When the booze stops flowing after 2 a.m., weekend clubgoers in downtown Minneapolis flood the streets en masse — often with violent results. City leaders are now eyeing some new tools to tackle the perennial problem: dancing and hamburgers.
A proposal winding through City Hall would let businesses with special late-night food licenses continue offering entertainment after 2 a.m. The hope is that by allowing DJs to keep spinning tunes, bars and nightclubs may keep enough customers inside to make food service viable. That could help stagger the club exodus, reducing the chaos in the streets.
There’s one problem: Few businesses seem interested. No one showed up to testify at a public meeting on the matter this week, so the item was postponed until later this month. The local business association, which has no official position, is more concerned than supportive.
“This whole concept needs some more work, which is why it was delayed,” said Council Member Jacob Frey, who sponsored the change.
The measure takes aim at one of the city’s most persistent and concentrated crime problems: fights and shootings amid the hordes of people departing bars in the wee hours of the morning. One of the most violent incidents this summer occurred in the early hours of July 5, when a 16-year-old boy was killed and another was shot in a melee. The shootings are generally not random.
“Right now, at 2 a.m. when bars close, we have what is for all intents and purposes a stampede out on 1st Avenue, Hennepin, 5th Street,” Frey said. “And following the stampede, there’s a massive effort by the cops to literally herd people away from downtown.”
State law prohibits selling alcohol after 2 a.m., giving the city little leeway. The city allows customers to finish drinks until 2:30 a.m., when they have to leave unless the business has a license to keep offering food.
One known supporter of the later entertainment hours is Deepak Nath, co-owner of the Pourhouse on Hennepin Avenue. Pourhouse stops offering food at 10 p.m., but Nath said it might seek permission to serve later if owners could keep the party going — sans alcohol.
“We’d be willing to have our food offerings available if they could do it in an entertaining manner,” Nath said. “If it was simply just a bright light, cold uninviting, unfun … [experience] then why would anyone want to do that?”
Just a dozen businesses already have the licenses that would be impacted by the change, and most of them aren’t downtown. The downtown list features the Saloon, Downtown Cabaret and Pizza Luce.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, whose ward covers part of downtown, was not convinced the list would grow much longer by allowing expanded entertainment. There would be a cost, after all, of keeping the entertainment and kitchen staff longer, she said.
“This is a problem that requires a bigger solution,” Goodman said during a recent committee meeting. “Two or three more places offering food is not going to so dramatically stagger the times that everybody’s not going to be on the street at that same time.”
The Warehouse District Business Association is concerned that by adopting the change, police may have more trouble getting people to evacuate. Right now, there are just a handful of pizza places offering food after clubs close, said Executive Director Joanne Kaufman.
“If the Loon does late-night food, now someone’s going to be able to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to the Loon’ instead of clearing out,” Kauffman said, referring to the the Loon Cafe on 1st Avenue. “If we’re suddenly opening up to other venues … the businesses are concerned that it makes it harder to police that.”
Saloon obtained a late-night food license several years ago that allows it to stay open until 4 a.m. serving food Thursday through Saturday, but rarely uses it.
“We have done a few experimental runs with it and it’s been totally unsuccessful,” co-owner Jim Anderson said. “People are pretty well trained to leave at a certain point in time. You can stay open, but nobody’s going to stay open with you.”
Anderson said it’s possible the extended entertainment hours might persuade more people to hang around for some grub, however. Their most popular item is a $4 burger basket.
“From my point of view, that would help,” Anderson said. “Because once you shut the music off, it’s almost like telling people it’s time to go home.”