St. Paul, Minnesota, is an American city with downtown bars and restaurants.
Turns out sometimes hard-working people get hungry, and thirsty. So what?
Spend any time walking, driving, or light-railing its winding, oft-half-completed streets, and you might (as many have) come to wonder: These Irishmen who built this town... how drunk were they when they mapped it out? [Answer: Maybe a little. What of it?]
We bring this up only as a point of reference, while diving into a potentially but not necessarily complicated issue about to come before decision-makers in St. Paul, Minnesota's capital city. St. Paul is, to City Pages' thinking, one of the finer towns this side of Paris, London, or Rome -- which each, we're aware, also have downtown bars and restaurants.
At issue: Should the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts have to exist so close to Gray Duck Tavern, a bar/restaurant found inside a building (and neighborhood) that could really kinda use one? Opened in 2017, Gray Duck Tavern has a few things going for it and a few things going against it, like most new establishments.
This writer's experience there found families sitting together, trying to navigate a new menu with the help of friendly servers and each other's advice on what to order for food and, for some of the adults, alcohol.
One thing most restaurants don't have going against them: a school. And yet here we are, with the St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts essentially tattle-taling on the Gray Duck Tavern for... serving adult beverages? If this is what passes for a scandal these days, we at City Pages are pretty fucking bored by it.
Let's read an excerpt from the Star Tribune story about all this:
The Dec. 12 letter from the board of the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists contends that the decision to issue a liquor license appears to violate a city ordinance that prohibits issuing a license to a business within 300 feet of a school, unless the school agrees to allow it. That did not happen, wrote William Z. Pentelovitch, treasurer of the school’s board.
City Pages is unaware of William Z. Penteleovich's relationship with alcohol, nor that of the members of the conservatory's board. Nor do we care to find out.
What we do know, with some level of confidence, is that the performing artists who've hailed from that city and others (among them: Paris, London, and Rome) have, on occasion, dabbled in drink. And succeeded nevertheless.
Let's ask ourselves if F. Scott Fitzgerald (RIP), Eyedea (RIP), Loni Anderson, Hippo Campus, Allan Kingdom, Mitch Hedberg, Charles Schulz... or, really, any number of St. Paul's many favorite children: Did you or any creative person you ever knew drink alcohol from time to time? And did you ever do it near a child?
We're not even going to mention Lizzo, Atmosphere, or Bob Dylan, who, by their own admission, drank alcohol while living in Minneapolis. And let's please also not mention Shakespeare, da Vinci, James Baldwin, Picasso, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Richard Pryor, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Johnny Carson, Iñárritu, Mikhail Barishnykov and Bill Murray, the Beatles, Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, Rihanna, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Beyonce and Jay-Z -- WOW THIS LIST IS GETTING LONG, SORRY! -- James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Earnest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Ralph Ellison, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston ...
...let's cut ourselves off for now, but that list goes on and on, and on. Performing onstage, or even just living a public life, is scary. People know your name, and judge your work, and talk about you when you're not around. It's a lot to take in! And sometimes those types try to unwind with a drink or a smoke, and as long as it's within reason and they don't pick fights or wake up in the wrong bed the next morning (or afternoon), everything's pretty much OK.
Here's another excerpt from the Star Tribune (emphasis ours):
The school’s demands were news to Jim Crockarell, who owns Gray Duck and seven other downtown St. Paul restaurants, along with 16 buildings downtown.
“We have had our license for almost two years and I assure you I would not have put $20 million into this derelict building unless I knew I would be able to run my business,” Crockarell said Tuesday. “I have received no letter. It’s a total surprise to me.”
Amy Rotenberg, a school spokeswoman, said conservatory officials have not decided what steps they plan to take regarding Gray Duck Tavern or its liquor license. First, she said, they want to find out how the license was issued without the requirements of the city ordinance being met. She said she knows of no incidents or issues involving the restaurant.
You're probably aware, reader, that Francis Ford Coppola likes the grapes. 50 Cent likes vodka. Humphrey Bogart was into gin, and Paul Newman drank Budweiser and Coors Light. There exists a picture of a young (and adorable) Audrey Hepburn drinking alcohol with a live (and adorable) deer.
So the fuck what?
So St. Paul should probably drop this silly fight about locating young people near a place that serves food and drink to hard-working adults and their children, that's what. If the board members of the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts think the only thing standing in the way of educating their students is alcohol, they should consider learning the first thing about education. And the performing arts. And St. Paul. And unnecessary litigation. And projecting your own problems onto other people.
Alcohol's not for everyone, and we oughta keep an eye on each other's use of substances. Just ask someone like Ray Dehn. (Seriously, ask him: He's got serious and well-considered perspective on this.) But if your enemy is a downtown restaurant where lawyers, bartenders, construction workers, and families rub elbows... you've got the wrong enemies, and have picked a stupid fight.
They call it happy hour for a reason.