Central Cinema‘s family-friendly and all-ages community events could be in jeopardy due to state liquor rule changes that could prevent underage people from setting foot in the neighborhood theater. The 21st and Union theater (a CDNews sponsor) will continue operating as usual — including hosting their popular Thursday Cartoon Happy Hour — while the rule is contested.
The 2010 rule was written in response to a cinema/bar chain looking to open in Washington, according to Kevin Spitzer at Central Cinema. The rule (see legal text below) appears to be written for larger, multi-screen theaters, but does appear likely to capture the single-screen Central Cinema in its definition.
“We found out about this only a couple of weeks ago as we were going through the process of making some changes to our license,” said Spitzer in an email. “It was a big shock to us to get the call from the Liquor Board. We were extra miffed because there are only seven cinemas that serve alcohol in the state, and you would think that they would have included us in the rule making process, or at least notified us that there was a new rule. We have renewed our license twice since the rule changed and no one has said anything until now.”
Basically, if you are operating a restaurant or performance venue, Washington liquor laws allow you to serve alcoholic drinks to someone’s table (with some restrictions around late night performances) whether an underage person is at the table, in the room, whatever. But if there happens to be a movie screen in the room, people under 21 are not allowed anywhere in the building at any time.
“Their fear of Cinemas is based on their fear of a typical mall multi-plex installing beer taps next to the popcorn machine at the concession stand,” said Spitzer. “I believe they just didn’t think the rule all of the way through.”
This rule would significantly change Central Cinema, which operates almost like a community center.
“Not allowing minors 24/7 would take a big bite out of who we are,” said Spitzer. “Not having a liquor license would take a big bite out of our ability to pay the bills. Being a 21+ venue would mean no Cartoon Happy Hour or family-oriented movies. No Reel Grrls using the theater,” — the youth media non-profit uses the space for classes — “No Church use of the theater on Sundays. No weddings. No Neighborhood Holiday Parties, and so on. Our six-year-old son would not even be allowed in the room when we were closed.”
The cinema was planning an appeal to the new rules, but the governor has put a moratorium on non-critical rule-making activity through the end of the year due to budget cuts, said Spitzer. The cinema is looking at its options, including political action to get the rule changed or changing into a live performance venue (with film screenings) like the Triple Door or Jazz Alley.
The Liquor Board has been “as helpful as they can with what they have to work with,” said Spitzer. The theater does have a little time to either get the rule changed or change their practices.
“The enforcement officer has agreed not to prosecute us for this violation while we are working it out,” said Spitzer, “but we still have to become legal with Olympia one way or another fairly soon.”
Here’s the text of the rule:
WAC 314-02-027 What are the requirements/restrictions for a spirits, beer, and wine restaurant license at a cinema with a dinner theater venue?
(2) Alcohol sales and service may not be provided from the concession area in the cinema lobby.
(3) Alcohol may be consumed only in the theater rooms approved by the board.
(4) Minor patrons and employees are prohibited in the individual theater rooms that allow alcohol service and consumption.
(5) A spirits, beer, and wine restaurant licensee at a cinema with a dinner theater venue must provide a floor plan of the cinema and indicate which theater rooms within the cinema will be operated as dinner theaters. Those theater rooms not operated as dinner theaters with alcohol sales and service may be open to minors and minor employees.
Example: A cinema has eight theater rooms. The licensee wants to operate theater rooms five and six as dinner theaters with meals and alcohol sales and service. Minor patrons and employees are prohibited in theater rooms five and six, but would be allowed in the lobby area and in theater rooms one, two, three, four, seven, and eight.
Example: A cinema has eight theater rooms. The licensee wants to operate all eight theater rooms as dinner theaters with meals and alcohol sales and service. Minor patrons and employees are prohibited in the lobby area and all eight theater rooms in the cinema. No minors would be allowed on the entire premises at all times.
[Statutory Authority: RCW 66.08.030. 10-10-127, § 314-02-027, filed 5/5/10, effective 6/5/10.]