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St. Paul might allow (slightly) stronger drinks at picnic pavilions

12January 2022

It’s almost like the Prohibition era never ended in St. Paul parks. But a proposed tweak to city code could usher in a version of the Roaring ’20s for those who like to party at public picnic pavilions.

The city’s current laws do not allow beverages stronger than 3.2% alcohol by weight (ABW) at St. Paul parks unless the drinkers have a temporary liquor license. At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, staff introduced an ordinance that would raise that limit to 5.5% ABW to allow most beers and hard seltzers.

“This is something that we think would make it easier on our customers and our people that need to communicate and enforce the rules,” said Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm.

Park-goers can still consume alcohol only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the city’s designated picnic areas, which are at Cherokee Park, Como Park, Harriet Island Park, Raspberry Island, Upper Landing Park, City House, Highland Park, Phalen Park, Rice and Arlington Athletic Complex, McMurray Athletic Complex and Murray Fields.

Minnesota is the last state where 3.2 beer is made to meet government restrictions. The weak brews have been traced back to the Prohibition years, when the federal government outlawed “intoxicating alcohol” — but determined anything below the 3.2% ABW mark was OK.

St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department staff said the current rules are difficult to enforce because of public confusion over what is considered 3.2 beer, especially as production has slowed across the country.

“The hope is that making this change will make things a little bit more user-friendly for the park users,” Hahm said.

A 5.5% ABW drink equals roughly 7% using the more modern alcohol by volume (ABV) measure. Those looking to serve or sell stronger drinks would still be required to obtain a temporary license from the city.

A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 19 and the council is expected to vote on the measure Jan. 26.

Staff writer Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.

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