The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 13, 2012

Ojanpa: Martini, let thy name be Art

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— Maybe that lighted martini glass sculpture atop a Mankato Old Town building won’t be getting the heave-ho from the city after all.

Put another way, all it may take to make it comply with city code is to proclaim it as art rather than prohibited rooftop advertising.

Personally, I’d proclaim it as tapioca pudding if doing so meant it could stay. The 12-foot ornament crowning the Wine Cafe is a handsome sight in the night sky, and a lot of other people feel the same way.

Hence the creativity that is going into what might be called the “Save the Martini from City Code 10.87” movement.

Quick background: The welded-iron, LED-lit, martini glass with straw and olive was created as a lark by Don Kopp, who suggested to Wine Cafe owner and buddy Mike Baumann that it would look good on the roof of the business.

Kopp’s $300 effort was hoisted into place a few days ago, the light switch was thrown, and that martini’s starry glow on the horizon lured three wise men bearing gifts of frankincense, myrrh and — uh-oh — a letter from the city.

Someone familiar with city signage codes had complained to the proper authorities, who then were obliged to politely inform Baumann that the martini would have to be drained, as it were, within 10 days.

City code prohibits rooftop signs that are, or can be construed as, advertising for that establishment. Ergo, a glass of booze atop a business selling same is viewed as a no-no.

Fair enough. The city did what it had to do and Kopp and Baumann, though disappointed, were prepared to readily comply.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” Kopp said dejectedly the other day. “It was a clever idea that kind of got out of control.”

But a funny thing has happened on that martini’s road to demise. People love the way it looks, love the way it invitingly beckons people to a historic, quaint part of the downtown retail district that for decades has struggled to do just that.

By and by, people badgered Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel about it because Vogel is the city’s front man on such matters as martini-glass-in-sky code violations.

“I’m accused of being a sign Nazi,” Vogel said Friday. “But I’m not a sign Nazi; I’m an art nurturer.”

So here’s the deal: Vogel, in the interest of finding a popular, code-friendly solution — and shedding his Gestapo label — is suggesting that rooftop creations of this ilk might become some type of art initiative in the core downtown, a la the popular annual CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour.

Eric Harriman, coordinator of City Center Partnership that works to attract people to the community through various projects and programs, thinks the idea has merit provided it’s properly vetted.

Baumann said he and other business owners are bullish about the idea of similar lighted creations adorning rooftops and, more pertinently, creating more traffic and interest in the area.

Everyone else is wearing out this pun so I may as well too: That be-strawed martini glass has created quite a stir.


Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email