Billy’s on Grand’s request for a 2 a.m. closing time will be taken up at a legislative hearing in May with a recommendation of denial from the Summit Hill Association (SHA). The district council voted on April 14 to recommend a midnight closing for the bar and restaurant at 857 Grand Ave. That followed an SHA Zoning and Land Use Committee virtual meeting on April 12 that was attended by more than 50 people.

Public comments on the application are due at City Hall by May 6, and the legislative hearing will be held later in the month. Any recommendation will eventually go to the Saint Paul City Council for a vote.

DWD Group LLC, led by hospitality veteran Wesley Spearman, is seeking to continue to operate Billy’s under its current licenses. The majority of the licenses have been in place for almost 40 years. The license for 2 a.m. closing was added after a state law change in 2003.

Several neighbors and district council members said they are concerned about public safety, describing fights, other disorderly conduct and shootings in the vicinity. Some said even a midnight closing is too late.

   

Billy’s and Tavern on Grand, 656 Grand Ave., are reportedly the only Grand liquor license holders that have 2 a.m. licenses, though Tavern on Grand is not using it. Other local establishments also have 2 a.m. licenses, but they too are not using them.

The SHA received 32 written objections to Billy’s license requests, 85 percent of which asked for an earlier closing time, according to SHA board president Denise Aldrich. One factor in the SHA’s recommendation was testimony on April 12 from the Saint Paul Police Department, which over the past year has been asking businesses with 2 a.m. licenses to close earlier.

Jennifer Corcoran, investigative and FORCE commander for the department’s Western District, said police have recently had to step up their presence around establishments that close at 2 a.m. due to an uptick in violence, including shootings, linked to those places. It is a “rough crowd” that shows up at places that are open until 2 a.m., she said.

 

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Other establishments that have been asked to close at midnight include Ted’s Recreation in Como Park, the Nickel Joint in Frogtown and the Truck Park on the West End. The Truck Park was the scene of a shooting last October where one person was killed and several were injured. Shootings have also been reported near the other businesses.

Billy’s has been closing at midnight on Sunday-Wednesday and at 1 or 1:30 a.m. on Thursday-Saturday, Spearman said. A 2 a.m. closing has not been implemented yet. “We’re trying to ease our way into normalcy,” he said.

Spearman said Billy’s staff has stepped up security and exterior sweeps as required by the city. It has also hired off-duty Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department personnel to work at the bar until 3 a.m. on weekends. (The Saint Paul Police Department does not allow its officers to work in bars.)

Spearman said Billy’s staff has stepped up security and exterior sweeps as required by the city. It has also hired off-duty Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department personnel to work at the bar until 3 a.m. on weekends.

Spearman said crime spikes are prevalent and not just on Grand. He added that Billy’s cannot be blamed for every crime in the area.

Still, neighbors and SHA board members were concerned. Bob Karls, who has lived near Grand and Victoria for 18 years, said, “The last year has been a marked change,” given the crime and disorderly behavior that have been reported at and near the restaurant.

“If there’s one place open at 2 a.m. people are going to gather there,” said SHA board member Mark Lindley.

The SHA recommended approval of five of six license requests for Billy’s, most without debate. They include liquor on-sale-291 or more seats, liquor on-sale Sunday, entertainment Class B to allow live music, gambling/pull tab and liquor outdoor service, with the patio closing at 11 p.m. on Thursdays-Saturdays and 10 p.m. on Sundays-Wednesdays.

According to SHA Zoning and Land Use Committee chair Simon Taghioff, DWD Group has been operating Billy’s under the licenses held by the previous owner, RJMP Group, since May 2021. DWD applied for the licenses at that time. The committee held a public hearing in September 2021 and supported the 2 a.m. closing, though it still preferred an earlier closing time.

Billy’s was investigated by the DSI and police last fall for license violations, and the matter went before the City Council for sanctions in December. The violations included a fight in the bar, a lewd act on the closed patio and a customer leaving the business with an open container.

The SHA board later sent the council a letter withdrawing its support for the 2 a.m. closing and recommending a midnight closing instead.

The City Council in December 2021 sent the matter back to city staff. Earlier this year the council imposed a $500 fine against Billy’s as well as additional license conditions. That prompted a new review of the restaurant’s licenses.

— Jane McClure

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