On popular Lake Minnetonka, one small city has the most drunken incidents in the south lake area as well as the largest concentration of liquor licenses on the lake.
In the past year, Excelsior has had nearly 200 alcohol-related incidents, from DWIs to disorderly conduct, prompting City Council members to discuss a crackdown on overserving of alcohol at popular lake restaurants and bars.
“It’s a huge public safety issue that we have so many intoxicated people,” Mayor Mark Gaylord said. “We’re taking a fresh look at this.”
Excelsior, which counts about 2,300 residents within an area of only 1 square mile, has 17 on-sale and off-sale liquor licenses, four of which are liquor stores.
That’s one liquor store for every 575 residents — the highest ratio in an analysis of suburbs.
The city, however small, prides itself on being a tourist draw and the downtown for several south Lake Minnetonka towns. “It serves a wider region,” Gaylord said.
Like other suburbs, Excelsior has loosened rules in recent years to approve new establishments such as a brewery. But it now limits liquor licenses to the point that there are none available to issue in 2016 except to a restaurant.
As council members look to renew 2016 licenses this month, they are weighing new penalties for overserving, such as suspension of a liquor license after a certain number of offenses. The council, which discussed possible changes Monday, plans to approve a new policy Dec. 21.
South Lake Minnetonka Police Chief Mike Meehan said officials aren’t targeting any one business, but are looking instead at larger patterns.
“Our goal isn’t to shut anyone down or end drinking in Excelsior, but to work on the overserving issue,” he said.
‘Recipe for disaster’
Since April 2014, the police department — which also serves Shorewood, Greenwood and Tonka Bay — has tracked where people in trouble for alcohol-related issues such as DWIs had their last drink.
In July, a 53-year-old man passed out in a residential neighborhood with a blood alcohol level of 0.30; he claimed he was trying to walk from an Excelsior bar to his Minneapolis home.
A 51-year-old man was found passed out in August while hanging out of a car window, with a 0.24 blood alcohol content, according to police. Last fall, a startled homeowner called police after finding a 45-year-old woman asleep on a dog bed; she registered a 0.18 level.
“Clearly there’s an overserving problem,” Gaylord said. “It’s pretty alarming, some of the details how police officers find these people. It’s not if people die, it’s when. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Making the list
In the past year, three places popped up the most, all in Excelsior — Maynard’s Restaurant, Bayside Grille and Haskell’s liquors, which operates a bar along with its off-sale store.
“We’re kind of the three main bars in town, especially in the summer season,” said Brian Farrell, Haskell’s chief operating officer. “Excelsior in the summer is a real destination.”
Farrell said he questions the accuracy of people’s admission of their “place of last drink,” but he said Haskell’s is working with the city and police. It added extra employee alcohol training last week, he said.
“I don’t want to be known as the place that overserves,” he said. “Public safety is our No. 1 concern.”
Bayside President Bob Ziton echoed that, saying that the restaurant is working with the city, has beefed up security and is drafting a stricter policy for boats parked at their docks.
"We're a high volume spot," he said.
A message left with Maynard's wasn't returned.
While some people told police that they tossed back their last one at a private home, retail locations together accounted for more “last drinks,” according to police data of 187 incidents in the past year. The study is based not only on where people said they had their last drink, but also where police found them, what bar employees said about them, and receipts and wristbands.
In the 2,580 incidents since January 2014, the average blood alcohol content was 0.17 — more than twice the legal limit for driving in Minnesota.
Plymouth, with a population 32 times that of Excelsior, has had 217 “place of last drink” incidents so far this year, though police say it’s difficult to compare since the cities may tabulate data differently.
Last year, Plymouth city leaders told one bar that it would have to come back to discuss penalties if it had three “last drink” instances in three months. But it hasn’t happened, officials said.
Now Excelsior city leaders will confront the issue in their community.
“This has been going on too long and we weren’t aware of it because the data wasn’t there,” Gaylord said. “We’re going to be on the leading edge of this.”