The Wild Onion, a bar/restaurant on St. Paul's Grand Avenue, says the city is unfairly denying its patrons the opportunity to have drinks with dinner, largely because of one council member's actions.
The establishment at 788 Grand Av. wants to be able to serve liquor on a back patio until 9:30 p.m., but has been denied a license since 2009, even though similar bars nearby have such permits. Patrons can order food, but not alcoholic beverages on the patio, which has 16 tables and can seat 64 patrons.
The restaurant took its dispute to Ramsey County District Court last month. The lawsuit has since been sent by city request to U.S. District Court.
The 14-year-old Wild Onion first applied for an outdoor license in April 2009, but the Summit Hill Association didn't support the restaurant's request and suggested improvements.
The restaurant installed an 8-foot high privacy fence, added a security booth for a parking attendant, installed sound barriers around its smoking area and five 6-foot trees. The restaurant also changed its garbage hauler so trash would be collected later in the day, according to the suit.
The suit also says that the Wild Onion's lobbyist, the late Ron Maddox, was told by Council Member Dave Thune that the patio license would be approved if the Summit Hill Association supported it.
The Wild Onion reapplied in January 2010, promising that the patio would close and service would end at dark, no later than 9:30 p.m. The application said the bar would not have speakers or televisions on the patio and would use only low-voltage lighting under the awning.
Restaurant owners also went door-to-door of properties within 300 feet of the business seeking residents' signatures on several occasions. The Summit Hill Association in March 2010 endorsed a trial license for the bar and the city's Department of Safety and Inspections recommended approval.
The license was denied after more than a year's delay for lack of enough signatures, the suit said. The City Council denied the request in April.
The lawsuit claims Thune told the Wild Onion's owner that he couldn't afford to lose re-election votes from the bar's Crocus Hill neighbors so he would seek to deny the license. Thune also is accused of improperly having discussions about the suit outside of council meetings when he was to be acting as an impartial judge.
Thune did not respond to telephone messages Monday.
Attorney Pat O'Neill said the restaurant worked to settle with the city before filing the suit but was told there was nothing to discuss. He said the restaurant has been treated unfairly when other bars on the avenue and nearby, such as Billy's and Sweeney's, are allowed to serve alcohol on their extensive patios.
"The City Council has broad discretion to act on these requests and we believe they were well within their rights to deny," said City Attorney Sara Grewing.
The bar also has an appeal of the denial pending in the state Court of Appeals.
Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson