City leaders working with Westrum's owner to address concerns
The owner of Westrum's Tavern in Kingfield is thinking about selling in the wake of city-alleged violations that could result in the loss of her liquor license.
Westrum's is a family-owned neighborhood bar at 4415 Nicollet Ave. that has been a favorite hangout for many area residents during its roughly 60 years of business. But the establishment came under scrutiny in 2006 for numerous alleged violations of city ordinances. Among them were not reporting its food-to-alcohol ratio, serving liquor beyond permitted hours, allowing smoking indoors and lacking a security guard on the grounds, according to reports on the city's PropertyInfo website and documents provided by bar owner Judy Westrum.
Multiple police-related incidents were another concern of city officials, and nearby residents have complained about noise, trash and other nuisances.
Westrum, who inherited the bar from her parents 20 years ago, said the allegations and complaints came as a surprise to her. She admitted to some of the violations but said she has had the best intentions for her bar and the neighborhood and has worked to fix what problems exist. Fearing the loss of her liquor license, Westrum said in late December that she was leaning toward selling her business.
“I don't think they're going to give me a chance,” Westrum said of the city. “They want my license and they're digging deep for it.”
Minneapolis license officials called a conference with Westrum in November to discuss the issues. Linda Roberts, lead inspector in the city's Licenses and Consumer Services division, said such meetings are scheduled for licensees with multiple violations to address problems and find solutions. The revocation of Westrum's strong beer and liquor license is a possibility, but Roberts said a decision hadn't been made as to what actions would be taken at the tavern.
“We're hopeful we can work something out,” Roberts said.
Kingfield residents who don't want to lose their neighborhood bar are also hopeful, and they're willing to help.
Westrum had a hard time finishing sentences without choking up during a December interview at her office next door to Westrum's. Tears wet her cheeks and her nose reddened. She looked exhausted.
“I wanted to make it a classy little bar for the neighborhood,” she said of her tavern. “A place they could have dinner and cocktails.”
That vision has never been fully realized, but Westrum said it's always been her goal. She said she poured roughly $200,000 into remodeling her tavern after taking it over. A new storefront, redone stucco siding, new booths, an air conditioning unit and the installation of a kitchen were among the upgrades.
She said much of the revamp was in preparation for a strong beer and liquor license. Her father had always wanted liquor in the bar, which sold beer containing 3.2 percent alcohol until Westrum received her new license around 2001.
Some neighbors said the change contributed to the bar's downfall because it attracted rowdier customers, a claim Westrum denies.
Mari O'Rourke, a longtime Kingfield resident who lives near Westrum's, said she used to go to the bar for burgers, but stopped in recent years because she didn't feel safe.
“I don't know if anyone from the neighborhood goes there anymore,” O'Rourke said. “We'd like to, but the crowd there has gotten rough.”
Locals can still be found at the tavern. Former Kingfield resident Jeff Corbet is a devout Westrum's patron who said he's seen the same faces in the bar for years.
“Everyone knows everyone here,” he said.
Corbet helped distribute petitions to neighbors to make Westrum's a strong beer and liquor bar.
Members of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) said at a recent meeting that they would like to see Westrum's kick the booze and go back to 3.2 beer. Westrum said losing her liquor license would likely bankrupt her because she no longer has a strong enough customer base to support a beer-only business. Many of her patrons disappeared when the smoking ban was enacted in 2005, she said.
Westrum said she has always had a healthy relationship with the KFNA, and she's hopeful the organization will help her find a business to replace Westrum's should she lose her license. The group's project organizer Joanna Hallstrom met with Westrum and a representative from City Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden's (8th Ward) office recently to talk about the bar's problems and the future of the space.
KFNA board member Shawna Gibson said the board doesn't want to lose Westrum's, but the bar could serve the neighborhood better than it does.
“It's the type of establishment that could be an amenity to the neighborhood,” Gibson said. “But right now, it's hurting the neighborhood.”
Taking back the bar
Complaints of noise, harassment, public urination and other drunken behavior have led the KFNA Crime Prevention and Safety Committee to brainstorm ways to “take back” the bar, Hallstrom said.
Minneapolis Police Department Lt. Marie Przynski and Crime Prevention Specialist Tom Thompson have been working with Westrum and neighbors to resolve complaints, Przynski said. Drug dealing, prostitution and a variety of nuisance crimes have been a concern in the area, she said.
Westrum said none of the incidents at her bar have been major and she does have a security guard on duty each night. He wasn't in yet on the day an inspector cited her for not having a guard, she said.
To address the city's other alleged violations, Westrum said she has taken a number of steps. She's trying to serve more food to reach the required 60 percent food and 40 percent alcohol ratio, she cut a fence that the city said was too high and she's keeping her eye out for anyone who tries to light a cigarette indoors, among other things.
Westrum, 60, said she hopes her bar's reputation as a neighborhood favorite isn't tarnished by recent events. If she sells, the Westrum's name will be retired, she said.
“I would have liked to hang onto it until I was 65,” she said. “But I don't want to see Westrum's go downhill.”