Hammered, Man

The city says it will oppose renewal of the historic Blue Moon's state liquor license.

On May 12, when Tom Carr was informed of Blue Moon Tavern owner Gus Hellthaler's opinion that the city was hell-bent on getting his beer-and-wine license revoked, the city attorney responded thusly: "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. The city hasn't decided what to do with him. We've always wanted to work with Mr. Hellthaler."

Not anymore. On May 25, the city attorney's office notified the Washington State Liquor Control Board of its intent to object to the renewal of Hellthaler's beer-and-wine license, which will expire at the end of September. The city's informal notification was confirmed separately by liquor board spokesperson Bob Burdick and by Carr, who declined to comment further. The city has said the Blue Moon, on Northeast 45th Street near Interstate 5, attracts nuisance clientele, including drug users. Hellthaler says he doesn't serve such people. The city has wanted him to sign a Community Good Neighbor Agreement and abide by security requirements and community oversight. Hellthaler has declined. (See "Lunar Eclipse," May 17.)

Neither Hellthaler nor his attorneys knew about the city's communique to the state, but Hellthaler figured something was fishy on Wednesday, May 31, when he received a new certificate of business registration from the state Department of Licensing that did not list beer and wine sales as one of his permitted uses. Instead, it identified the Blue Moon as a tobacco-product retailer, when, in fact, the tavern has not sold tobacco since the smoking ban went into effect in December.

In spite of this document, Burdick says that the Moon may continue serving beer and wine until the end of September and that if the liquor control board "decides to pursue nonrenewal, he will be notified and will be able to request an administrative hearing."

"If he renews his liquor license in September, we will issue him a temporary liquor license to operate with until a final decision is reached," adds Burdick. "Renewal hearings can take several months to schedule and complete."

Hellthaler thinks that the city's objection, which his attorneys say comes unusually early in the renewal process, could gum up his desire to sell the tavern. "People don't want to jump into a hornet's nest, and I think the city's probably done this to try and screw me on the sale," says Hellthaler, who's owned the 72-year-old haven for artists and counterculture types since 1982. "I'm trying to do this to get out of their way, but the city is just being as vindictive and malevolent as possible."

While the liquor board has exclusive authority over the Moon renewal, Hellthaler reiterates his position that they're "a rubber stamp" for whatever the city desires. Burdick replies that the liquor board "is not bound to honor a city's objection, but it takes such objections very seriously and is unlikely to grant a license over a local authority's objection."


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