The main drag in North St. Paul is home to most of the town's bars, including the Polar Lounge, the American Legion, and Neumann's, which opened its doors in 1887 and is the longest continually running bar in Minnesota.
It may sound sleepy, but right now, the bar community is in an uproar. The city is attempting to bring them into compliance with liquor laws that have been on the books for years, but never enforced. Those laws would force them to close on Sundays.
"I need to be open every day of the week. I have a lot of bills to pay," says Mike Brown, the owner of Neumann's. "It could very well shut us down."[jump]
About a year ago, North St. Paul police chief Tom Lauth was examining an application from one of the bars to extend its hours on Sunday. After reading the city's Sunday license ordinance, he realized that not only was that bar out of compliance, nearly every other bar in town was too. According to the ordinance, the bars have to have restaurant seating for 100 people in a room separate from the bar itself, and a full staff of servers and cooks.
"A lot of our bars are exclusively on-sale liquor stores. They are not restaurants and make no attempt to be," says Lauth. "They would not be eligible for Sunday sales."
While Lauth says he has no idea why the bars in town have been allowed to hold Sunday sale licenses for so many years, he's putting a stop to it.
"Otherwise we're condoning bad practices and breaking the law," he says.
That has bar owners from up and down the drag in a tizzy. Jerry Bayers, the owner of the Polar Lounge, says he's been open every Sunday for nearly 32 years and estimates that taking a day of rest will cost him about 17 percent of his profits.
"I'm hoping that they realize how much sales tax dollars they're losing," he says. "I don't know what benefit it is to close the bars."
On Tuesday, the North St. Paul city council will discuss reworking the language of the ordinance to make it a little more permissive -- cutting the number of seating from 100 to 30 for example -- but Lauth says that requiring the bars serve food comes from Minnesota state law.
"Those are the laws we're stuck with and have to enforce," he says. "This isn't personal."
The bar owners have been meeting with the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association to strategize ways to stay open on Sundays, and on Tuesday, a rally of bikers -- the regular crowd at Neumann's -- will be at City Hall to show their outrage.
If they lose the argument next week, most of the bars will have to give up their Sunday licenses by July.