State Watch

Minnesota bar vows to stay open despite lawsuit, ban on indoor dining

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A Minnesota bar is vowing to stay open despite facing a lawsuit from the state for violating a ban on indoor dining, a measure that Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced Wednesday would continue amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the country. 

In a text message to The Washington Post early Friday, Alibi Drinkery co-owner Lisa Monet Zarza argued that Walz’s indoor dining ban was unconstitutional and counted as “discrimination” against restaurants and staff.

“We are not asking for special treatment,” she said. “We are asking for fair treatment.”

Walz last month issued an executive order closing bars and restaurants in the state to reduce the spread of COVID-19. On Wednesday, following a recent drop in new cases, Walz said Minnesota restaurants could partially reopen, although they could not have any form of indoor dining.  

Zarza was among a coalition of owners of approximately 160 businesses this week urging each other to reopen early before the executive order was set to expire Friday.

Zarza told the Star Tribune at the time that the restaurant closures were “hurting the fabric of the community.”

On Thursday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) filed a lawsuit against Alibi Drinkery, writing in the legal complaint that the bar was “ignoring the risks of the virus and has disregarded the prohibitions established” by the executive order meant to “protect the public’s health and safety.” 

Ellison added in the complaint that the bar reopened in defiance of the executive order on Wednesday, and that the Star Tribune “reported and documented in photos an overflow crowd.” Ellison continued that Zarza “told the newspaper she intended to keep serving until 2 a.m., her normal closing time and if officials showed up to tell her otherwise, she said ‘You know what? We’ll see them in court.’ ”

The attorney general added that “Star Tribune photo journalist Aaron Lavinsky posted additional photos on Twitter of the restaurant opening showing the packed bar with no masking or social distancing.”

The news came as the attorney general’s office also announced a lawsuit against Princeton, Minn., restaurant Neighbors on the Rum, which also opened early Wednesday. 

In a press release announcing the two lawsuits, Ellison said in a statement, “I know it’s tough out there for businesses and employees and help is already on the way — but what these establishments are doing is wrong. Not just wrong in breaking the law — wrong in exposing their loved ones, their customers, their employees, their communities, and potentially every Minnesotan to COVID-19. People will get sick, and some will die, because they’re breaking the law.” 

“They’re also doing wrong by the vast majority of Minnesota businesses that are serving their communities by complying with the law. Those businesses deserve our thanks and our patronage, not unfair competition,” he added. 

On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health recorded 2,355 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the state total to nearly 378,000 reported infections.

Tags bars coronavirus cases coronavirus covid-19 coronavirus restrictions indoor dining Keith Ellison legal action Minnesota The Washington Post Tim Walz

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