Belltown streets fill as the bars are closing
Sunday morning at bar-closing time, Seattle police had to disperse 1,000 people flooding Belltown, but there were no arrests and no injuries. But there was some street fighting.
Seattle Times staff reporter
What do you think a thousand or so people were doing flooding Belltown streets early Sunday, as around 20 Seattle police officers on bikes, foot and cars tried to disperse them?
As Mick Jagger put it way back in 1968, “Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street. ...”
Says police spokesman Mark Jamieson: “It’s the kind of phenomena we experience as the bars close, and they announce last call and then people start exiting at 1:30 or 1:45. There is this mass exodus out of the different venues. The sidewalks can’t accommodate them and they start spilling out into the streets. We don’t want people hit by a car.”
A Google map search shows a number of bars clustered around Belltown.
Jamieson says crowds also fill the streets at closing time in Pioneer Square, “wherever the clubs are.”
So, what the cops did Sunday morning was close off First Avenue, between Blanchard and Bell streets, until the crowds thinned out.
All the flashing lights and police presence made for an exciting scene, and one woman who watched it said plenty of people were recording it all on their smartphones.
Jamieson says there were no arrests and no injuries, although that didn’t mean there weren’t some tussles.
“When you’ve got drunk people, for whatever reason, they like to fight one another,” he says.
(In an unrelated incident Sunday morning, police heard shots at 1:50 a.m. just south of a party they were monitoring on South Forest Street, between First Avenue South and Utah Avenue South in Sodo. A man was later arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, with spent shell casings on the driver’s seat matching those found on the street were the shots had been fired.)
The Seattle city government — its city council, mayor and police department — have said they backed extended closing hours in bars.
In 2011, the Seattle Police Department said the current 2 a.m. bar “push-out” strains police resources and contributes to violence, noise and disorder.
Back then, Assistant Chief Mike Stanford said, “What we know is that the 2 a.m. closing does not enhance public safety.”
Mayor Mike McGinn said that later bar hours could contribute to a more vibrant entertainment scene and also bring in almost $3 million in new tax revenue.
On Sunday, Pete Hanning, owner of the Red Door in Fremont and a past president of Seattle Nightlife and Music Association, said that the current closing hours were set up when Seattle was a town with a huge manufacturing base.
“Back then, typically factories had three shifts, and they wanted to ensure there was a time period when people went home and got a little sleep,” he says.
“I think we should acknowledge that, in general, we’re living in different times. You and I can do our banking in our pajamas.”
Hanning says that forcing a 2 a.m. closing means that, among other things, there are not enough taxis available, and bar-goers end up in the street.
He says a later closing time would mean bar staffs weren’t telling “150 or 200 people that they gotta go.”
But opponents such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving extended hours would result in more drunken driving.
Liquor Control Board chairwoman Sharon Foster says, “Our paramount responsibility is public safety, and I believe control plays a major part of public safety.”
Jamieson says the people flooding the Belltown streets on Sunday morning “was the busiest we’ve seen it all year.”
He says it took about an hour for the crowd to disperse.
The weather forecast for next Saturday calls for temperatures in the high 70s.
Which means, as Mick further explained in his classic song, “Hey! Said my name is called disturbance.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org