Minneapolis nightclub takes city to courtby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Neighbors complained that patrons of Gabby's Saloon are disruptive as they walk to and from the bar. That's why the city wants to put restrictions on the club's license. The bar's owners say that's not legal and they say this case is about discrimination - because the majority of the patrons are African American.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Gabby's Saloon is a big bar. It can hold nearly 700 people when the weather is warm enough for its patio.
But when that many people show up, lots of them have to park several blocks away in a residential neighborhood.
Scott Buchan used to live a few blocks from the club. While he was there he put up a security camera and pointed it at Marshall Avenue, right in front of his house.
On one of the tapes, the grainy security camera image shows the bar-time traffic moving slowly down the street. A stream of people are walking on the sidewalk away from the club.
"It could be kind of entertaining on some nights," chuckles Buchan.
Buchan's camera captures the image of one African-American man sitting on the hood of a car right in front of the house. You can hear the guy using a Nextel walkie talkie. He's waiting for someone. Buchan believes the guy is waiting for his girlfriend.
After about a half an hour, a group of young black men, who apparently know the guy, walk up and pick him up off the car.
As they try to drag their friend off the car, the young men yell and curse loudly. At first Buchan thought the guys were fighting, but realized they were horsing around.
A few minutes after being carried off, the man returns to confront his girlfriend who's preparing to drive away in the car. He lays across the hood and screams at her to let him in. She drives away with the man on the hood of the vehicle.
Buchan lives in another part of northeast Minneapolis -- his new neighborhood is much quieter. He's been in the area long enough to remember what Gabby's was like, before it became Gabby's.
He says it used to be an Eagles club and it used to have strippers and live music on some nights.
"We used to go there quite a bit," he says.
When asked if the bar experienced the same problems then, as now, Buchan says, "It was never like that. It's when they started doing the DJs."
Buchan is referring to when the club started playing hip hop on Thursday and Saturday nights two years ago.
MPR contacted several other current and former residents of the area. One woman said she moved because of Gabby's. She complained she was kept up on Thursday nights by people partying next to their cars sometimes until 4 a.m.
These complaints are supported by the findings from a city report. City license inspectors went out to investigate the neigbors' claims. They observed some late-night shenanigans, including public urination, sex and loitering.
Police officials reported an excessive number of calls in the area. They say that, and the need for traffic control, kept police officers from patrolling other parts of the precinct.
The city took it's findings to an administrative law judge who recommended that the city put restrictions on the bar's liquor license.
So the city imposed a series of conditions, some designed to reduce the number of people coming to the bar.
Attorney Christopher McGlincey says these restrictions could put Gabby's out of business, and he says, the city has no authority to impose them.
"The city has found that there's some problems in the neighborhood," he says. "We don't agree that they're related to Gabby's operations."
McGlincey says city staff who testified before the administrative law judge couldn't say definitively that the people they observed loitering and peeing in public were Gabby's customers.
McGlincey says the city's actions are based on racial discrimination. He says that's because in over 20 years of operation, the bar never had a problem with the city's licensing authorities until it started attracting a young black crowd.
"The city specifically said those are the nights when we're hearing complaints from the neighborhood and if you were to change your format, for example, to country western music, that would satisfy the city - that you've changed your offering and you'd get a better crowd in here," he says.
City officials won't talk about the lawsuit. But some council members have said they believe the conditions on the license are fair and not discriminatory.
One white neighborhood resident says he doesn't think the city's actions are motivated by race. He believes there would be noise problems if there were nearly 700 intoxicated white young people walking around at 2 a.m.
The neighbors just want the city and Gabby's to come to some kind of solution so they can sleep at night.
- Morning Edition, 03/20/2008, 7:25 a.m.