Central Cinema to Liquor Control Board: Seriously, It’s Cool, We Got This

Full disclosure: Here is an image from SunBreak commingling at Central Cinema at our Northwest Harvest fundraiser in 2009.

Kevin Spitzer, owner of the Central District entertainment mainstay Central Cinema, is counting the days until April 7. That’s when he is supposed to hear back from the Washington State Liquor Control Board about the legality of Central Cinema staying open and operating as it has since 2005.

In May 2010, the Liquor Control Board tightened the rules around movie theaters and alcohol service to keep children and adults drinking anything alcoholic (including beer and wine) from “commingling in a darkened house.” If a theater serves alcohol:

(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.

Oddly, though the rules would seem to address a facility like Central Cinema, being “requirements/restrictions for a beer and wine restaurant license at a cinema with a dinner theater venue,” they don’t take into account the fact that Central Cinema has just one screening room. All the examples are for multiplex-style theaters, which would be allowed to designate 21+ rooms–a solution that doesn’t work if you have just the one room.

Spitzer says he wasn’t contacted to comment on the rule change, despite being, arguably, Washington’s most visible dinner theater cinema. It was only when he applied for a hard liquor license to serve cocktails that the Board notified him he was technically in violation of the new rule, despite having renewed his existing beer and wine license without difficulty.

With the City Council and Mayor on his side, Spitzer hoped that House Bill 2558 (“Establishing a theater license to sell beer, including strong beer, or wine, or both, at retail for consumption on theater premises”) would have resolved this tension (reported the Slog)…but it was “a casualty of Friday’s budget carnage” (reported Publicola).

So now Spitzer is gamely waiting to see if the Board will revisit the rule, and provide a work-around. His supporters, including the Central District Neighborhood Association, are willing to rally and petition, but Spitzer counsels patience, believing that the Board will find a way to allow the cinema, which has never previously had a problem with underage drinking, continue to serve its neighborhood. In his view, children and their responsibly-drinking parents “commingling” is a benefit to everyone involved.

Blogger Seattle Moxie describes just how that works:

One of the gems of the C.D. is the Central Cinema theater. At Central Cinema, you can watch movies from the comfort of a booth while a server brings you food and beer.  I met up with Seattle Dad at Central Cinema Thursday for “Cartoon Happy Hour.” This is an inspired event where they play free cartoons for the kids and serve delicious cold brews for the adults.

(Central Cinema also hosts events such as sing-a-longs, quote-a-longs, and something called “hecklevision.”)

For Cartoon Happy Hour, Seattle Dad and I shared a booth with our combined five children. We also shared a pitcher of Mannys Pale Ale and a few laughs over Scooby-Doo. Scooby-dooby-doo! Ruh-roh! Hilarious.

One little boy in front of us couldn’t stay in his seat for all the popcorn in the world.  His parents would sit him in his seat and–thunk–that kid would go straight over sideways onto the floor.  Sit up–thunk–sit up–thunk. It would have been downright distracting if my own child hadn’t been trying to drink milk through a straw stuck up his nose.

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