Minneapolis voters tossed out a decades-old liquor restriction in its charter that will now make it easier for neighborhood restaurants to serve cocktails.

Ballot question No. 1 asked voters if they wanted to remove a section of the charter that gives the state Legislature — rather than the city of Minneapolis — control over the liquor license applications of restaurants in most of the city. A majority of voters backed that shift.

Currently, only restaurants within a 7-acre area around commercially zoned businesses can serve liquor. Businesses in the rest of the city’s neighborhoods can serve only beer and wine, unless they get approval from state lawmakers — a process restaurant owners say is unfairly expensive and complicated. As a result, only a few restaurants tucked into neighborhoods are licensed to serve hard liquor.

With the amendment to the charter, restaurants that want to sell more than wine and beer will now be able to go to City Hall for permission.

That change had the backing of many neighborhood restaurant owners, who say they are at a disadvantage because they can’t serve the craft cocktails that customers now demand. The charter change also won support at City Hall, where some on the City Council saw it as a way to encourage economic development in several pockets of the city.

Council Member Linea Palmisano said turning the liquor license decisions over to the city “eliminates an unnecessary long step” for business owners. “This is something to try to help,” she said.

The change to the city charter is the latest in a series of efforts to update to decades-old liquor restrictions across Minnesota. In 2011, the “Surly bill,” nicknamed after the efforts of the Surly Brewing Co. in Minneapolis, allowed small breweries to serve beer on site. Three years later, Minneapolis voters approved a change to the city charter that dropped requirements that restaurants sell food with alcohol and maintain strict ratios of food and alcohol sales. Last year, the Legislature voted to allow alcohol sales on Sunday.

Erin Golden