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Seattle Restaurants and Bars Ask for Rollback of 10 p.m. Booze Cutoff

But the governor’s office says that the restriction has helped mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread

A half-filled glass of beer sits on top of a bar, with colorful neon lights in the background.
Since July, bars and restaurants in Washington state have been required to stop alcohol sales at 10 p.m.
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Will last call be extended? That’s what some local establishments are pushing for. In a letter addressed to Gov. Jay Inslee, Dan Austin — owner of gastropub Peel & Press and Burien bar Flight Path — asks the state to consider rolling back the recent regulation that prohibits alcohol sales after 10 p.m. due to COVID-19 measures. The letter is signed by more than 100 other well-known area restaurants and bars, including Future Primitive Brewing, Hudson, and Queer/Bar.

In July, Inslee had put the 10 p.m. booze cutoff rule in place, as he announced imposing additional restrictions in Washingston’s “safe start” reopening plan, even for counties that had begun to resume dine-in services. When asked why alcohol and bars were targeted for more specific regulations than food service, Inslee said “there’s a social behavior associated with alcohol that’s different than carbohydrates,” noting that other states, such as Arizona, had tried similar measures with some success.

Those additional rules came at a time when COVID-19 cases had an alarming resurgence over the summer, particularly in King County. Currently, Seattle is still paused in phase two of the state’s reopening plan, with indoor service limited to 50 percent, including bars, as long as they serve a full food menu. To-go cocktail sales continue to be allowed, but the 10 p.m. cutoff applies there as well.

Now, restaurants and bars are wondering whether restrictions will be loosened up again if COVID cases continue to trend downward, as they have in recent weeks — though the risk of outbreaks remains high.

When asked about the 10 p.m. cutoff, the governor’s spokesperson Mike Faulk says that there’s no plan at the moment to roll it back. “We have heard repeatedly from local health departments and local law enforcement about the positive impact this change has had on social gatherings that lead to COVID transmission,” he says.

But Austin doesn’t believe that concrete metrics have been collected about the impact of the rule, saying that he’s “yet to see a health inspector out after 6 p.m.” in his 24 years in the industry, let alone gathering information to report between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. “At this point it seems the needs of thousands of bars and restaurants statewide are being impacted by decisions that are not data driven,” he says. “If we are safe to operate while following protocol, then it shouldn’t matter what time those operations take place.”

Austin’s letter to Inslee argues that adding that 10 p.m. restriction — on top of the 50 percent capacity limitation — reduces a bar’s ability to generate revenue by up to 80 percent. It also notes that there’s a rapidly-closing window to offer outside seating, with the fall and winter months coming soon, so restoring later hours may help mitigate some of that lost business.

At least one other bar owner who didn’t sign the letter would like to see the 10 p.m. rule eliminated (or extended later, at least). “With all the restrictions, we have seen our guests behaving very responsibly and respectfully by and large, but the early cut off definitely truncates the hours enough that we are missing out on sales,” says Christopher Elford, co-owner of acclaimed Belltown bars No Anchor, Navy Strength, and Vinnie’s.

Meanwhile, Pamela Miller, co-owner of Capitol Hill’s Filipino speakeasy Knee High Stocking Co. has been adjusting to earlier closing times since March (but its name is not on Austin’s letter). She’s expanded the bar’s day hours to accommodate its takeout window Jeepney, as well as setting up a shop for merch sales and pantry items, including bottles of curated liquor bottles and specialty shrubs.

Knee High also recently opened dine-in service from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., but it hasn’t been an easy shift. “The factor that has been more challenging for us, besides the severely limited seating cap, is how best to ensure those sitting inside live in the same household,” she says.

Overall, the main asks from area bars and restaurants seem to be more direction, communication, and flexibility from lawmakers. Austin — who pushed local officials to cap fees from third-party delivery apps in Seattle earlier this year — says, “I am willing to listen and engage anytime they want to talk.”

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