Police, bar officials sound off on liquor issue

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 26, 2003

Late-night bar patrons across Minnesota may have a little more time to enjoy their drinks.

If, that is, local governments agree to institute the new mandatory closing times.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would sign the bill extending bar hours from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. The bill passed both the House and Senate recently, and Pawlenty had been holding out to make sure enough of the profits from the deal went to state law enforcement.

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Profits would come from the sales tax on the expected increase in liquor sales as well as a fee, between $200 and $600 that participating bars would have to pay. The exact amount depends on the amount of alcohol sold at a particular bar.

Money raised will be used to increase the amount of state troopers on Minnesota roads.

However, come Aug. 1, when the new hours take effect, bars across the state do not have the go-ahead to keep their doors open. That decision is up to local governments.

Police Chief Paul Philipp said the potential problems outweighed the positives.

"While in theory that sounds good, I'm not sure it provides any big plus for the communities," he said. "I'm not really hot on the idea."

Although some people fear incidents of drunk driving will increase, Philipp does not see that as the main problem. He said he would not expect the number of drunk drivers to increase significantly. He would be more concerned about bar fights and other inappropriate behavior from intoxicated people.

"The problems that we have at one o'clock are just going to extend to two o'clock, and it just gives people one more hour to get intoxicated," he said.

Opinions from local bar owners were supportive of the extension, but many did not feel very strongly about it.

"I'd be in favor of it, but I don't think it's going to be any great benefit to my business," said Bruce Hovland, owner of Sportts.

He was not as concerned with what time the bars close as he was with equality from state to state. Hovland said Minnesota bars should be closing at the same time as bars in surrounding states do.

Randy Tigner, owner of Lefty's Bar, said he did not care if the hours were extended. He said the impact on his business would be minimal.

"It's primarily for the bigger cities and the border towns along the river," he said.

Surrounding states already close at 2 a.m., and cities near the borders have complained that all the bar business leaves the state for their late-night fun.

But some are worried that the exodus across state lines will simply become an exodus across city limits from towns with 1 a.m. closing times to towns with 2 a.m. closing times.

"If it's not an even playing field, I think the town-to-town 2 a.m. driving thing is going to promote more drunk driving," said Troy Thompson, manager at Torge's.

Thompson wants the city council to adopt the new closing time.

He said if Austin did not adopt the later hours, it could end up hurting the bars. He would expect bar patrons to leave at around midnight so they could have more time at other bars with later hours.

He does not think drunken behavior will be more of a problem.

"I don't think any bar wants that type of rowdiness in their establishment," he said. "It's up to them to control that."

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at matt.merritt@austindailyherald.com