Patio wars

Uptown’s hot outdoor dining scene keeps expanding

A vibrant nightlife is nothing new to Uptown. Late-night outdoor drinking spots began springing up in the mid-2000s with the openings of bars at what are now the Uptown Drink and Stella’s Fish Café.

But in the past 18 months two more bars with outdoor patios have opened near the Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street intersection and now Stella’s is applying to add a second patio atop the establishment’s already-popular rooftop dining area. If Stella’s is approved for the patio expansion, patio occupancy for Uptown bars will surpass 600, according to city records.

For many, the Uptown nightlife expansion over the past five years has been a welcomed change to the neighborhood. With three rooftop patios, some view Uptown as a destination — a place to go for food and drinks with a view of the downtown skyline.

“I moved up here because it’s a fun, lively environment. This community is young and vibrant. People go out at night,” said 23-year-old John Kane, a Stella’s server who moved to the Uptown area in May from the suburbs.

But some neighbors haven’t been as enthusiastic about the changing scene in Uptown. They’re worried that the late-night drinking crowd is running quaint restaurants and small shops out of town, and they fear that Stella’s request will begin a patio war with bars building higher and higher.  

Some complain that they can hear people partying on the patios and that drunk patrons stumble through their neighborhood at bar close, shouting, urinating on their lawns and vandalizing their property.

“I door-knocked 5,000 doors last summer. Number one issue: The late-night noise and the noise from outdoor patios and outdoor dining,” said City Council member Meg Tuthill.

There wasn’t, however, a strong showing of opposition to Stella’s patio expansion at a July 22 public hearing at the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group meeting. About a dozen concerned neighbors attended, and some of those didn’t have strong objections to the patio. Another 30-or-so Stella’s employees showed up, and many of those employees lives in the CARAG neighborhood and in surrounding neighborhoods.

Stella’s patio addition is already built. It would seat 48 people for dinner. Stella’s management said it would have 42-inch glass walls to help lower noise. It sits atop the bar area in the center of the existing patio.

The CARAG group typically makes recommendations to the City Council on requests such as Stella’s rooftop expansion. But following the community meeting with Stella’s management, the group made no recommendation. Instead, it suggested that should the Council approve the patio, it should also require Stella’s to take steps to mitigate noise from the new space, consider closing it earlier in the night and not allow the restaurant to play amplified music.

CARAG allows any residents or business owners in attendance to vote on such issues. Those in attendance voted 11-9 to offer no recommendation. The nine people voting against the resolution were Stella’s employees who live in the CARAG neighborhood.

A changing neighborhood

As a young woman, Kay Nygaard Graham danced on stages at jazz clubs where she played music and waited tables. A singer and flute player, she’s performed in jazz bars all over the country.

Nygaard Graham is now 71 and has lived on the 3000 block of Emerson Avenue — just two blocks from the Uptown bar scene — since 1977. She raised a son there, enjoying a family neighborhood that featured owner-occupied stores and restaurants.

She doesn’t know how to describe the new crowd that dines and drinks in Uptown. But she said it’s nothing like the way it was when she first moved there and only three bars had liquor licenses — the Uptown Bar, the Rainbow Café and William’s Pub.

Emerson Avenue is often used as a path for bar patrons to walk to their cars after bar close, Nygaard Graham said.

During the early morning of May 6, someone picked up a landscaping stone and smashed it through the back window of her little red Toyota Tercel in front of her home.

On another night, Nygaard Graham awoke to the sound of a man trying to break into the front door of her home. Frightened, she called police. As it turned out, the man was drunk and thought her home was that of his brother’s on the next block.

Nygaard Graham said she’s aware that neighborhoods, over the course of 33 years, are bound to change. But she recollects her parents, when they lived in St. Louis Park, fighting against a proposed thoroughfare through their community that many felt would hurt the area.  

“Neighborhoods can change, but it’s the efforts of the people who have vested interest in the neighborhood and want to raise their families there … that make it a neighborhood for everybody,” she said, who was one of those attending the community meeting July 22.

Is parking the solution?

Thatcher Imboden, president of the Uptown Association, said that the problem in Uptown isn’t that there is too much nightlife. It’s that it needs to be better managed so that others in the area aren’t burdened by it.

“That means reducing late night noise both radiating from businesses and from their patrons as they walk home or to their car, as well as reducing littering, urination and occasional vandalism,” Imboden said.

The solution, according to many, is parking.

Stella’s runs a valet service. In an effort to get more people to use it instead of parking in the streets, the owners lowered the charge from $8 to $5. They said that has increased usage.

But there are several bars in the area, and Tuthill said to get the cars out of the residential neighborhoods those establishments should offer validated parking to customers. Stella’s management said they’ve been in discussions with surrounding bars and restaurants as well as with Calhoun Square management to work on a parking validation system.

Others say a more radical parking change would put an end to the opening new bars and restaurants and instead encourage more retail and office space.

Ross Fefercorn of Calhoun Park Company LLC, the owner of Uptown Row at 1221 W. Lake St., said Uptown businesses should all offer free parking or validated parking. He said retailers are passing over Uptown in favor of the suburbs and other areas that offer free parking.  

Filling Uptown space with retail will prevent property owners from leasing to drinking spots.

“I think until Uptown gets (free parking) and Calhoun Square gets (free parking), you’re not going to lease retail space,” Fefercorn said. “You don’t want to have vacant storefronts. If you can get your revenue stream from drinking, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

A balanced approach

One of the people in attendance at the July 22 meeting was Gary Thaden. Thaden didn’t have strong opinions about the Stella’s patio expansion. He lives far enough away that he doesn’t get the noise from the bars.

He said that when the Lakeland Medical & Dental Academy was turned into a restaurant (which is now Stella’s), the neighborhood changed.

“We used to have a couple hundred young people during the day, and we had a better mix and a better Uptown. And I think we’ve lost that because it’s become more of a night spot. Not that the night spot is a bad thing, because I like to go to bars too, but I think we need a balance.”

Tuthill moved to the area when she was 19. She fell in love with Uptown because it offered a good mix of old and young people. She said if the bars overwhelm the older generation, Uptown will lose its unique setting — an urban place where young people, families and retirees can co-exist.

“What happens is a lot of 20- and 30-year olds love to live here when they’re single, and the minute they hook up and they decide to start a family, they boogie for Plymouth, Edina and other places because there’s too much partying going on here,” Tuthill said. “I’m not saying I want it stopped. I’m saying I want a balance. So the folks that moved here 10 years ago when this wasn’t an entertainment district still can live here.”

Patios in Uptown

Uptown Drink 

1400 Lagoon Ave.
Opened: 2005
Patio occupancy: 163

Stella’s Fish Café
1402 W. Lake St.
Opened: 2005
Patio occupancy: 130 
(applying for additional 48)

Cowboy Slim’s
1320 W. Lake St.
Opened: 2009
Patio occupancy: 82

Uptown Cafeteria 
& Support Group
Opened: 2010
Patio occupancy: 196


Stella’s request for for a patio addition will go before the City of Minneapolis Regulatory, Energy and Environment committee at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 9 in Room 317 of City Hall, 350 S. 5th St. The meeting is a public hearing.