City fines Tonic for license violations

Following community complaints, city officials have fined Tonic of Uptown $750 for licensing violations.

Tonic ran afoul of its restaurant liquor license that requires at least 60 percent of sales to be food, not alcohol. City officials maintain that Tonic, 1420 W. Lake St., currently operates as a nightclub and is selling way too much alcohol.

"We think what they’re doing is illegal," Jim Moncur, Minneapolis director of licensing and consumer services.

Moncur said Tonic has not sold enough food since its March opening. Tonic claims their food sales in late April reached 50 percent — still 10 percent below the standard.

Following an April 28 hearing, Moncur levied three $250 fines for their failing to maintain sales figures in accordance with their license, operational violations and failure to submit notice of a change in their business plan to the city for approval.

In addition, Tonic has been ordered to submit Minnesota sales tax returns to the city. Moncur said if Tonic continues to be in noncompliance, the fines would be reissued. Fines are doubled each time they’re reissued.

Tonic spokesman Blois Olson said the owners feel they already comply with city rules and are working hard to show it. He said Tonic is adding more seating, shortening the wait for meals. The establishment has built up the banquet facility, expected to be the source of many food sales. Food and drink specials are also being offered at the business.

Some CARAG neighbors have singled out Tonic as a source of neighborhood

rowdiness and traffic problems, though Tonic officials deny they are to blame.

Still, Tonic’s owners invited community members to a complimentary dinner in early May and are working on finding

more parking.

Olson said the issues stem from Tonic being more popular than the owners thought it would be. "We’re definitely a victim of our own success," he said.

"Were taking every possible step to

ensure compliance."

Olson said city licensing has a lot to do with terminology, for which Tonic’s is carefully crafted. While Councilmember Dan Nizolek (10th Ward) and some neighbors have referred to Tonic as a nightclub, Olson calls it a restaurant with "background music."

However, a reporter’s recent visit revealed a scene not commonly associated with restaurants.

Customers ate and drank at booths, tables or on the first-floor bar, but they also purchased beer at a large beer tub. Many customers also danced below a disco ball and colored lights in what Olson refers to as "common space."

Looking above the "common space," customers can also see people spinning records. Olson calls them "music technicians."

Olson tiptoed around using the terms "dance floor" and "DJ" because, he said those terms give the impression Tonic is a club: "Tonic has never said DJ and dancing."

Olson said according to city terminology a DJ speaks to the crowd and takes requests while Tonic’s "music technician" does not; theirs just provides background music. He also said the "common space" is meant only as a part of the banquet facility, not a dance floor.

However, Moncur said he looks at their actual operations, which are that of a nightclub. "It is not background music when you have a DJ, disco ball and no food service," he said.

Tonic was to pay the fines and submit tax information by May 12, after the Journal’s deadline, Moncur said. Olson said Tonic would appeal the fines.

Tonic would remain under licensing’s scrutiny to ensure they comply with the

60-percent-food-sales rule according to Moncur, who added that another licensing hearing would follow.