Tucked among houses in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn neighborhood, Tiny Diner is far from any commercial areas or the city’s downtown, the only places where the city long allowed restaurants to sell hard alcohol. But after voters approved a ballot measure last fall to loosen the city’s restrictions on booze, Tiny Diner is preparing to legally serve cocktails.
The restaurant is one of the 70-some small eateries across the city that, until last year, the city charter prohibited the sale of hard liquor, meaning they could only sell wine and beer. With Minneapolis residents voting overwhelmingly to change the charter language last election, city officials have so far approved almost a dozen applications for full liquor service at neighborhood restaurants, and they could give the same approval to at least seven more establishments in coming days and weeks.
To get the full liquor license, restaurant owners must submit applications that are reviewed by city council members at committee hearings, where residents can voice support or opposition to a restaurant’s request to expand their booze offerings. The committee sends the licensing applications to the full City Council for final approval — a step that is generally procedural.
Applicants must also notify neighbors of their plans to add hard liquor. At the committee meeting to review Tiny Diner’s application in February, a representative of the city’s Licensing and Consumer Services said a handful of people contacted the city over the restaurant’s application. Some of them voiced concerns that the addition of alcohol to the eatery’s offerings would make street parking worse. The council approved Tiny Diner’s request for full liquor service earlier this month.
Before voters’ approval of the charter change in November, the law prohibiting liquor at neighborhood restaurants was a result of the city’s first rules for where places could (and couldn’t) sell booze. It was the 19th century, and the language began as a way to keep alcohol in concentrated areas so that police officers could reach drunk crowds by foot. Eventually, the charter established boundaries that restricted liquor to restaurants within seven acres of commercially-zoned areas, what became known as the “7-acre rule.”
But, more recently, the 7-acre rule emerged as a divider between neighborhood restaurants. That’s because the establishments that had the time — and the cash — to hire a lobbyist could go to the state Legislature to request a special liquor license for cocktails.
Restaurateurs who supported last fall’s ballot measure also highlighted new financial pressures from the city of Minneapolis — a higher hourly minimum wage and new requirements around safe-and-sick time — as reasons they should be able to increase revenue by serving alcohol. No group or public figure formally came out against the idea.
The charter change is part of a new era of looser alcohol laws at both the state and local level. In 2011, former-Gov. Mark Dayton signed the “Surly Bill,” allowing breweries and taprooms to sell beer on site for the first time. And in 2017, Minnesota lifted its century-old prohibition on allowing liquor stores to be open on Sundays. (Municipalities can decide for themselves if, or to what extent, they allow the change.)
Last year’s efforts by Minneapolis restaurants to change city charter was a sequel to their push in 2014 to modify requirements for food-to-alcohol sales ratios. Before that initiative, restaurants had different requirements depending on their location, and voters overwhelmingly agreed to throw out the rules.
Luis Patiño, who owns the Café Racer Kitchen on East 25th Street, said he spent a good chunk of time weighing the pros and cons of adding more alcohol options, beyond wine and beer. The additional training for staff to serve and mix the drinks properly can be costly, and the annual licensing fee ranges between $6,520 to $10,810, depending on restaurants’ level of services.
But, ultimately, he went forward with the licensing application, in hopes of earning profits from cocktails that could boost pay for employees, he said. The application is awaiting City Council review, which could happen in the next several weeks.
“As a small business owner, you’re always trying to diversify your streams of income and revenue,” he said. “You want to put as many reasons out there for why people should come to your establishment.”
Restaurants with approved full liquor applications
- Pizzeria Lola (Applied December 6, 2018)
- The Regime (Applied December 2, 2018)
- Seed Café (Applied January 4, 2019)
- Grande Sunrise (Applied December 12, 2018)
- Tilia (Applied January 10, 2019)
- Saint Genevieve (Applied January 10, 2019)
- Red Wagon Pizza (Applied January 10, 2019)
- Blackbird Café (Applied December 28, 2018)
- Tiny Diner (Applied January 2, 2019)
- Bull’s Horn (Applied January 18, 2019)
Restaurants with pending full liquor applications
- Terzo (Applied February 5, 2019)
- Café Racer (Applied March 1, 2019)
- Chatterbox Pub (Applied March 6, 2019)
- Café Ena (Applied March 1, 2019)
- La Fresca (Applied March 1, 2019)
- Cocina Latina (Applied March 1, 2019)
- Harriet’s Inn (Applied March 7, 2019