Standing shoulder to shoulder, they sang along as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared from the speakers that night. In a since-deleted video posted by co-owner Lisa Monet Zarza, customers at the Lakeville, Minn. watering hole raised their fists and Bud Light bottles in defiance.
In a text message to The Washington Post early Friday, she argued that Walz’s indoor dining ban violated the Constitution and amounted to “discrimination” against restaurants and their staff.
“We are not asking for special treatment,” she said. “We are asking for fair treatment.”
It is hardly the first time this year that bar owners and their customers have decried restrictions meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 309,000 people nationwide, according to data tracked by The Post.
There were the party people who kept living it up in March, and the restaurants and lounges that had to be boarded up soon after so no one would congregate inside. In May, maskless crowds descended on Wisconsin taverns suddenly allowed to open, and two months later, a group of Texas bar owners rallied in Austin while declaring that “Bar Lives Matter.”
As a second wave ravages the United States, there is more evidence than ever suggesting that crowded eating and drinking establishments may spread the virus. A study published this week by scientists at Stanford and Northwestern universities found that restaurants and coffee shops are among the highest-risk locations for transmission.
But nine months into the pandemic, the same arguments are being made in opposition — this time, in Minnesota.
When a surge in infections devastated the Upper Midwest this fall, Walz announced a sweeping set of measures meant to bring numbers down, including a controversial ban on indoor and outdoor dining set to expire this week. More than 389,00 cases have been reported in Minnesota, and at least 4,658 have died.
Walz delivered mixed news for the state’s restaurants on Wednesday: Because the number of new cases had dropped, they could reopen for more than just curbside carryout, he said. But any form of indoor dining — even in the frigid Minnesota winter — was still banned.
At lunch that day, however, nearly every seat inside Alibi Drinkery was filled with customers downing pints of beer. As KSTP reported, a sign on the door said the establishment was “constitutionally compliant” and would not be forcing diners to wear masks or practice social distancing.
Some people told the TV station they planned to barhop to other watering holes that had defiantly chosen to reopen this week, part of a coordinated effort called the “ReOpen Minnesota Coalition.”
“We want to let freedom ring. We want to have freedom, that’s why,” one customer, Gary Shade of Apple Valley, Minn., said. “I’m just tired of this stuff. We’ve been on lockdown of some type for nine months. Enough’s enough.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) sued Alibi Drinkery and another pub early Thursday, pressuring them to abide by Walz’s order and seeking up to $25,000 in civil penalties for each violation.
That other establishment, Neighbors on the Rum in Princeton, Minn., was quick to comply. “I wasn’t going to push it with today. Fair is fair,” the pub’s owner, Joe Holtz, told KARE.
The same could not be said for Alibi Drinkery. On its Facebook page Thursday morning, the bar wrote that it was “OPEN TODAY. COME IN FOR FOOD AND DRINKS!”
Hours later, Ellison filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against Alibi Drinkery. If the bar would not willingly stop “endangering the lives of their customers, employees, and communities,” he said, he would have to force them.
“It’s like driving 105 miles an hour in a residential neighborhood,” Ellison, whose mother died of covid-19 complications, said of the restaurant’s refusal to shut down.
Zarza, however, said restaurants have been tied to few infections in Minnesota and pointed to comments from Walz acknowledging that bars and restaurants have unfairly borne the pandemic’s economic burden.
For now, she still has her liquor license and a conviction that “every person should have the right to make these decisions for themselves and their families.”
Asked by KSTP whether she thought state officials might be paying the bar a visit soon, Zarza shrugged and said, “I would expect so. But they can have a burger."