Ask Dan Sweeney where to wrap up a night on the town in Anoka and he'll open the door to Danno's, the bar he owns with the red awning in the city's historic downtown.

"More than anyone, our bar is the end-of-the-night bar," said Sweeney. "I put lights on top of the building. We make it eye-catching to be here."

Last call now will come an hour earlier at Danno's, along with other local hot spots that have had the city's permission to sell liquor until 2 a.m.

Starting Jan. 1, the city will stop issuing late-closing permits. That means the five Anoka bars that pour drinks during that extra hour — four of them downtown — will do so for the last time on New Year's Eve.

The liquor sales change coincides with broader efforts in Anoka to take a closer look at the downtown entertainment district, with officials dreaming up ways to bolster visitor numbers: more live music in the summer, food trucks and sidewalk seating.

"We want to create and continue to create an atmosphere that brings people into downtown," said Council Member Brian Wesp. "We're coming into situations that are unpleasant for the downtown and for the image of Anoka."

Police and city officials say a recent string of brawls around closing time partly fueled their decision to nix the 2 a.m. license. Much of the trouble has cropped up near the on-street parking ramp downtown, and rowdy behavior in the area often flares from 1 to 3:30 a.m., according to police.

In June, police confiscated a gun after a fight broke out on E. Main Street. In early August, authorities said several men in biker jackets beat up a man near Courtside Bar and Grill on Jackson Street.

A few weeks later fighting erupted in the downtown ramp, engulfing about 40 people in a melee of shoving and punching.

"The police department really noticed an uptick," said Capt. Andy Youngquist.

Some bar owners are worried about what an hour less of late-night business will mean for them.

"Part of the draw here is that it is a 2 a.m. neighborhood on the weekends," Sweeney said. "You don't want to get known as a 1 a.m. city and possibly lose business just right off the bat."

He added: "I don't know how I don't lose 20 percent."

Police said it costs at least $60,000 a year to assign officers to downtown on Friday and Saturday nights to ward off trouble and rein in unruly behavior. "It's an expensive venture," Youngquist said.

Safety concerns

Anoka began allowing bar owners to sell liquor from 1 to 2 a.m. in 2007. That same year, police started assigning officers to the downtown entertainment district to quell crime and bad behavior.

Despite the added security, concerns about safety have persisted, city officials said.

"It has not always been as orderly and kind as we would prefer," Mayor Phil Rice said at an October meeting. "It seemed that something needed to be done."

State law dictates that liquor sales can't go later than 2 a.m., and that sales from 1 to 2 a.m. require a state permit. But local governments can decide to make the cutoff time earlier or require permits of their own.

"Cities can be more restrictive," said Ed Cadman, a staff attorney at the League of Minnesota Cities. "They could just say no liquor sales after midnight or no liquor sales after 1 a.m., but a lot of cities like to go to the limit and go to 2 a.m."

In the metro area, it's more common for cities to allow 2 a.m. sales than to cut them off earlier, Cadman said.

Anoka bar owners and employees said they're concerned that the earlier closing time will make it harder for them to compete.

"It's going to be bad for business," said Stacey Mitchell, manager at Billy's Bar and Grill. "The surrounding towns are open until 2 a.m., and all that clientele will be going elsewhere."

Neighboring Champlin and Coon Rapids allow liquor sales until 2 a.m. with the proper permits.

"I'm competing with Coon Rapids," said Jessie Voss, who runs Misfits Saloon on the outskirts of Anoka. "Now my customers will leave me and go to them."

City leaders said they hope to offer more family-oriented events in Anoka, attracting crowds that could offer a boon to business at the local pubs and bars as well.

Anoka officials long have billed their downtown as an attraction for tourists and locals alike. The area is known for its eclectic blocks of boutiques, antique shops, eateries and specialty stores.

"That has always been distinctive about Anoka — our downtown," Wesp said. "I don't want downtown to be known as the place to go after all the other bars close."

But some question whether a 60-minute change will make a difference when it comes to safety concerns.

"You're going to have trouble the last hour of the evening, whether it's from 1 to 2 a.m. or midnight," Sweeney said.

City leaders and police plan to reevaluate the license change next fall.

"If it works, it works. If it doesn't, you can go back to the old way," Sweeney said. "I'm hoping they go back to the old way."