I took a brisk walk around Lake Harriet one afternoon, then met up with my wife at Bread and Pickle, the little patio spot on the lake, for a glass of wine. When I placed the order at the window, the young man asked if I'd already ordered food.

"No," I said. We'd eaten lunch a few hours before.

"Sorry, we can't serve alcohol without food," the young man said softly.

I paused.

"Give me a bag of potato chips."

I took the chips and the wine and threw the chips in the trash. Take that, city hall killjoys!

Another day, I stopped by a south Minneapolis restaurant for a happy hour snack and a beer. They advertised a hot dog and a pint of local beer for $5. Both were delicious.

When I got my receipt, it said, "Hot dog: $5. Beer: Free."

These are just two incidents that show why a boring ballot question in the upcoming election might just make Minneapolis a much better, and more honest, place to live.

The Minneapolis City Council wisely did away with a law that mandated that sales in restaurants in the downtown area had to be 60 percent for food and 40 percent for liquor. The council recognized that dining and drinking have changed. Boutique cocktail "artists" now create fancy booze drinks with funny names, and serious prices. Customers are ordering wines that cost more than their dinners, and beers that cost more than their sandwich.

It didn't add up for the bean counters in compliance.

But a surge of neighborhood restaurants located farther out are granted alcohol licenses under the city charter. Their sales, by law, currently need to be 70 percent food and 30 percent wine and beer. Only a popular vote can change city charter (unless of course you want a football stadium, but we digress).

About 70 city restaurants are now struggling to meet the requirements. Thus, the "creative" specials like my free beer with a hot dog. (I wasn't smart enough to demand more "free" beer.)

"At least they were trying to meet the threshold," said Joe Widmer, who does communications for the group of restaurant owners and customers aptly named Citizens for a Modern Minneapolis. "Some just can't do it" and hope they don't get caught.

Widmer said restaurant owners face myriad regulations, and successful ones are fastidious in meeting them to make sure their business survives. The increasing difficulty of meeting the 70 percent food quota was driving them crazy, and eventually out of business, if the law is not changed.

The group is lobbying with a "Vote Yes on 2" (ballot question No. 2) campaign. It even features a schlocky commercial starring former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who quickly proves that he was wise to choose politics over acting.

Widmer knows firsthand how he can hurt a restaurant by simply being a normal customer.

"I like to go to Blue Door Pub," he said. "They have great beer. If I order two $7 beers with my meal, I've completely flip-flopped their ratios."

Ballot Question 2 asks voters if they want to remove the rule that businesses must serve food with each order, and end the ratio requirements. Those licensed to serve only wine and beer would not be allowed to serve liquor.

There has been very little opposition to what seems like a sensible law change. The question is whether people will find it at the bottom of a midterm election ballot.

"We're down there with the waterworks candidates," said Widmer. "We're in the weeds."

Fortunately, in order to pass, the initiative needs 55 percent of those who vote on it, rather than a percentage of all people voting in that election. That means voters who habitually skip candidates or offices they don't know and convoluted process questions won't count against the measure.

I don't usually counsel readers on how to vote. But make it all the way to the bottom of the ballot and vote yes. Then join me for a beer to celebrate.

Hold the chips.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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