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Washington nightclubs
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With Phase 3 on the way, Washington nightclubs remain in holding pattern

Nightclubs in Washington have been closed for nearly a year now. (MyNorthwest photo)

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he would soon be relaxing restrictions and moving the entire state into Phase 3 of reopening. That included allowing events in indoor facilities to resume at 50% capacity. For nightclubs and music venues that have been closed for nearly a year now, though, odds are that most will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

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The most up-to-date restrictions make it so indoor theater and performing arts venues can continue to host shows, provided they have assigned seating, with individual groups of up to 15 people (provided they’re from a maximum of two households). Artists on stage must be distanced from the audience by at least 20 feet, with a three-hour time limit on all performances in Phase 3.

The caveat is that dancing is prohibited, severely limiting the ability of nightclubs to function in any sort of traditional way.

Gov. Inslee’s office did clarify that nightclubs could reopen “if they can reconfigure their business operations” to comply with the state’s “Eating and Drinking Establishment” guidance. That would make it so clubs would be limited to table seating of no more than six people each, spaced out six feet apart. Alcohol service would have to end at 11 p.m., and standing and dancing would still be prohibited.

As the Washington Nightlife Music Association notes, requirements on distancing, limited capacity, and configuration would likely have most venues losing money if they opted to reopen under those rules.

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“Most venues would operate at a loss under these guidelines particularly with increased staff needs and operational expenses,” it notes on its website.

Outdoor venues like the iconic Gorge Amphitheatre are similarly limited in their ability to reopen, with the state’s rules regarding outdoor events requiring “permanent, individual designated seating.” Under Phase 3, “open, unreserved seating” for outdoor venues is still not permitted. Barring the installation of that seating, the Gorge “would not be allowed to reopen” under the state’s current guidance.

Live musical performances without permanent seating do have one potential avenue to resume, though, with drive-in concerts permitted in Washington, provided they adhere to guidance laid out for drive-in theaters and outdoor performing arts. Those rules include:

  • Attendees must remain in their vehicles “at all times,” except to use the restroom or purchase food in concessions areas
  • Attendees must wear a face covering when leaving their vehicle for any reason
  • There must be 10 feet of space between vehicles
  • Performers must be distanced at least 15 feet from accompanying musicians
  • Singers must wear a three-layer surgical mask
  • Groups/Choirs are limited to no more than 15 individuals
  • Performances can last no longer than two hours
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