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Originally published August 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 5, 2007 at 2:05 AM

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Danny Westneat

Time to try longer hours for clubs?

It's 1:36 a.m. in Seattle's Bermuda Triangle of nightlife, and all is calm. Well, not exactly calm. Two women stumble on a curb and dissolve...

Seattle Times staff columnist

It's 1:36 a.m. in Seattle's Bermuda Triangle of nightlife, and all is calm.

Well, not exactly calm. Two women stumble on a curb and dissolve into shrieks. A man greets a friend so loudly the friend must be blocks away. SUVs glide by, windows vibrating from all the bass inside. There's been a mostly gentle vibe this night in Belltown. For three hours I've been roving the clubs in a three-block area around First Avenue and Blanchard Street.

It's Ground Zero of the dance-club scene. And also of the political fight over whether clubs are out of control and trashing the town.

Three of our most dangerous clubs — as labeled by the mayor — are here: Tabella, Venom and Belltown Billiards. And a slew of others that ricochet music and shouts off a condo canyon: Jai Thai. Amber. Tia Lou's. Twilight.

This night it's not that loud, by big-city club-district standards. In three hours I haven't seen a fight, a drug deal or even a drunken public disturbance.

At 1:37 a.m., though, all hell breaks loose.

In Belltown Billiards, about 100 people are dancing and downing last-call shots when bright lights come on and the "push out" begins. That's when every bar closes and empties onto the street to make the state-ordered 2 a.m. closing.

A fight erupts in a dark parking lot at Western and Blanchard. A man throws a beer bottle at another man, who rushes him.

Up the street it's worse. A mini-rumble starts in the push out from the most jammed club, the See Sound Lounge. A man is body-slammed into a 10-foot window fronting a haute cuisine restaurant, Mistral. A waterfall of glass showers down on the wrestling men, the sidewalk, the street.

The men bolt. The crowd gets volatile, taunting and shoving. A bouncer tells me later that someone pulled a gun.

From my vantage, which you better believe is at some remove, the See Sound crowd is about to merge with the Belltown Billiards crowd. Three cop cars race up to cordon the street, and slowly, over 20 minutes, the tension eases.

It makes me wonder: Is closing time contributing to our nightclub crisis?

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What if we just let the clubs stay open?

It's not crazy. After forcing pubs to close at 11 p.m. for decades, England in 2005 decided pubs could serve booze 24 hours a day. The hope was to end "drinking against the clock," in which you down five pints at last call and are bounced out with hundreds who just did the same.

It seems to have helped a little bit. One public-health study found alcohol-related assaults dropped 15 percent.

Maybe we could crack down by easing up. Use the lure of no closing time to win stronger noise and crowd-control rules, and put more police on the beat to stem fighting. Keep your club in check, you can stay open all night (we are a 24/7 society now). Don't, we close you down.

Bar owner Pete Hanning says he's talked about this counterintuitive idea with City Hall, but mostly got a "knee-jerk reaction of 'Ohmigod, that would mean less control over clubs, not more.' "

Maybe the control is part of the problem.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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