Anoka launches social district, allowing alcohol consumption outdoors in several blocks downtown

Monthlong ‘social district’ pilot in Anoka starts Wednesday

Monthlong ‘social district’ pilot in Anoka starts Wednesday

Anoka officially opened its new social district Wednesday — allowing people to buy take-out alcohol and consume it outside in designated public areas.

“The number four on the cup here is indicating the vendor downtown,” explains Michelle Dosch, visiting from Andover. “I do think it’s a really good idea for the community.”  

The social district runs through several blocks of downtown Anoka.

It’s bordered by the Rum River to the west, 2nd Avenue to the east, Harrison Street to the north, and East Main Street to the south.

“The attitude is more of a sip and stroll,” says Doug Borglund, Anoka’s Community Development Director. “It’s a casual, enjoyable evening is what we’re hoping for.”

He says the pilot program — which runs until October 7, got the approval of both state lawmakers and the Anoka City Council.

RELATED: Majority of bars in Anoka ‘social district’ on board with public consumption pilot project

The idea is getting positive reviews from visitors.

“They provide a lot of music, some outdoor events, so it’s nice to be able to walk around,” notes Janet Martin from Ramsey. “I haven’t seen a lot of bad behavior around here, when we’re down here.”   

The program has other restrictions.

People consuming alcohol will be required to use a numbered plastic cup provided by the bar where they bought their drink.

There’s no barhopping for refills.

“I think you can go get your refill if you’d like but you can’t get a refill from other establishments. You can’t sit in other establishments and get a refill with this cup,” Dosch notes. “I suppose it’s some sort of control as far as the amount being consumed.”

Borglund says the marked cups also help track where alcohol has been purchased — in case there are any issues.

“What’s on the cup is the logo identification of the business where the drink came from,” Borglund adds. “So, people go in and out, if there is some sort of — whatever happens, we have an idea where that drink came from.”   

City leaders held a festive ribbon-cutting to launch the social district, the first of its kind in Minnesota.

Borglund says the pilot project has been done in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Michigan.

But two bars say they’re not participating.

The management at Billy’s Bar and Grill says the pilot is a good idea, but say they’ll wait to see how this temporary social experiment works out.

General Manager Sheyenne Clechen says she feels better serving people in a bar-controlled area, like her establishment’s enclosed patio.  

“I think it’ll bring some people down here,” says General Manager Sheyenne Clechen. “As far as underage drinking and stuff like that, I have a little concern about that. As far as safety… I don’t want anything bad to happen. I’ve got to make sure people are still safe.”  

But many here believe the city is going the extra mile in promoting safe drinking while drawing people to Anoka to try something new.

The program runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

After October 7, city leaders say they’ll get feedback and decide whether to make the social district permanent.

“Still always focus on safety first, that it kind of limits liability and make sure people don’t get into too much trouble,” says Tony Hanson, the owner of Wheelhouse. “Nobody knows what to expect and we expect if they can behave and we can follow the rules, they can follow the rules, and everyone will have a good time.”

“It’s all under control,” adds Dosch. “I don’t think this is going to be an issue for this area at all. I think it’s a great experiment.”