by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Video footage uploaded to YouTube by a witness to a fight that broke out on Broadway in front of Q Capitol Hill early Sunday morning shows a brawl that takes several minutes to contain. Coupled with the rise in anti-LGBT sentiment and other violent crimes in the neighborhood, the incident has many residents worried about their safety when partying on the Hill.
We've seen this sort of thing before. And the one constant is that whenever violence is associated with a new business that operates in the Pike/Pine corridor, or along Broadway or Olive Way, that business doesn't last much longer. The LGBT community is a peaceful one, and our Gayborhood intends to remain that way as well. Anyone is welcome on Capitol Hill - as long as they behave like adults.
A FAMILIAR REFRAIN
The Social, the infamous now-defunct nightclub with an attached tapas restaurant-turned-vodka bar, went down in history as a giant letdown to the LGBT clubbers who hoped that the venue would be everything it was over-promoted to be in 2012. After some ownership shakeups, hiring and firings, changes in programming from Gay to straight and shots fired, the crippled club shut its doors after the owners couldn't get their liquor license renewed.
The Social was Gay, then it was straight, then it was hip-hop, and then it was closed.
What's the moral of the story here? Pick one! I understand that bars and some lounges can get away with being 'mixed.' But nightclubs located on the Hill that don't draw a line in the sand and say which side of the fence they are on (not in a separatist sort of way, but a marketing and programming way), don't make it. Take a look at Purr Cocktail Lounge, open for nearly 10 years on the Hill. It's open to everyone, but it is a Gay bar. Everyone knows it. Neighbours Seattle, celebrating a whopping 30 years this month, has been accused of being a straight club - and it certainly has a following among straights - but if you take one look at their programming, DJ lineup, and the fact that they advertise themselves explicitly as a Gay nightclub, it's easy to see that while anyone can go inside, those who enter do so knowing they will be dancing, drinking, and talking with Gays.
Q opened its doors last year as a dance club for serious music heads, and catered to what the owners and management called a 'Capitol Hill crowd.' Wouldn't have just been easier to say, 'It's a Gay nightclub, but all are welcome'? Anyway, the point of this article is about how some people feel unsafe with the current programming that Q has introduced, after the one Gay owner of the two Q principals left, and the Gay DJs jumped ship too. The straight, drunk, angry, and downright obnoxious Belltown crowd is trying to find a new home and Q seems to have embraced them. Some are saying that, with that crowd, also come crime, anti-LGBT sentiment, and violence.
A concerned citizen who wished to remain anonymous wrote to the Capitol Hill Community Council (CHCC) earlier this week following the Q brawl: 'With hate crimes on the rise all over the country, I'm very concerned for the people of Capitol Hill after a recent outbreak of violence outside a nightclub on Capitol Hill called Q. The club, which used to cater to Gays and Lesbians, now draws an aggressive, homophobic crowd (probably from outside of the city) who have been spilling out into the streets with their violence and hate speech, and the trend is very frightening. I'm planning to contact the Mayor as well as the neighborhood council on this issue and I hope that you will stand in solidarity with us in shutting down this hotbed of anti-Gay speech and violence.'
He then thanks the council for their time and 'consideration on this very important issue' and shares a link to the video of the fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUlftU_atnw
Well-known out Gay DJ and producer DJ Almond Brown, who worked with the club shortly after it opened until just after Pride month, told SGN that he shares some of the same concerns as the man who wrote the letter to CHCC.
'In all my years as a DJ, I can honestly say, every truly violent incident I've witnessed has not included Gays,' he said. 'Now I've seen some queens read each other to filth, but never something where we have to call in police and an 'all hands' security situation erupts.'
'The level of female entitlement, straight-boy testosterone, and crap EDM [electronic dance music], is a dangerous cocktail these days,' Almond Brown warns. Capitol Hill, he says, is 'the new Belltown East.'
Openly Gay businessman C. Scott Smith opened the club with business partner Andy Rampl less than one year ago. He has since left the business, and due to a nondisclosure/non-disparagement agreement that keeps him from being able to say much, he wasn't able to comment directly about the rise in violent crimes in parallel with Q's marketing to communities outside Capitol Hill. Still, Smith would go on the record to say, 'Obviously, I've been following events at the club since I left - and the reports of violence at Q that I've seen on Facebook and in the Capitol Hill press are very disturbing to me.'
Smith told SGN, 'I told my former business partner two years before the club opened that I never want to own a club where my security people have to pat down customers and search purses prior to letting them in, and being located on The Hill and targeting the market that we originally saw as our core demographic should have guaranteed for the club a well-behaved clientele. And it did.'
When I asked Smith, 'So what happened?' he replied, 'That's a question you'll have to ask my former business partner, Andy Rampl.'
Smith does admit that the change in behavior, as far as the heterosexual clientele is concerned, is perplexing. He says that when he was active at the club, 'the straight folks we had coming to the club when we first opened - and even several months later when I was still active in the day-to-day management and musical programming of the club - were people who were comfortable around Gays and Lesbians and who acted like grownups when they went out. '
GAY PROGRAMMING VANISHES
Recently, a vocal group of Capitol Hill residents from the LGBT community have all but declared Q dead. So were they ever supportive at all? 'Oh my God, yes!' Smith said. 'Yes, they were. '
'The club once had a fiercely supportive and loyal Gay customer base,' he continued. 'And what was really fascinating to me, as a club owner, was to see the incredible desire of many of the Gay customers to see the club succeed - even though they had no vested interest in it, except as customers.'
'It was really quite wonderful,' said Smith, adding, 'And with just one or two exceptions during the almost-year the club has been in business, the very biggest bookings as far as customer turnout is concerned have consistently been the events and bookings aimed at, but not necessarily exclusive to, Gays.'
Looking over the current programming Q has in place, you will quickly notice that the so-called loyal following isn't following anymore.
'A club like Q can't survive on the pink dollar alone - at least in Seattle,' said Smith. 'But it's important for a club owner like me to recognize that being located in a place like the Hill and having a core Gay customer base brings not just Gay dollars, but also behavior levels that tend to be more grown-up than clubs that target straights alone.'
In a particularly focused manner, Smith cuts through the bullshit, saying, 'Let's face facts - when there's violence at clubs it's rarely the Gays or Lesbians who have pulled a gun or knife. Additionally, in my humble opinion, clubs that have a solid core customer base comprised of Gays tend to be clubs that have much longer legs than their straight counterparts. Just look at Neighbours and The Cuff - clubs that have been in operation for 30 and 20 years, respectively.'
Smith said, 'Operating a nightclub anywhere is a difficult proposition, but doing so on the Hill, while trying to thread the needle of inclusiveness, make enough money to pay the rent and, at the same time, not letting your business turn into a place filled with Belltown and Pioneer Square 20-something douchebags is extraordinarily hard, but not impossible.'
'I'm incredibly proud of the bookings that DJ Almond Brown and I put together - bookings like Derrick Carter, Chus and Ceballos, DJ Pierre, DJ Paolo, Honey Dijon, Ralphi Rosario and Abel Aguilera of Rosabel fame, along with Francois K among many, many others,' he continued. ' I think DJ sets like those and others that we booked helped to lay the foundation for what could be a serious musical reputation for the club while at the same time threading that needle of inclusiveness that I mentioned above and that's so critical to the success of a business like Q.'
At the end of the day, Smith says, 'It's my sincerest hope that Q's ownership and management don't lose sight of where the club is located, both physically and metaphysically, and how in order to thrive the club needs to do all it can as a business to fit into the fabric of the community and the soul of Capitol Hill.'
COURSE CORRECTION AHEAD?
Currently, Ryan Schmitt is the general manager at Q Nightclub and has been since its inception. He told SGN that while Q officials don't deny that violence has been on the rise, they believe that Q has become 'a focus for a disgruntled vocal minority.'
'We are in the process of an overhaul that will be bringing things back to the community and will support them,' he said.
SGN has an interview set up with Schmitt and Q Nightclub Creative Director Sean Majors on August 16. Look for it in the August 23 edition of the newspaper.
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