The current owner of the Blue Moon Tavern has placed a historic institution at risk by allowing, if not encouraging, criminal activity in the bar. It would indeed be very sad if the iconic Blue Moon closes; but if it does, the fault will lie squarely at the feet of the current owner, who refuses to take even the most modest steps to reduce the regular drug activity at the Blue Moon. In the past three years, Seattle police officers have done six undercover narcotics buys in the Blue Moon tavern. The Blue Moon's own records, the "86'd" logs, which document persons excluded from the bar for misbehavior, show that employees were aware of 68 other drug incidents involving heroin, cocaine, and crack in the past three years that never resulted in the police being called. This log further demonstrates that individuals engaging in illegal drug-related activity were not always excluded, individuals previously excluded for illegal drug-related activity were allowed to return, and decisions by staff to exclude an individual for illegal drug activity were not permanent and could be overruled by the owner.
The City vs. the Blue Moon
Full Moon Fever
The city attorney "turns the screws" on Seattle's historic bohemian bar. By Mike Seely
Not Just Another Roadside Attraction
Tom Robbins reflects on his 44-year romance with the Blue Moon. By Mike Seely
The Current State of Affairs Cannot Be Tolerated
City attorney to Blue Moon owner: Blame no one but yourself. By Tom Carr
It's Not the Beer Talking
The owner of the Blue Moon responds to Seattle Weekly letter writers and rips City Hall. By Gus Hellthaler
Although there were no calls to police about the drug dealing, there were several calls to 911 for other types of incidents at the Blue Moon, including aggravated assault and robbery. By allowing illegal drug activity at the Blue Moon, the owner is not only in clear violation of the rules of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, he is having a significant impact on the neighborhood and on scarce police resources. With a record like this, there is no question that something had to be done.
There are several tools available to address a problem bar owner. The city could seek forfeiture of the building under state or federal drug laws. We could bring a nuisance action to abate the business, or we could simply report him to the Liquor Control Board and have his license revoked. Instead, as we do with businesses throughout the city, we tried to help address the problem by working with the owner to encourage business practices that would mitigate the problems that the Blue Moon presents to the community. The Blue Moon's owner chose not to cooperate. Having been left with no other recourse, and having no reason to believe that things would change, the city objected to the Blue Moon's application for an enhanced license to sell hard liquor. It should be clear that to date the city has taken no action against the Blue Moon owner's license to sell beer and wine. [Editor's note: On May 25, the city attorney's office, as reported in Mike Seely's June 7 article, "Hammered, Man," telephoned the Liquor Control Board to declare its intent to oppose the Moon's license renewal. It has not yet filed a formal objection.]
With regard to the hard-liquor license request, the Blue Moon's owner exercised his right to a hearing before an impartial administrative law judge. After hearing six days of testimony and after reviewing seven volumes of evidence, the administrative law judge concluded:
[T]he City has expressed rational concerns and established a fair basis to support those concerns accompanied by objective evidence. The evidence is not based on speculation—there is objective, credible evidence from law enforcement personnel (as well as staff notations in the "86'd" log itself) that illegal drug activity occurs regularly at the Blue Moon. The overall remaining impression is that the Applicant is not managing its business in a manner conducive to preventing threats to public safety. . . .
It is important to note that this was not a "rubber stamp" by the Liquor Control Board, nor was the hard-liquor license denied because the Blue Moon's owner refused to sign the good neighbor agreement. The license was denied because the owner took what would best be described as a cavalier attitude toward drug dealing at the Blue Moon.
The police cannot be everywhere. The citizens of our city have a right to expect that a person given the privilege of selling alcohol will act responsibly. The owner cannot simply rely on the police to clean up the mess that he creates. The vast majority of the city's approximately 2,400 liquor licensees run responsible businesses that do not create problems for the neighborhoods in which they do business. A few, like the Blue Moon's current owner, are not good neighbors. In response to this problem, my office adopted the Community Good Neighbor Agreement as a tool, which we use to limit the impact of these problem businesses. These agreements are based on the U.S. Department of Justice's guidelines for dealing with problem businesses.
We do not object to liquor licenses without good cause. Last year, there were close to 3,000 liquor license applications for businesses in Seattle. The city objected to six. We choose the licenses to which we object carefully, so it is not surprising that the Liquor Control Board generally supports our objections, as they did in the case of the Blue Moon's owner when he applied for an enhanced license.
In the end, we are all responsible for making our neighborhoods safe and livable places. It is best if we can prevent crime by addressing its breeding grounds—relying only on police response after the fact is very expensive and less effective. Sadly, the evidence shows that the Blue Moon has become just such a breeding ground. I would like nothing more than to avoid taking the next step and objecting to the owner's current beer-and-wine license when it is up for renewal this fall. We have time for the owner to clean up his act—and I hope that he does. If the Blue Moon closes, it will be a loss for our community. The current state of affairs, however, cannot be tolerated.
Tom Carr is Seattle's city attorney.