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Changes in zoning laws and parking restrictions also have contributed to the dwindling number of 3.2 joints, according to Wilson.
Here’s a bit of history:
Back in 1884, city officials decreed that liquor and wine could be sold only at bars in two “liquor patrol areas,” which police could cover on foot. Both areas hugged the Mississippi River: a swath of Minneapolis from 29th Avenue NE. to 5th Avenue SE. and a downtown strip from 21st Avenue N. to 19th Avenue S. In 1959 the downtown area was expanded to Franklin Avenue over to Lyndale Avenue.
That meant that bars in the city — but outside of the patrol areas —could serve only the low-alcohol beer. So 3.2 bars sprang up all over south Minneapolis.
It wasn’t until 1974 that voters revoked the liquor patrol areas. Even then, change came slowly. Low-alcohol bars continued to dominate south Minneapolis until 1997, when voters approved a modification in the city charter allowing strong beer and wine to be sold in areas that don’t have 7 acres of commercial zoning.
In 1997, there were 56 3.2 joints. By 2007, there were only 15.
Low-alcohol beer is an offshoot of Prohibition, which most states discarded by the 1940s. But 3.2 held on here. In fact, it was served in the Metrodome until 1993, said Chris Kohlmeier, general manager with concessionaire Centerplate.
Breweries, however, have continued making 3.2 largely because it’s the only beer that can be sold in convenience stores in Minnesota. In four other states — Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah — 3.2 is sold in grocery and convenience stores.
Most of the popular beer brands check in around 5 percent alcohol. Craft beers often go much higher.
While those higher-alcohol craft beers are the beverage of choice at many of the hipster taprooms, some former 3.2 bars are happy to remain “the neighborhood dive bar.”
That’s the way manager Noel Casey describes the Cardinal Tavern.
The family-owned bar made the transition in 1992 and has maintained the same basic customer base. “We’ve seen three generations of families, which is kind of cool,” Casey said. “You’d see a huge change if we went to hard alcohol.”
The customers at the T-Shoppe aren’t clamoring for anything stronger than their beloved 3.2.
“If [the beer] did not work, I would not be here,” said Benevedez.
Standing nearby, Abell concurred. “People still get a buzz,” she said, “and in 12 years [of ownership], we haven’t had any major problems or vice. I’d rather stick with 3.2.”
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643