Owner of Alibi Drinkery denied liquor license for Northfield bar and restaurant

Erin Adler, Star Tribune
·3 min read

The embattled owner of Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville, who defied Gov. Tim Walz's order closing bars and restaurants amid the pandemic last winter, has now been denied a liquor license for another establishment in Northfield.

The Northfield City Council denied Lisa Monet Zarza's request for a liquor license renewal for Alibi at Froggy Bottoms on a split 4-3 vote at a meeting last week.

"For me, this really boiled down to doing what was in the best interest of public health," City Council Member Clarice Grabau said in an interview Thursday. She voted to deny the liquor license.

In a report to the council, Northfield Police Chief Mark Elliott recommended denying Zarza's liquor license, saying that issuing one wouldn't be in the public interest due to Zarza's executive order violations at the Lakeville location. He also noted it should be denied because Zarza wasn't a person "of good moral character and repute." Both qualifiers are listed in state statute as reasons to deny a liquor license.

Zarza said Thursday that it was frustrating to see a decision based on the chief's recommendation when he's not an elected official. She also pushed back his questioning her moral character.

"It was a far reach for them to refuse to issue a liquor license based on a government mandate that we didn't violate in that [Northfield] location," she said.

Council Member Jessica Peterson White said she was struggling with how to vote because she valued civil disobedience "as an important path to social change in our country's history."

However, it's a privilege to be granted a liquor license, she said, since serving alcohol can result in death. She said Elliot's report showed that it was unreasonable to assume Zarza was responsible enough to sell liquor to the community.

City Council Member Suzie Nakasian noted the "dangerous situation" created by COVID-19. But she favored granting the license.

"Since there's been no violation locally, I'd feel comfortable issuing this … temporary licensing with the hope that the owner will prove able to submit to the law," Nakasian said.

When council members asked, Zarza said she intended to comply with executive orders in Northfield.

The saga began in mid-December, when the Department of Public Safety notified Zarza of their intention to suspend her liquor license because Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville was open despite the statewide order closing bars and restaurants.

She said then that she would close Alibi, but state officials witnessed patrons eating and drinking there on dates throughout December and January. A judge found her in contempt of court in January. On March 26, an administrative law judge upheld the state's move to revoke her liquor license for that establishment for five years.

The Lakeville liquor license decision isn't final for 90 days or until the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety issues a public ruling, according to Elliott's report to the council. If the state revokes that license, Zarza will not be allowed to hold a liquor license anywhere in Minnesota.

At the April 6 Northfield council meeting, Zarza explained her decision to open her Lakeville restaurant despite the statewide order, citing her belief in the U.S. Constitution, her Christian beliefs, her staff's desire to work and her assertion that restaurants and bars had been unfairly targeted. Her defiance was to demonstrate how Walz was infringing on citizens' basic rights, she said.

"I'm a Christian and I believe that our rights right now are being taken away from us as Americans, and you see it across the board in so many areas," Zarza said.

Alibi at Froggy Bottoms, which Zarza started in 2019, can remain open and serve food. Zarza said it is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

A Facebook post dated April 13 said the City Council "split the decision" to grant a liquor license, "so we will have no alcohol but we are not letting them win!"

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781