Senate OKs later hotel bar closings

by Elizabeth Putnam

It’s 1 a.m. and the bars are closing, but some state legislators don’t want it to stay that way.

State senators passed a bill Tuesday allowing hotel bars in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Duluth, Rochester and St. Cloud to stay open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 2:30 a.m. on weekends.

“Longer hours are important for conventions and trade shows,” said Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored the bill.

Higgins said because of earlier bar closing times, some organizations and companies looking for a convention site ignore the North Star State.

Minnesota, Arizona and Nebraska are the only states in the country where bars close before 2 a.m.

But some senators said they worry more drunk drivers will be on the roads trying to get to hotel bars for an extra hour of drinking.

Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said the current 1 a.m. closing time is late enough. He said he fears rural areas will feel a fiscal impact of added law enforcement expenses.

“I have a general negative feeling about it,” Dille said. “One o’clock is late enough, and it’s time to go to bed.”

Higgins said hotel patrons frequent the bars to do business and he doesn’t envision other bar-goers visiting hotel bars to drink after 1 a.m.

“Are you going to go out of your way to go to a stuffy hotel bar with no entertainment and drink a bottle of beer for $7?” Higgins said.

House members voted against a bill with a similar provision last week, 94ñ37, but Higgins awaits word on the actual bill, which is in a House rules committee.

An amendment initiated by Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, which would have allowed all state bars to remain open until 2 a.m., failed in the Senate on Tuesday and in the House last week.

Kleis said all bars should stay open until 2 a.m. to be uniform with most states.

“There will be drunk driving whether it’s 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.,” Kleis said. “As a matter of consistency, every bar should be the same time.”

Kleis said he is concerned about Minnesota residents driving to bordering states to drink.

Traci Toomey, a professor in the University’s public health school who specializes in alcohol policy research, said no one will know the ramifications of extended hours until after the switch occurs.

“Any time you increase availability, you increase the problems,” Toomey said.

Brad Larson, manager of the Holiday Inn Metrodome, which has an in-house bar, said staying open an extra hour would bring in more money but could cause problems.

The hotel is located near several bars, and Larson said this would draw in an overflow of people looking to drink an extra hour.

“It’s more money but more headaches too,” Larson said.

Pablo Borean, manager of McCormick’s restaurant, attached to the Radisson Hotel Metrodome, said hotel guests come from around the country and are used to later closing times.

He said having people come from other bars after 1 a.m. would be an inconvenience for the hotel.

“How can you discriminate between hotel guests and others?” Borean said. “But business-wise, it could be good.”

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]