Excuse John Rimarcik if he doesn't pop open a bottle of Lafite Rothschild '61 to celebrate the extended drinking hours he and other bar owners can operate during the Republican National Convention.
The city of St. Paul on Wednesday joined Minneapolis in allowing establishments to stay open until 4 a.m. during the convention Sept. 1-4.
But bar owners said the idea is going down about as smoothly as a shot of ouzo, thanks to the $2,500 permit fee they would have to pay to extend their hours just for those four days of the convention.
"It's ridiculous," said Rimarcik, owner of the Monte Carlo, Runyan's, Cafe Havana and the Kitty Cat Klub in Minneapolis. "I generally respect the City Council's judgment, but they went askew on this one."
The fee is designed to recover the cost of extra police officers needed for policing those additional hours. Minneapolis and St. Paul police estimate the expense could total tens of thousands of dollars.
But many bar owners say the idea is about as appetizing as week-old champagne. Many question whether their establishments would sell enough to recover the fee, pay for more staff and still turn a profit.
"It's a question we're still debating," said David Miller, general manager of The Saint Paul Hotel, which is expected to be one of the convention hot spots because of its proximity to events at the Xcel Energy Center. "It's not a quick decision. It's an expensive permit."
The idea for longer hours came from the Legislature, which wanted to cash in on the convention and also avoid the perception that the state is not as sophisticated as other locations that have hosted national political events.
Cities were given the authority to expand the hours and set the terms of their permits. Only Minneapolis and St. Paul have acted on the idea.
The Bloomington City Council is expected to take up the matter in July. Other cities that could get spillover business from the convention, such as Roseville or Brooklyn Center, could also act soon.
"It would not surprise me if not a lot of bars go for this," said Grant Wilson, manager of the Minneapolis License and Consumer Service Department, which in July will be sending out applications for the extended hours to 120 bars.
Wilson expects possibly 20 percent of those establishments will apply for the permit. Even then, they might do so only if competitors stay open.
In April, when the proposal was still being worked out, about 33 bars indicated a willingness to stay open. In June, when the details of the fee had been completed, only two bars indicated interest.
In St. Paul, about 90 bars have licenses to stay open until 2 a.m. But because of their location, only about 32 bars are eligible for the 4 a.m. permit. There are indications that more than half of them have already decided not to apply.
"We are on the fence," said Blake Montpetit, owner of Tiffany's Sport Lounge in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood, a 10-minute drive from the Xcel Center downtown.
"If they stay with that $2,500 fee, I'm sure we would not stay open. Maybe it makes sense for some of the places downtown that expect convention business, but it doesn't make sense for a place our size."
Chamber members opposed
The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, with 1,800 members, strongly supports the 4 a.m. bar closing, said spokeswoman Liz Bogut.
"We don't want St. Paul and East Metro bars at a competitive disadvantage," she said. But, she added, "Every member we have heard from strongly believes $2,500 is too much for a license for just a few days."
Among the eligible downtown establishments is the Gopher Bar, a local landmark but also one on the lower end of the economic scale when it comes to bar amenities.
Cheri Kappas, the co-owner, said the Gopher definitely won't stay open longer, and she blames the $2,500 fee for that.
"It's an elitist rule," Kappas said. "Unless you're an elite bar, you're never going to afford the fees. There's no way."
Even those bar owners nearest the convention hall question whether they can recoup their fees in those four days, which amounts to a total of eight extra hours of business.
"You have to be sure that you can get a return on your investment," said Miller, who notes that 2 a.m. is normally not a very busy time at his and other establishments.
"It's usually not crowded at that time. But then, we've never hosted a political convention before."
Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280