropub and Burien Bar Flight Path – urges the state to amend the latest regulation banning alcohol sales after 10 p.m. due to COVID-19 measures, take back. The letter is signed by more than 100 other well-known restaurants and bars in the area, including Future Primitive Brewing, Hudson, and Queer / Bar.
In July, Inslee introduced the 10pm alcohol cutoff rule when it announced it would put additional restrictions on Washington’s “safe start” reopening plan, even for districts that had resumed dining services. When asked why alcohol and bars were designated for more specific regulations than the catering service, Inslee said, “Alcohol is associated with social behavior that is different from carbohydrates.” Other states like Arizona had tried similar measures with some success.
These additional rules came at a time when COVID-19 cases were enjoying an alarming resurgence this summer, particularly in King County. Currently, Seattle is still in phase two of the state’s reopening plan. Indoor service is limited to 50 percent, including bars if a full menu is available. Take-away cocktails are still allowed, but the 10 p.m. cutoff also applies there.
Now restaurants and bars are wondering if restrictions will be eased again if COVID cases continue to slide down as they have done in recent weeks – although the risk of outbreaks remains high.
When asked about the 10 p.m. cutoff, governor’s spokesman Mike Faulk said there is currently no plan to reset it. “We have heard repeatedly from local health departments and law enforcement agencies about the positive impact this change had on social gatherings that led to the transmission of COVID,” he says.
But Austin doesn’t think any concrete metrics have been gathered on the rule’s impact that would suggest he “hasn’t seen a health inspector after 6pm” in his 24 years in the industry, let alone gathered information to get between the two report hours at 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. “At this point, the needs of thousands of bars and restaurants across the state seem to be influenced by decisions that are not data-driven,” he says. “If we’re safe while following protocol, it shouldn’t matter when these operations take place.”
Austin’s letter to Inslee argues that adding this 10pm limit – in addition to the 50 percent capacity limit – decreases a bar’s ability to generate revenue by up to 80 percent. It is also noted that there is a quick-closing window that can be used for outdoor seating. The autumn and winter months are just around the corner. Recovering later hours can therefore help mitigate some of the lost business.
At least one other bar owner who hasn’t signed the letter wants the 10pm rule to be removed (or at least extended later). “With all the restrictions, we’ve seen that our guests are by and large very responsible and respectful, but the early break definitely shortens the hours enough that we miss the sale,” says Christopher Elford, co-owner of the prestigious Belltown bars No anchor, Navy Strength and Vinnie’s.
Meanwhile, Pamela Miller, co-owner of the Philippine Speakeasy Knee High Stocking Co. in Capitol Hill, has been adjusting to earlier closing times since March (though the name is not in Austin’s letter). She has expanded the bar’s daytime hours to accommodate the Jeepney takeaway window and set up a shop for merch sales and supplies, including bottles of curated liquor bottles and specialty shrubs.
Knee High recently opened dine-in from 5pm to 10pm, but it wasn’t an easy shift. “The challenging factor for us, besides the severely restricted seat cap, is how best to ensure that those who sit inside live in the same household,” she says.
Overall, the main requests from bars and restaurants in the area seem to be more direction, communication and flexibility from the legislature. Austin, who urged local officials to cap third-party delivery app fees in Seattle, says, “I’m ready to listen and get involved whenever they want to speak.”