All-hours bars, more guns: back to Seattle's future?

Sometimes, we humans forget the past. Maybe Seattle will get a refresher on its Wild West past, when saloons ran 24 hours a day and manly men wore six-shooters.

Humans supposedly have an evolutionary advantage because our brains make us adaptable. If we face a problem, we can think of a solution that doesn't take generations of genetic mutations for us to adapt.

But we're also forgetful. As a species, we learn stuff, then quickly forget it, like last week's Twitter feed.

Forgetting has an upside, I suppose. It keeps us from getting stuck in ruts. On the other hand, our memory banks are often wiped clean. Here's a local example: In the Wild West days, towns featured 24-hour saloons, and manly men wore six-guns everywhere, settling their differences with showdowns in the streets.

Seattle was that kind of place: notorious (and popular) for vice. Our next big business after the first sawmill was a brothel, and some of our town founders (like David “Doc” Maynard) were heavy drinkers. In fact, one reason you can't get around Seattle easily, according to historian Paul Dorpat, is that Maynard, who owned much of the nascent city’s business district in the 1850s, showed up drunk the day they surveyed the plat. The result: Our downtown street grids don't match, going off at odd angles. Which means the best way to find your way around Pioneer Square even today is to imitate a 19th-century town drunk, as many people do.

Seattle was a violent town — a kind of Deadwood on the Bay — with shootings, stabbings, and lynchings. But most Wild West towns worked at becoming "civilized."

Ladies, like Seattle's mail-order Mercer girls, arrived and tamed the men. Bars required patrons to check their guns, or at least stop brandishing them.

Over time, Seattle the frontier town became a city of quiet Boeing engineers who appreciated order and civility. We limited the hours of bars and taverns, we gave control of the liquor business to the state, and we stopped showing off our guns. Seattle became more peaceful, more civilized — and boring.

Now, some of the hard-won knowledge about how we attained boringness is apparently ripe for review. The nightlife business no longer exists on the margins: Bars, restaurants and music clubs are considered part of a vital, 24-hour urban economy.

The old rules — that bars stop serving by 2 a.m. — seem so bush league now. There’s a new proposal to change that, in the name of public safety. And it has the best name ever for an alcohol-consumption plan: staggered closings.

Proponents like new city attorney Pete Holmes say the police are simply overwhelmed when the bars all let out at 2 am. They argue that if drinkers are time released, like pain medication, cops can handle them better. It also means more drinking more of the time, and more bar hopping. And you will have to avoid the road drunks all night instead of just during the 2 a.m. surge.

Staggered closings could get interesting if paired with another growing libertarian protest movement. "Open-carry" activists are starting to assert their right to carry guns out in the open, gunslinger style. They have been testing Starbucks cafés around the country, and the company has placated Second Amendment advocates by saying if a particular state says it's legal to wear a pistol in public, then Starbucks will allow them. Have gun, get coffee.

In Washington, you can carry an unconcealed weapon almost anywhere on your person if you don't threaten or intimidate people with it. Gun activists consider us to be “open-carry friendly.” So, ordering a macchiato with a Magnum should be perfectly legal, even in a city trying to ban guns from its city parks.

Seattle didn’t like itself very much when booze flowed freely and guns were commonplace. But staggered hours mean people will consume more booze (good for the economy), and packing heat in Starbucks possibly means people will move faster in the ordering line (good for productivity).

Still, once upon a time in the West, we learned that carrying guns in the open and allowing round-the-clock saloons didn't produce a very good result. I wonder why that was.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 1, 7:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute, I usually find myself in agreement with you in what you write, however, I find several things to disagree with in this story. Not necessarily the premise, but the supporting facts. Gun control, and I doubt that Mr. Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation would like to hear this, became quite prevalent in the mid 1800s All the cow towns had it. You were met at the city limits and if you did not want to surrender you firearm, you did not get into town. If you persisted, the Sheriff killed you. Read about Abilene Kansas and Kansas City Kansas. Both towns were famous for their gun control laws. The shoot outs like you describe were a function of the 1930s western movies. It just did not happen, at least in the quantity indicated in recent times.

As far as bars go, I personally know of many bars that ran 24/7 in the 1960s and 70s. With respect to modern owners who I assume are quite in tune with modern laws and are responsible, I can call to mind the Brooklyn Tavern, the Mineral Tavern, the Lester Tavern, the nameless tavern in Amanda Park at the end of the Heidelberg Trail. All were establishments whose only ID requirement was to be able to reach the bar with a dollar bill. (Three schooners for a buck.) If you looked like a working man you could buy beer. Even if yo were only 14.

Yes Seattle had a sporting house, at one time reputed to be the largest in the world, we were violent, but no more violent than today. In some respects, I think we were much less violent. Violence was contained to where the bars were, it never moved to the rest of the city. Most disagreements were settled with the fist, nothing else, compared with today’s hooligans.

And the most egregious offense I read was the assault on Doc Maynard. If you were to pay close attention, only in his claim are the streets and avenues laid out properly according to standard civic plans. Avenues are to run north and south, streets are to run east and west. Remember, when the city was being laid out what we know as downtown was not even logged. Lucky for us however, north of Denny Way the streets run properly.

Like I said in the beginning, I do agree with you observation about the evolution of civilization, but I wish you of all people would have had better examples to back up your thoughts.

Posted Thu, Jul 1, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Regarding the grid, it is my understanding that the clash exists because Maynard platted his streets to run according to the cardinal directions, whereas Yesler et al. platted theirs to run parallel to the bay. Maynard's grid is followed almost everywhere else in the city, a major exception being the old Town of Ballard. I've read it was Yesler who started the Maynard-was-drunk rumor, but don't know if there are any facts to support that assertion.

Posted Thu, Jul 1, 1:36 p.m. Inappropriate

I have read a little about this concept of 'staggered' bar closings. I can't help but wonder whether it would be legal under this state's present liquor laws. And I also wonder if it seeks to do something in a complicated way that might be largely accomplished by a more simple (and possibly legal) method. What I propose would not change the 2:00 AM cutoff for the sale of spirits; but what I think should be changed (thereby reflecting how it's done in cities across the globe) is for the cutoff to be lifted for the CONSUMPTION of spirits. Right now, with the sale and consumption cutoffs being the same, local bars frequently offer 'shots only' within the last 5 or 10 minutes before 2:00 AM. This means that for those customers who still want to wet their whistles, they have to do so in the most drunk-inducing way possible. Why not instead allow them time to drink their last drinks in a leisurely manner? The effects then won't be so intoxicating (assuming that customers are only allowed to purchase one drink each after, say, 1:45), and as they finish off their drinks at different times, the likelihood of all of them leaving at once will be reduced. Therefore, I think the new policy should be: drink sales stop at 2:00 AM, while drinking is cut off at least a half hour later. This is far simpler and easier to effectuate than the byzantine method of 'staggered closings' presently under discussion.

Posted Fri, Jul 2, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Bars have to spend some time cleaning up and breaking down anyway. Given their potential liability in case someone has a car accident after drinking on their premises, I should think allowing patrons more time to finish their drinks more slowly and thereby diluting their effects should be a no-brainer (if allowed). And a number of dance clubs stay open after 2:00 AM as it is. Letting patrons drink longer is standard practice in most other big cities I've been to. I can't see why it's not done here. I don't own a bar or work in one. It would interesting to hear views on these kinds of proposals from persons who do.

Posted Sat, Jul 3, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Outside of the matter of 'staggered hours' being considered for local bars, there is another aspect to this essay which particularly struck me.

It seems to go along with a trend I had noticed over the last year or so. What appears to be happening is that the engine of history has suddenly shifted in reverse, putting us on an unfamiliar, backwards course. Whether it's the introduction of small-scale farming and animal husbandry in modern urban settings; the rise of Steampunk; the public's budding love affair with bicycles, trains, and even dirigibles; the rediscovery and widespread interest in 'classic' cocktails and the Slow Food movement; the legalization of absinthe; or the imminent replacement of Edison lightbulbs with some expensive and complicated gadgets whose shortcomings might cause people to resort to candles in the end, it looks like our 21st Century ride is heading us straight for the 19th Century. I've now acquired a frock coat and a top hat and walking stick and have already worn them to a few functions; I want to be ready.

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