Officers deny LGBTQ+ bar visits were raids, officials seek to change lewd laws

Jan 31, 2024, 3:35 PM | Updated: 4:52 pm

LGBTQ+ bar...

An LGBTQ+ bar in Seattle (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

After multiple bar owners bars accused law enforcement officials of targeted enforcement because the bars cater to the LGBTQ+ community, the Liquor Cannabis Board (LCB) heard testimony Wednesday from its chief enforcement officer over the alleged ‘raids’ on four LGBTQ+ bars over the weekend in Seattle.

David Postman, the Chair of the LCB, said the visits were routine in nature and not raids. LCB enforcement officers accompanied members of Seattle’s Joint Enforcement Team (JET) on the visits. JET conducts inspections of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, mobile food vendors and other businesses such as strip clubs and massage parlors.

The team makes unannounced visits at peak times to check for compliance with regulatory and license codes and maintain a safe environment for patrons and the community, according to its website.

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According to Chandra Brady, LCB’s Director of Enforcement and Education, two LCB officers joined members of JET on visits to 10 locations in Seattle on Friday night. The locations included “sports venues, food vendors, hookah lounges and two known LGBTQ+ venues.”

According to Brady, LCB violations were observed at seven of the 10 locations, but did not identify those locations. The City of Seattle later identified the 10 locations as:

1. 2 Sipps Lounge – 303 12th Ave S
2. Kings Hookah – 814 S. Lane St.
3. Urban Hookah – 1731 4th Ave S.
4. Sarajevo – 2218 Western Ave
5. Finn MacCool – 4217 University Way NE
6. The Cuff – 1533 13th Ave
7. Neighbours – 1509 Broadway
8. Hawks Dogs (Food vendor) – Broadway and Pike
9. Poppa Dan’s (Food Vendor) – 11 Avenue & East Pike Street
10. Chammo Rican (Food Vendor) – 10 Avenue & East Pike Street

“The violations included permit violations, liquor violations, safety violations, youth access violations and lewd conduct violations,” Brady said.

A visit to one of the LGBTQ+ locations was a follow-up to a complaint made to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) about the lack of security and the amount of sexual conduct on the premises. The reason for visiting other LGBTQ+ locations was a follow-up on ‘over-service’ violations witnessed at the location two weeks prior.

“Our officers were on-site at the beginning of January and observed patrons leaving the location with liquor in hand, and one patron was intoxicated to the point that they fell and needed to be held up to leave the establishment,” Brady said.

On Friday night, officers at the two LGBTQ+ locations observed lewd conduct violations and informed the manager on-site, Brady stated. LCB did not issue any violations that night to any of the locations, and although referrals and warnings are being considered, one of the locations was closed on the spot for safety violations.

A spokesman for Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said three correction notices and one citation were issued for fire code violations, and two notices to comply for operating without a business license were issued by the JET on Friday.

However, none of these notices or citations were issued at LGBTQ+ bars or nightclubs by JET.

The following night, on Saturday, two LCB officers visited eight Seattle locations without the presence of JET. Three of the locations visited were part of a complaint investigation, and the others were premise checks as part of the regular course of our officers’ duties.

Two of these locations are known as LGBTQ+ venues. LCB officers observed lewd conduct violations at one of those locations, according to Brady. One of these locations was visited because there was an event happening.

“We were just having a drag show,” Nathan Adams, one of the LGBTQ+ bar owners, told KIRO 7. “So no, nobody was violating any laws.”

The officers did not issue any violations that evening, but it is currently under review as per standard practice.

The Washington Administrative Code stated that employees at licensed locations are not allowed to be unclothed, and certain body parts must be covered. It also states that liquor licensees cannot allow or encourage patrons to participate in sexual contact.

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Brady said since 2021, the LCB has formally recorded 10 occurrences of lewd conduct violations at nine separate locations in the state. Seven of those incidents were addressed with an administrative violation, two with verbal warnings and one with a written warning. Four of those nine locations were at LGBTQ+ venues.

It was clear from the reaction by board members; the incidents hit a nerve, especially with LCB board member Jim Vollendroff.

“There’s a smell test on this; the fact that we visited a concentration of LGBTQ+ bars,” Vollendroff said. “I have to question that. I mean, is it a coincidence?”

There was a discussion by Vollendroff, LCB Board Chair David Postman and others that maybe the definition of ‘lewd,’ as it relates to bars, may need to be changed.

“You can go to the solstice parade and see individuals riding nude on their bicycles in a parade with thousands of people, including children,” Vollendroff said. “And yet, if a nude cyclist stopped and tried to go into one of our establishments, boom, it would be a lewd conduct violation. There’s something seriously wrong with that. And we have an obligation, I think, to address that.”

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Officers deny LGBTQ+ bar visits were raids, officials seek to change lewd laws