It seemed so simple.
Ben Smith, owner of Glaciers Cafe, wanted to hire a singer or guitar player to ease the slow dinner hours. But because he didn’t have 50 seats, the city said no.
“I didn’t think that the number 50 or any number really would be relevant to whether you should or should not have live music,” he said.
So Smith approached Ward 9 Councilman Gary Schiff, who proposed an amendment, which will go before the Minneapolis City Council on Friday, that would loosen restrictions and allow more restaurants to have live music.
“I think that’s the least we should do in a city known for the arts,” Schiff said.
With the change, businesses with wine licenses and at least 25 seats would be able to offer Class D entertainment, which allows for a single, nonamplified musician, karaoke or an ethnic dancer. Currently, businesses with fewer than 50 seats are restricted from getting a Class D license.
For Smith, who’s already been approached by a number of musicians, having live music would enhance the experience of coming to his restaurant.
At a time when fewer people are spending money to go out to eat, the ordinance would help businesses attract crowds, Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director of licenses and consumer services, said.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
But some business owners aren’t jumping for joy.
Tony Nicklow, owner of Tony’s Diner, is already eligible for his Class D license but said it’s not worth it.
Back when Tony’s was The Steak Knife, Nicklow hosted such bands as Trampled by Turtles and Roster McCabe until he was fined for not being properly licensed to do so.
Now, paying for a Class D license isn’t practical for Tony’s because it would likely be too loud to hear a musician with no speaker.
“If it was a coffee shop, it’d be more mellow,” he said. “But we serve beer, so it gets loud at night.”
The average cost for a business with a Class E license—which allows for radio, a TV, recorded music or a jukebox—to upgrade to a Class D is $400, said Pat Hilden, district supervisor of licenses and consumer services. The price varies according a business’ plan and size. To upgrade, a business would also need to pay a one-time investigation fee of $500, which the city is thinking about lowering, he said.
The amendment proposal follows a July City Council decision to allow establishments with Class A through D licenses to feature live comedians. It also brings the code in alignment with the rules governing the city’s charter wine licenses and ordinance changes, which the City Council passed earlier this year, allowing entertainment in small coffee shops and restaurants in certain areas.
Although Vescio’s Italian Restaurant in Dinkytown is already eligible for a Class D license, owner Frank Vescio said he never felt strongly enough to change what he’s been doing for 56 years.
Over the years, Dinkytown has shifted from having a drug store, bakery, hardware store and grocery store to becoming predominately restaurants, Vescio said. If the area continues to become entertainment-oriented, he said he’ll probably upgrade his license to keep up with the trend.
“I’ve thought of it,” he said. “It’d be kind of neat to have a strolling violinist.”