Lakeside coffeehouse gets board’s blessings for alcohol sales

After well over a century as a dry pocket within Duluth, the Lakeside neighborhood came a step closer to an establishment with beer and wine sales on Monday — in action that took less than 10 minutes and with just 13 people in attendance.

Four of those were members of the city’s Alcohol, Gambling and Tobacco Commission, who with barely a question unanimously recommended approval of wine and 3.2 percent malt liquor licenses for Amity Coffee, 4429 E. Superior St. Two of the board’s six members were absent.

The City Council must grant final approval for the licenses, which would go into effect on Sept. 1.

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Patti Swank, who owns the coffeehouse on Lakeside’s main drag with her husband, Adam, acknowledged a feeling of being pioneers, of sorts.

“It’s exciting but a little bit frightening at the same time,” Swank said, adding: “We’ve had such good response from our customer base. They can’t wait for it to come aboard. … We’re not pushing anything. We’re just trying to fill a niche.”

The ban dates back to the 1890s, when the city of Duluth annexed Lakeside and Lester Park with the provision that bars and taverns wouldn’t be allowed in the neighborhoods. The prohibition was written into state law.

A nonbinding referendum on the question of overturning that ban lost by one vote among the neighborhoods’ residents in 2008. Last year, in another nonbinding referendum, 67 percent of the city’s voters supported lifting the ban. Voters in the two neighborhoods agreed with a 53 percent vote for repeal.

With that evidence, state Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, was able to insert language repealing the Lakeside/Lester Park ban into this year’s supplemental budget bill. With that taken care of, the City Council voted 5-3 on June 27 to end the prohibition.

Amity Coffee was the first to take advantage of the repeal.

At Monday’s meeting, board president Jeff Rosenthal suggested responsible-server training for Amity employees, even though Minnesota law doesn’t require it.

Amity Coffee intends to do just that, Swank said.

“We’re going to do our best to make sure that we do this the right way, because we’re the first ones out there,” she said. “We’re taking the headwind here.”

The coffeehouse, which has 10 employees including Patti and Adam Swank, likely will expand its hours, Patti Swank said, and it could serve as a small concert venue at times. But she doesn’t see it ever being open later than 10 p.m., she said.

Although it’s not certain when the coffeehouse would start serving alcoholic beverages, Swank noted that Amity Coffee will have its second anniversary as a business on Sept. 6.

“If this … coincides, it’s kind of going to be a birthday celebration for us,” she said.

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