Don’t Tease Me With Your Lattini

If you pimp it, the law says you gotta sell it.

"I'd like a lattini, please." The bartender at Taqueria Jalisco, near KeyArena, responded with a confused look. "You know, a lattini. The drink made with the Starbucks liqueur—the one you have advertised on the side of your restaurant. You have that liqueur?" He squinted and shook his head. "No, man." And so it went all along First Avenue. At Belltown Bistro, at tony martini bar The Apartment, and even at Starbucks itself, a reporter tried and failed to score a "lattini." Giant advertisements for the Starbucks liqueur–based drink are affixed to the outside walls of the aforementioned establishments (the Starbucks is in the same building as the Belltown Bistro), but not one of the drink servers inside knew how to make the mysterious concoction. It can, however, be found on the Starbucks Liqueur Web site (where it's spelled "lattetini"). The recipe calls for 1 part Starbucks Cream Liqueur to 1½ parts VOX Vodka, shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass. At Belltown Bistro, the bartender patiently answered the reporter's questions, sometimes with questions of his own. What's a lattini? No, they do not have the liqueur. Yes, they used to carry it. "It's not bad," he offered. "It tastes like Kahlua." On to The Apartment, where, as Fleetwood Mac exhorted the assorted Wednesday-night boozers not to stop thinking about tomorrow, the reporter struck paydirt—or as close to it as he was going to get. The bartender pulled out a bottle of Starbucks Coffee Liqueur. "It's good on the rocks," he said. The reporter drank it thusly. It tasted like Kahlua. The lattini's apparent scarcity is notable not so much for the business from inquiring reporters that Starbucks and the First Avenue proprietors are losing, but because the availability of the liqueur—if not the advertised drink made with it—is mandatory in order for the ad to be legal. Under a 1993 city rule intended to curb visual clutter or blight, ads can only be plastered on the sides of buildings if they are promoting something actually made or sold within. (A few walls were grandfathered in, however. They can be distinguished by a little registration number in the lower corner. Look for that before lodging a citizen's protest.) Despite a reporter's failure to secure a lattini at Jalisco, Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) spokesperson Alan Justad insists that his staff had better luck. "At 122 First Ave. N. [the location of Jalisco], the DPD inspector confirmed that the product [i.e., the liqueur] is being served inside and the wall sign is legal," Justad said in an e-mail. However, as of press time Justad said he was not certain whether the three buildings mentioned above had current and valid permits for the signs. Brooke Barnes, owner of the building that houses Belltown Bistro, insists that his tenant regularly carries the product. "In fact, there's two of them," he says of the liqueur. "A dark one and a cream one. They've got both." Barnes claims he spent nearly two years working with the DPD and the Landmarks Preservation Board to get permission for the ad. When it finally went up, Barnes says he enjoyed a celebratory glass of Starbucks Cream Liqueur. That compliance would depend on the presence or absence of a $20 bottle of liqueur is ironic, given the value of the advertising space and the complexity of the resulting business arrangements. As in Barnes' case, it's typical for a landlord to lease the space to a sign company. The sign company deals with the permitting process and rents the space to a media buyer, who has been hired by someone like Starbucks to place its ads. The buyer and the company representing the landlord work with a contractor to get the sign up. Perhaps the highest-stakes compliance controversy involved Qwest Field. A 2004 lawsuit by an organization named Save Our Skyline argued that the large Qwest logos that adorn the stadium's twin roofs were in violation of the city's wall sign rules. The suit was dismissed because it was filed too late. (There's a three-week window in which to challenge the permitting of a sign.) But the city pointed out that Qwest operates a 10-by-11-foot sales booth within the stadium, and thus the logos, for which Qwest spent $75 million on naming rights, were in fact advertising a product sold onsite. Of course, the presence of the booth is little consolation to those who see such advertising as blight or the unwanted commercialization of public space, just as the ads that line First Avenue are little guarantee that one will find the drinks they so tantalizingly promise. An exhausted reporter, parched and demoralized from his Ahab-like pursuit of the lattini, wandered into Cyclops, hoping to slake his thirst with a Stella Artois, an advertisement for which was seductively draped over the bar's north exterior wall. "Yeah, we don't have Stella," explained the bartender, a burly dude with tatted arms. "It's ironic, because we've got the huge sign on the wall." The reporter walked out thirsty, fooled by another urban mirage.

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