Thursday, March 10, 2005

Remembrances of Softball Games Past

The FLUBA Committee on Lingering Effects of Prohibition notes this Seattle PI story on places where everybody knows your name:

The regular crew at the Coppergate Tavern in Ballard knows the world is changing around them. That's why they hunker here with cold schooners of Bud. The tavern, nearly 60 years old, is not simply a link to Seattle's past; it's a link to their own.

"Out with the old and in with the new, put that in your story," Benny Nelson, 69, said to his interviewer. "In here you don't see people talking on cell phones, reading stuff. It's a place to B.S. It's what a tavern is supposed to be. Or what they used to be."

That's the operative point. Taverns, legally defined as bars that sell only beer and wine, are disappearing faster from Seattle than inexpensive homes. Significant changes in liquor laws have prompted many to become full bars.

.... The "tied house" laws that Washington bar owners have called both onerous and antiquated unintentionally created a tavern culture that marked Washington as different from much of the modern West.

Without hard liquor, many taverns serving beer and wine evolved into neighborhood dens -- smaller, quieter, slower. But the easy pace has applied to the revenue too, especially in the past five years as cocktail culture has pushed beer aside. State liquor laws have changed to reflect that, substantially lowering the requirements to serve hard liquor, including the requirement for a fully operating kitchen.

...."Certainly, it was something that set us apart from a lot of other places," said Walt Crowley, who tracks the history of some local taverns on his Web site,

"The way the liquor laws were established coming out of Prohibition, it created a unique institution that was more neighborhood-oriented than your traditional hard liquor bar. I think this is going to decline as liquor laws are liberalized."

....The state's modern liquor laws date back to the 1934 Steel Act, the post-Prohibition law to regulate the sales and marketing of beer, wine and spirits. Originally, the law was written to discourage the rapid spread of hard liquor. Taverns that sold only beer and wine were deemed less of a social threat.

To sell hard liquor under a Class H license, an establishment also had to serve a full menu of meals during the same hours they sold booze.

....the state originally required 70 percent of the sales to come from food and 30 percent from booze. Taverns had no food requirements and so were much cheaper to establish and run.

....In the early 1990s, the board reversed it from the original standard, so the sales requirement became 70 percent booze and 30 percent food.

....Over the past three years, the standards relaxed again. The board dropped the requirement for a full kitchen, the lengthy menu-item requirement and the rules about hours of food service. Today, in most cases, a microwave oven and some frozen entrees will suffice.

....But at the Coppergate....Co-owner Pam Young said she's not going to change. Her parents drank beer in the corner tavern on 24th Street Northwest after it opened in 1946.

"We don't want to be a cocktail lounge," she said from behind the bar. "I have no desire to switch. Everybody knows each other. I want to keep it as a place to stop in and have a beer. Even if I'm the last one."

This is music to the ears of regular customer Jim Dwyer. Sitting next to Benny (who says he plans to die on his barstool), Dwyer didn't expect Seattle to change so much in so many ways. The condos and high-tech are one thing. But this -- what does a tavern drinker do?

"Honestly, I never thought I'd see a tavern in Ballard that served mixed drinks in my lifetime," he said before draining his glass. "So I guess we'll just stay here."

FLUBA members with memories of home runs hit for Coppergate's entry in the Magnolia Softball League, tip their glasses: Here's looking at you, kid.

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