On the Rocks at Mootsy's

by Ben Cater & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's pretty devastating when your two favorite institutions are sold inside the same week. For now, I'm comfortably in denial, but when the cold reality takes hold that the Seattle Supersonics and Mootsy's have just been sold to unknowns, someone may need to inject me with a horse tranquilizer. What is the world coming to, anyway? Aren't there international laws commanding that the Sonics remain in Seattle, or that Mootsy's will always be captained by a Turner? Apparently there are no such laws, but there really should be. At this point, loyal customers of Mootsy's are probably wondering if it might be better that the bar share the possible fate of the Sonics and get shipped off to Oklahoma than be forced to bear witness to a likely transformation.

For many of us, the sale of Mootsy's will mark an end to a very definable era. The little bar on Sprague Avenue has been a cultural oasis for countless musicians, poets and artists. Home to great bartenders, and an incredibly faithful patronage, the bar has grown over the past 10 years into its own magnificently original beast. Rick Turner, who opened the bar in 1995, declined to comment on the bar's recent sale, perhaps because his decision to let it go is a touchy and emotional subject for employees and regulars alike.

The biggest concern for Mootsy's patrons seems to be the fear of what the bar might become. Unlike other bars that compete via radio ads and gimmicks, Mootsy's has achieved by way of understated simplicity. Nobody seems to expect this kind of downplayed, divey charm to withstand even the most enlightened new ownership. After all, Mootsy's has never been your run-of-the-mill bar, so how can someone not familiar with it be expected to understand its swagger? (Even if that's their goal.)

Rick's daughter, Sasha, who runs Mootsy's N. 9 Pizza, says, "It feels like someone has moved into my house and I don't even know them."

Joe Vitt, a staple regular, says his loyalty to the bar will not waver so far as the bartenders remain the same.

Daytime bartender, Dan Kvamme, laments over the idea of the clientele changing; noting that the Mootsy's patronage has "been more than simple friends, they are comrades and characters."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s potentially volatile a subject that selling the shrine of Mootsy's is, nobody is judging Rick's decision. In fact, there are many reasons to believe that, despite the financial success of the bar, there were circumstances that made his job wholly uncomfortable. Principally among these was his experience with the Washington State Liquor Control Board. When I asked regular Craig Bickerton about Rick's decision to sell the bar, he quickly replied: "Talk about getting out at the right time -- you know the Liquor Board was out to get him."

The problem bar owners have in dealing with the Liquor Board is trying to find a balance between sticking up for themselves and staying on the Liquor Board's good side. The Liquor Board's citation structure is three-tiered, with the third violation resulting in the removal of the bar's license to serve liquor. So if and when that final, life-ending violation is served, the Liquor Board already has a history of "problems" at the bar that is documented. Mootsy's was treated like an indentured servant without hope for freedom. Rick never took their crap, but he could never escape the fact that the Liquor Board controlled the vitality of his bar in their sweaty, ticket-writing hands.

Perhaps it's the thorns of the Liquor Board that have Rick's son Sam sympathetic to his dad's reasons for selling the bar. "As sad as I am over my dad's decision to sell the bar, I understand that it is a tough business and that he is ready to be done with it." Sam remains upbeat about the ownership change, citing a chance for "a new adventure," with his only hope being that the new owners don't alienate any of the current regulars.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hether regulars will be able to embrace Sam's optimism remains to be seen -- as nobody envies the task at hand for the new owners. There are a number of patrons who have been enabled to behave liked deranged Wookies without any recourse or judgment from the Mootsy's staff. How will the newbies respond when the Chewbacca calls begin to resonate inside the walls of their new investment? God help them, for they are entering an unfamiliar world.

The regulars will try to bring the new owners up to speed -- but warnings about vicious men in wheelchairs and leprechauns who can't find the toilet will likely just cause anxiety. The truth is, Mootsy's is one hell of a bronco to break. The only man truly proven capable of the task is Rick Turner, and for this he will be celebrated as a champion in the hearts of those who knew the bar for what it was.

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