Waid’s Restaurant & Lounge has been in the press regularly since its opening. Upset neighbor’s complaints are regularly voiced, while, in the media, the other side – the large amount of community who supports the establishment – is muted or ignored. Being neither a close neighbor or an attendee, I went to the club over the weekend to see what a typical night looked like. Owner Waid Sainvil introduced me around the room, took me on a tour of the building, then poured me a drink and sat down for an interview.
Give me some background about yourself.
I grew up in Haiti, then came to the U.S. when I was 17, and went to York College in New York, where I studied Information System Management. I spent two years in France after that, then came back to the States. After working as an accountant for a couple of years, I became a teacher in Manhattan. I taught high school math, then junior high, and then elementary. That was my favorite; I love kids.
Why did you switch from teaching to Waid’s – a restaurant/lounge?
I loved being a teacher, but the school system where I was didn’t care about the kids and didn’t allow teachers to make a difference. Opening a bar was always in the back of my head. It’s still teaching, but in a different setting, and adults instead of kids.
How do you teach at the bar?
By showing people love. When people go to bars, often they’re looking for someone to talk to.
What was running Waid’s like in the beginning?
A lot of friends helped me. The design of the place, I actually painted myself; all of the colors on the walls are part of what I wanted to transmit: a melting pot. I wanted to create a place for everyone, where everyone feels at ease and welcome. Like the sign says outside, “We are all one.” It’s my motto.
Before I got here, neighbors were always complaining about noise. It was a problem, and I thought that I could solve it. And I did solve it. Noise was escaping from the building, so I soundproofed it. It was a long process. I did the walls, but neighbors still complained, so I redid the whole roof, too.
How much of an investment was that?
Between $80,000 and $90,000.
Then what happened?
After soundproofing the building, the city came to test it. They had us blast the music really loud to see what the noise meter read. They did that, and everyone was satisfied that no matter how loud it was inside, no noise escaped. And so they gave me my club license.
What goes on during the week at Waid’s?
We have Russian karaoke, we used to have salsa, we have live bands and open mic, we have hip-hop, we have reggae, African music, everything. We have some gay nights.
I heard that you do fundraising, too.
Yeah. This place is open for the community. Money isn’t my first priority.
Let’s say that someone doesn’t have money to pay rent or needs to send money back home, I’ll fundraise for them. Usually it’s by giving a percentage of the bar’s revenue. We also do things for AIDS awareness. On Sundays we used to organize testing upstairs, and give away condoms. And, during the winter I do a blanket drive. People can drop off blankets here, and then I’ll go downtown and personally deliver them to the homeless.
When did police start getting involved?
When we first opened, the first couple of years it was bad. The police knew that our busy nights were the weekends, so they’d come and park their cars outside from about midnight to 2 a.m. It was a bunch of cars with their lights on to scare people away. When that didn’t work, they came inside. You would have like five or six police officers just standing inside, looking really mean, making people uncomfortable. They did that for about a year.
Did the police ever give a reason as to why they were doing that?
No. It was awful. The first two years were total harassment. But I kept going because I thought that I could show them that I was working with them.
This area used to be really bad. There were lots of drug dealings outside, so I put up bright lights to deter people from doing shady things. And we had a policy where if we saw any drug dealing outside, we called 911. And that worked. But the precinct later used that against us. They’re the ones who told me, “If you see anything suspicious, call us.” And I’m like “Okay.” So we kept calling them. If we see people starting an argument, before it escalates we’ll call 911.
What’s it like now?
For the last two years it has been really quiet, no noise complaints, nothing. But, just recently, the people who live in the new building next to me started complaining, and now the old neighbors started complaining again and the city is coming back at me, and Seattle University. It’s a whole thing. And I’m forced to spend a lot of money in lawyer’s fees.
When did Waid’s open?
July of 2006.
When was the apartment complex next-door erected?
Explain the complaints against Waid’s, and how Waid’s has addressed them. Start with underage drinking/serving minors.
The first underage drinking incident happened within the first two years, six years ago. We had a night that was for anyone 18 and older, but to be in the bar area you had to have a bracelet. I had a security person standing by the entrance who was in charge of distributing bracelets to people 21 and up. One night he made a mistake and gave a bracelet to someone who was 20 – he just added the year wrong. That [minor] ended up getting in a car accident, and [law enforcement] saw the bracelet and asked her where she had been; she told them, “Waid’s.” So, that was a human mistake. I could have fired the guy, but I believe in second chances. It’s just that he added something wrong, so I took the blame for it and paid the fee.
Two months later, the same guy made the same mistake, and gave the bracelet to another girl. She didn’t drink at Waid’s, which I showed the Liquor Control Board with our security cameras. She just came in to meet some friends, and left within two minutes. Later that night she was drinking with her friends at home, outside on the porch; I don’t know what happened, but cops saw her drinking and noticed that she had the bracelet.
The third underage drinking that they’re taking me to court for right now was a sting operation where underage girls were given IDs that weren’t theirs. The girls were wearing makeup and looked like the people in the ID photos.
So, that’s the underage drinking.
How about drug facilitation?
Two undercover cops came in on a reggae night. They asked one of my bartenders, “This is reggae night, how come no one is smoking pot?” My bartender said, “Well, you can ask this guy,” who he knew was a smoker. So they asked whoever he pointed to, and that guy gave them a joint; he didn’t try to sell it but accepted $10.
And I didn’t know this, but one of my security guards was selling pot, and they bought pot from him. I was there when the cops came to arrest him, and I had to ask them what was going on. He was fired that same night.
And last week you had trouble with the Liquor Control Board?
The Liquor Control Board came in one night when I was here. I wasn’t serving alcohol, but they said that as the owner of the place I needed to have my liquor permit. I wasn’t aware of that. So they gave me a $2,000 fine since my security guards didn’t have that permit either. The next day I had a class; all of my security, my staff, and myself, we all have the permit now.
What makes you think that this degree of police and government involvement isn’t happening at other clubs across Seattle?
I’m friends with lots of bar owners; even they tell me that they’ve never had the problems that I’m having. Everyone knows that I’m a target. Of my black friends who owned bars, I’m the last one. People keep saying that it’s not a race thing, but I think that it is since my white friends who own bars don’t go through the same things.
The only night that people complain about noise is on Sunday when my clientele is mostly black (the other night’s my clientele is mostly white). I know that when people leave the club on Sundays they have the tendency to be a little bit loud, and I understand the concern, people need to go to work the next day. So now I close a bit earlier. We used to keep going until 4 or 5 a.m., but now I shut off music at 2:30 a.m., and by 3 a.m. everyone is out.
How about it being a land issue?
It has to do with gentrification. Seattle University is right there, and it’s growing; they’re building new buildings in this area, and pushing people out in the process. The land that I’m on is increasing in value. But, also, in the past neighbors have told me that they don’t want a club here because it diminishes their property value.
So, what would the ideal outcome for you be?
That they would give me back my liquor license and let me continue with the vision that I have because I truly believe that it’s good for the community. I don’t see any other place like this in Seattle, or anywhere else, where you can be gay, you can be straight, you can be black, you can be white, you can hangout, talk, and try to understand one another and realize that we’re all human beings who can get along.
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