Full Moon Fever

The city attorney 'turns the screws' on Seattle's historic bohemian bar.

In July 1989, Westlake Capital Inc. announced plans to demolish the historic Blue Moon Tavern on Northeast 45th Street in the University District for the purpose of erecting a taller modern structure containing condominiums. Immediately, with the help of prominent public-affairs firm Gogerty & Stark, the Moon's owners marshaled an all-star cast of literary and political luminaries—among them novelist Tom Robbins, the New Yorker's Calvin Trillin, Gov. Mike Lowry, Rep. Jim McDermott, and Pulitzer Prize–winning poets Carolyn Kizer and Stanley Kunitz—to provide public testimony in support of the tavern's pursuit of landmark status, which was viewed as the best way to spare the then-55-year-old bohemian icon from the wrecking ball. When all was said and done, the city's landmarks board deadlocked, denying the tavern protected status. But after observing the phenomenal groundswell of support from the Moon's passionate cadre of advocates, Westlake's principals decided to scrap their redevelopment plans and extend the Blue Moon's lease to 2034, which would enable the tavern to ring in the centennial of its founding. In his short book Forever Blue Moon: The Story of Seattle's Most (In)Famous Tavern, local historian Walt Crowley saw the effort thusly: "During a few months in 1989 and 1990, the battle for the Moon became a metaphor in a greater struggle for a city's soul. It stood for the ancient and unending dialectic of old versus new, preservation versus development, people versus profit, David versus Goliath." Within the past several weeks, it has become increasingly clear that an even stealthier battle for the Moon's survival rages. As has been reported through multiple dispatches in this paper, Blue Moon owner Gus Hellthaler's refusal to sign a Community Good Neighbor Agreement as a condition for an enhanced spirits license has spiraled into a revelation that the city attorney's office intends to oppose renewal of the Moon's current beer-and-wine license, which expires at the end of September. Should the city prevail in what is sure to be a protracted fight for the state Liquor Control Board's favor, the Moon will be rendered dry—even a renewed push for landmark status couldn't save it from having the taps turned off. What appears clear is that, despite isolated gripes from nearby business owners, the effort to hamstring the Moon is the singular goal of City Attorney Tom Carr, who views the tavern as a cesspool for druggies. Yet neither the University District Community Council nor the Roosevelt Neighbors Alliance (South) confesses to having a problem with how the Moon is currently run. To the contrary, both neighborhood organizations express wholehearted support for the tavern as a valued cultural entity. "As a board, we support the Blue Moon as a neighborhood institution, are not aware of any serious problems affecting our community by their operation, and have never been approached by the city about any complaints," says Jennifer Keys, president of the RNA South. "It came as a surprise to us that they were considered a problem," says UDCC President Matthew Fox. "This initiative did not begin in the community, it began in the city attorney's office. It's certainly not something that came as a result of community outcry." Nor, apparently, did it have its genesis in Mayor Greg Nickels' office, despite Hellthaler's suspicions. (See dueling statements from Hellthaler and Tom Carr.) "The mayor's office has no interest in shutting down the Blue Moon," says state Rep. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, who received word of this position via a conversation with Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. (Mayoral spokesperson Marty McOmber states that the mayor's office has yet to take an official position on the Moon's license issues.) "Far as I can tell, it looks like it's completely the initiative of Tom Carr. I'm out doorbelling, and people say they have a crack house around the corner, and there's an open-air market for drugs down by the courthouse—and all of a sudden we have to pick on the Blue Moon? I'd have to say it's the city attorney's personal vendetta." Carr begs to differ. In the interim, he's got the Moon doing contortions that are already chipping at the institution's free-flowing soul (see the interview with Tom Robbins for more on that). To wit, UDCC President Fox, who moonlights in a band called Zombie Jihad, relates a very uncharacteristic experience he had recently while gigging at the Moon. "We got there and were told we couldn't have beer onstage," says Fox. "I haven't seen that rule enforced in 20 years, which is as it should be. It's right up there with going shirtless onstage and having to put duct tape on your nipples. I think that little anecdote speaks volumes. The city is clearly turning the screws on the Blue Moon." mseely@seattleweekly.com

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