Councilman proposes late-night food policy

One Minneapolis City Council member wants to let venues keep their doors open after 2 a.m. to serve food.
Patrons wait outside The Refuge on Sunday night in Downtown Minneapolis
July 07, 2010

In an effort to alleviate bar-close "mayhem" and give patrons an extra hour or two to "sober up" before heading home, one Minneapolis City Council member wants to let venues keep their doors open after 2 a.m. to serve food.

The "Late Night Food ordinance," proposed by Ward 9 Councilman Gary Schiff, would allow downtown restaurants to stay open later to serve food, though they would still have to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m.

Currently, restaurants in other Minneapolis neighborhoods, such as those around the University of Minnesota, can apply for a late-night food permit, but due to city zoning codes, downtown restaurants must close at 2 a.m., Schiff said.

The ordinance would benefit both businesses and customers by adding more jobs, pumping money into the downtown economy and allowing people to "sober up" before heading home after closing time, he said.

Staggering closing times could make exiting downtown safer and help police manage crowds more easily, Schiff said.

"There is absolute mayhem at bar-close currently in downtown Minneapolis," he said. "There couldn’t be a worse idea than having all the businesses close at the same time."

Police often have to break up fights and deal with traffic issues when everyone leaves downtown at the same time, Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said.

"This could allow for people that may have been drinking to have a chance to sober up a little bit, and it lessens the load of everybody exiting downtown at the same time," Garcia said. "It’s really nothing new — if you compare us to other cities, we’re behind the times."

Though some may worry the later closing time could encourage people to drink more before the 2 a.m. cutoff, Schiff said he doesn’t foresee that being an issue.

Mesa Pizza in Dinkytown, which has a permit to stay open after 2 a.m., usually sees a bar-close rush, general manager Flaco Huezos said.

"Late night is a really popular time for us, particularly on weekends and in the summer," he said. "We get a lot of business then."

The restaurant hasn’t had many problems with rowdy customers, and the late-night hours have been beneficial for the company overall, he said.

If the ordinance is approved, interested businesses would have to apply for a permit, and each application would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the city’s business licensing division, Schiff said. While there would be a cost for the permit, a price hasn’t been determined yet.

Schiff said he is in the process of talking with downtown business owners to gauge interest in the option.

But not all business owners believe the ordinance is necessary.

Brit’s Pub already closes its kitchen early — midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on weekends — even though it could serve food until 2 a.m., general manager Shane Higgins said.

"We work on demand, which just gets lower after that time," he said.

Even if the ordinance was approved, Higgins said Brit’s Pub probably wouldn’t apply for a permit, at least not at first.

The ordinance, which Schiff created in February, has been stalled until the City Council can set a public hearing, he said.

While he said he was unsure of when the date will be set, Schiff said he hopes the hearing will take place before the end of the summer.

"Anyone who goes downtown these days knows that Minneapolis doesn’t go to sleep at midnight," Schiff said. "We have a thriving downtown entertainment district, and it’s startling to some people to find out there’s no place to buy food after 2 a.m."

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