Alibi Drinkery co-owner faces skeptical Dakota County judge in effort to overturn indoor dining ban

    Indoor dining at bars and restaurants in Minnesota have been closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    Lisa Monet Zarza, the co-owner of Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville, faced a skeptical Dakota County District Court judge as she argued that Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order banning indoor dining is unconstitutional. 

    Judge Jerome Abrams heard arguments on Wednesday involving the Lakeville bar and restaurant, which flouted Walz’s ban on indoor dining, opening on Dec. 15 to large, maskless crowds. Abrams on Friday granted a temporary restraining order against the restaurant after Attorney General Keith Ellison sued the business.

    “The right to go to a restaurant or a bar is not considered a protected activity under the Constitution,” Abrams said. “As a result of that, the standard the state has to apply to these types of activities is considered to be the lowest standard, that is: Are the actions of government rationally related to a legitimate purpose?”

    He also suggested the state’s actions to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has killed nearly 5,000 Minnesotans, have been reasonable. 

    “When it comes down to matters of public health, we all want government, among the many other things that it does, is to keep us safe,” Abrams said. “And as much as some might complain that people who work for government are behind this, we would all be complaining mightily if they didn’t do things to keep us safe.”

    Michael Padden, the attorney representing Zarza, said Alibi had lost 23 of 25 employees, as well as gross revenues of $350,000.

    “I haven’t concentrated, your honor, on the science of this, because really, at this stage, we’re more concerned about whether the governor has this authority,” Padden said. “It’s gotten to a stage in this country where if you make a statement like, ‘Is it really possible to stop the spread of a virus?’ you could be labeled a horrible person.”

    Padden also argued Minnesota should follow Wisconsin’s example, where restaurants remain open. Padden said he recently visited a Wisconsin Applebee’s restaurant, saying it was packed. “Wisconsin is kind of a perfect lab for us,” he said. 

    Alibi Drinkery’s ownership also faces other legal problems. In September, co-owner Ricardo Baldazo was charged with two counts of first-degree attempted murder and two counts of first-degree assault after firing off numerous rounds during a Sept. 2 standoff with police in Burnsville. 

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case over Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s order to issue capacity limits at bars and restaurants. Though the order expired, a ruling is expected to have an impact on any future public health restrictions. 

    Abrams said he would issue a ruling quickly. 

    Attorney General Keith Ellison in recent days has successfully filed for temporary restraining orders against several Minnesota bars and restaurants that have flouted Walz’s ban on indoor dining.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.