As Election Day nears, many Minneapolis restaurateurs are hoping cocktail-loving voters take notice of a question at the top of the ballot on Nov. 6.
Question 1 asks: Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove from the City Charter the area and spacing requirements pertaining to liquor licenses?
Translation: Should Minneapolis allow restaurants anywhere in the city to apply for a liquor license?
Currently, only restaurants within a 7-acre zone surrounding downtown can serve liquor. The rest are restricted to wine and beer — unless they go through a costly process of lobbying the Legislature for an exemption. Only a handful have done so.
In the age of craft cocktails, that’s a disadvantage for all those neighborhood restaurants in south Minneapolis, for example.
If you’re wondering why mixology is a practice restricted to just 7 acres, you wouldn’t be alone.
“I’ve been asked that question several times and I can’t get to the bottom of it,” said Matt Perry, a Minneapolis charter commissioner who brought the issue to the ballot. He’s working on the Yes on 1 campaign (yeson1mpls.com) with Citizens for a Modern Minneapolis, the same group that campaigned to reform other “outdated” alcohol regulations, some of which date back to Prohibition.
“It’s a mystery” when this one originally wound up in the city charter, Perry said. There has been no opposition to the campaign, either from other restaurants or from neighborhood groups, he said.
Should the amendment pass, restaurants won’t automatically get a liquor license. But Heather Bray plans to apply right away for her restaurant The Lowbrow (4244 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-0720, thelowbrowmpls.com).
Lobbying the Legislature to get one with the help of attorneys was something she couldn’t afford to do as a “mom and pop restaurant,” while nearby restaurants like Nighthawks Diner, five blocks away, could.
“The bigger players in Minneapolis have access and the mom and pop shops don’t,” Bray said. “I think we’ve been really frustrated by the fact that there’s an uneven playing field.”
Bray’s first move would be to retrofit the bar for all those bottles, and come up with a cocktail program that suits the restaurant: sidecars, margaritas and the like.
But first, voters need to select “Yes” on Question 1. The question needs 55 percent in favor to pass.
“It’ll be a nice Election Day gift,” Bray said.