Liquor Gets Quicker—and Less Quirky—in Utah

Zion curtains come down as the state passes sweeping alcohol reform legislation.

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member,” quipped Groucho Marx.

And now he wouldn’t have to in order to get a drink in Utah.

It’s closing time for Utah’s convoluted bar regulations, after Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. signed sweeping liquor-law legislation on March 31st. Bar patrons no longer have to join a private club in order to be served drinks, and restaurants can banish the barrier that separates their cocktail-mixing area from public view—a partition dubbed “The Zion Curtain.”

The new laws aim to bolster Utah’s $6 billion-a-year tourism industry. “Club operators will no longer be faced with having to explain why a person has to buy a membership to have a drink or glass of wine with dinner,” says Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism and Film. “It makes our life much easier,” concurs Jeff Ward, general manager of 350 Main Brasserie and The Spur & Grill in Park City. “Before people wouldn’t even come into our bar when they saw the sign saying it was a private club.”

Some kinks remain in getting a drink in Utah, where 60 percent of residents (and 80 percent of state legislators) belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), a faith that abstains from alcohol. Bar patrons cannot order a sidecar (shot) with the same liquor that is already in their drink. And although the Zion Curtain will fall at existing restaurants—allowing bartenders to pass drinks to customers instead of walking around a divider—new restaurants must create a separate area for mixing cocktails, away from the eyes of children.

The new law that takes effect on July 1st also requires bars to scan IDs presented by anyone who looks under age 35. Does that mean 50-year-olds will get carded? “They do already,” responded one bartender.

Published on April 1, 2009
Topics: Liquor Laws