Club Hugo House

Mayor Greg Nickels' nightlife proposal is chock-full of fascinatingly vague bullet points. The plan, which has Seattle's club owners and employees feeling cornered, is part of a long process to force regulation on Seattle's clubs where there was little or no regulation before.

In their current state, the proposal's bullet points are subject to interpretation. But one aspect that seems to be pretty well spelled out is the definition of a nightclub in Seattle. According to the mayor, a club . . . 

1. Provides after 10 p.m. either amplified live entertainment or recorded music conducted by a DJ or other hired individual.

2. Sells liquor, and

3. Has an occupant load of 50 or more people.

Obviously, places like the Crocodile and Neumo's qualify. But it got me thinking . . . what about a place like Richard Hugo House? I've been to several events at the Capitol Hill writing center, in which I watched live amplified entertainment after 10 p.m., bought several beers, and stood shoulder to shoulder with over 50 people. Now, Hugo House certainly has a reputation as being a relatively low-key joint, and as we all know, poetry readings do not induce the rowdiness of, say, punk rock, but I flinched at the idea of Hugo House having to endure the same restrictions as Larry's in Pioneer Square.

I called Hugo House Director Lyall Bush to ask his immediate thoughts on the literary arts center being defined in such a way. Bush was, naturally, unaware of the mayor's nightlife proposal, let alone the fact that his organization might fall into the nightclub category.

"Our hours are officially 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.," Bush said. "However, we do have events that run over past 9 at night. In terms of securing Hugo House like a nightclub, we would have to look at the budget and determine what that would mean. I'm not sure of the spirit of that proposal, but they probably mean we'd have to have bouncers and things like that. I certainly don't want that vibe here."

Shortly after, I made a call to James Keblas, director of the Mayor's Film and Music Office, to ask him if, under this proposal, Hugo House would be considered a nightclub.

"No," Keblas said. "They have fixed seating."

So, we can rest assured that Hugo House won't have to hire bouncers, but the whole definition still seems a little muddy. What about the Moore Theatre? Is it not a nightclub when Savion Glover tap dances through town in September, but suddenly a nightclub when Queensrÿche plays there in October? The Tractor Tavern and the Sunset host plenty of subdued shows without fixed seating, where the crowds filter out into the streets like lambs. As does hippie-friendly Mr. Spot's Chai House. Who will decide where and when the regulations will be enforced? Can we trust that the rules will be applied fairly? Once again, it's just another example of how ill-defined the proposal is and why political chatter has predicted this proposal, in its current state, to be DOA by the time it hits the City Council. We can only hope the rumor mill proves true come January when the Nightlife Task Force hands it off to pro-nightlife council members like Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck.

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