Sep 15, 2023 - News

Touring Anoka's social district, where visitors can stroll and drink in public

Audrey grabbed a "glass" of wine from Ambi Wine Bar during her stroll around town. Photos: Audrey Kennedy/Axios

Minnesota's own Bourbon Street is already showing signs it won't be the last.

Catch up quick: Anoka recently instituted the state's first "social district" β€” a dedicated area where visitors ages 21 and up can buy and drink alcohol in public.

  • The district kicked off on Sept. 6 and spans part of Anoka's downtown and nearby parks. At least six restaurants and bars are participating in the program, which runs 10am-10pm daily through Oct. 7.

Why it matters: It's a unique strategy to attract more people β€” whether they're residents or newcomers β€” into the city's downtown on a regular basis, and other towns are already showing signs of following its lead.

  • Rep. Zack Stephenson, who worked closely with Anoka on the state bill that allowed the district, told Axios many other cities reached out "within days" of the announcement to ask how their communities can replicate the district, though he declined to share names.

What they're saying: The city has already received a lot of positive feedback from residents and business owners, Anoka's community development director Doug Borglund told Axios.

  • "We want people to have 'shop-ertainment,' where they come to downtown, stroll our sidewalks, and have their favorite beverage while visiting shops they like," he added.

I visited on Wednesday night to check it out.

How it works: I walked into Ambi Wine Bar & Desserts and asked for a glass of wine to go. Once the bartender checked my ID, I was given my drink in a plastic cup with the Anoka Social District logo, which distinguishes it as portable.

  • Signs marketing the district's boundaries are prominently placed at each end, and several businesses had signs in windows showing if they allowed drinks inside. (Most did not.)

What I found: At least a third of the adults I passed when walking around had the specialty cups, and all six people who walked into the wine bar during my short visit asked for their drink to-go.

  • It was a beautiful and busy day downtown β€” hundreds of people were already gathered at Riverfront Memorial Park, which is part of the district, for live music and food trucks.
  • Though the area is relatively small, it felt bustling, especially for a Wednesday night.

What's next: Anoka will continue the pilot next summer, Borglund confirmed, and report findings to the legislature in 2025.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Twin Cities.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Twin Cities stories

No stories could be found

Twin Citiespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Twin Cities.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more