Liquor Board rules could put Central Cinema’s all-ages events in jeopardy

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?

  (1) A spirits, beer, and wine restaurant licensee at a cinema with a dinner theater venue must meet the following requirements: 314-02-035; and 314-11-055.

     (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.]

14 thoughts on “Liquor Board rules could put Central Cinema’s all-ages events in jeopardy

  1. wow, this is so disappointing. we love that theater so much, and enjoy taking our 5 year old (and 15 year old, for that matter) to screenings of old classics like goonies and ET. i really hope the state can see through the nonsense and recognize that this rule could kill small businesses.

    (and really, what is the difference if they delivery beer to my booth/table instead of to a table in a restaurant? plenty of restaurants have TVs up everywhere and delivery beer to the table with minors present. it seems like if they have a certain sized dinner menu they should be recognized as more than just a movie theatre and that could be an exception).

  2. I hate to sound like a Conservative, but the liquor control board is “nanny state” government at its worst. The few things they do that are worthwhile are already done by the cops and zoning laws.

    It’s time to shut it down. It was time years ago, actually.

  3. Are there letters we can write, petitions we can sign? Is there anything we can do to help prevent this?

  4. Ugh! You know I’m with you, Liz! Unacceptable.

    The state should be focusing on actual ways that minors can get access to alcohol. It’s so hard for me to believe that Central Cinema is a genuine avenue for that any more than any other restaurant which verifies drinking age in the same way.

    I’d also be willing to write letters/petition. Does anybody know who we would contact?

  5. I hope this gets fixed before McMenamin’s new hotel properties are up and running. It’s great to sit in any of their Oregon theatres, enjoying a burger and a cold beer. Even better, to be allowed (even encouraged) to walk around the entire property with and adult beverages. I don’t know what will happen if this problem isn’t fixed, I guess they might have to make the hotels all 21-and-older. Sad.

  6. Hi Karen, we aren’t at the petition stage. We are currently working with the Liquor board and they are working with us. So far they are pretty sympathetic with what we are trying to do, they have to follow laws that don’t always fit the situation. The problem right now is Gregoire’s moratorium on rule making due to budget cuts. The Liquor board is not allowed to address “non-critical” rules for 12 months. This takes away the normal route of addressing problems. Instead we and the Liquor board are working to figure out a way for us to fit within the current laws. If we can make this work without contorting ourselves into a weird pretzel then it will be fine for now. We can work on adjusting the laws when the state returns to normal operation. If it doesn’t work out then we will have to resort to political pressure to do the right thing. We could survive as a 21+ venue but it would cut a huge chunk out of our soul.
    The Liquor board’s main agenda is to protect under-age people from alcohol and to prevent over-consumption. Nobody likes a drunk or especially a drunk teen. Yet having a drink has a long history of social custom and can be quite civilized. We like to think we provide a safe and supervised place where adults can socialize over drinks with being segregated from their families. I know that we can do this the right way.
    So we are working on it and we will certainly let you all know when we hear more. Thank you guys for being there. Hopefully it will all work out, but if it doesn’t there will be some letter writing to do.

  7. can’t be true. always based on on-the-ground research and talking to affected parties.

    not the same, but reminds me about driving past brightwater last week and seeing trails through a wastewater treatment facility, replete with park benches. REALLY? park benches??

    i love parks, love benches, love open space, but maybe the $ was better spent elsewhere. just maybe

  8. Brightwater has green space because involved citizens – as opposed to those who sit around on the internet reguritating right-wing talking points – said they wanted green space there. After all,it would be a lot easier to just build a sewage plant without having to deal with operating a park.

    In fact, I’ll quoute from the brightwater website; “The Brightwater Environmental Education and Community Center (EECC) was built as mitigation for the Brightwater treatment facility construction. Over 60 community groups came together and asked for a park, gathering place and environmental learning center and the result is the Brightwater EECC.”

    The liquor control board, on the other hand, predates the era of community involvement, and has a long history of discrimination and corruption. The GSBA exists because liquor control agents, working with corrupt SPD beat cops, were demanding protection money from gay and minority-owned bars back in the 70’s.

    It’s the worst kind of government. Shut it down.

  9. i’m not regurgitating anything from the right wing. i just find it as a poor use of limited resources. i think they could have done the park; i don’t think a visitors center makes any sense whatsoever. none. no matter what 4 years of community meetings produced.

  10. I totally agree that this rule is silly for Central Cinema, the types of movies they show, and what they are trying to achieve in the community, but I do have to say that I thoroughly enjoy the 21+ rule when going to Cinebarre up in Mountlake Terrace. It’s particularly nice when you want to see a first run movie that would typically have a lot of younger folks in the audience (e.g. Harry Potter).

    Also, doesn’t the Pacific Place multiplex have beer taps in their upstairs concession area? Or maybe they used to and don’t any more since this new rule went into effect…

  11. The rule is about drinks inside the theater where the movie is. Cinnebarre and Big Picture chose to be like movie theaters with bars. At pacific place you can have a beer out in the mall part but not inside the theater where the movie is.

  12. It may not be the best use of resources, but it’s what the people wanted. Democracy, you might call it.

    Then there’s the people who, after the fact, come around and say “the government” is wasting money or not being responsive. That’s the opposite of Democracy, but it makes them feel all self-righteous. That’s the trouble with this country.

  13. Some taverns have applied for and received waivers for the rule regarding minors. The waiver allowed minors to dine at those venues within a certain time frame. I know that minors have not been allowed after a certain time at Central Cinema. I would hope that with community support you can obtain a waiver.