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Monday, July 13, 2009

Will new liquor laws move Utah’s reputation into the twenty-first century?

New liquor laws took affect in Utah on July 1, and if they don't improve the SLC cocktail scene, they should at least change it. Utah has been fertile ground for amateur mixologists because the liquor laws were so strict that it’s difficult to get a good, stiff drink in a bar. Part of the problem is that there were no bars. Well, there were beer bars, but none for cocktails. To get a cocktail you had to go to a restaurant or a private club; and (until last year) the bartenders were only allowed to put 1 ¼ oz of liquor in a drink. In 2008, this was increased to 1 ½ oz plus “flavorings” that may also be alcoholic. In Utah, martinis are often served in unusually thick glasses to make it look like they are bigger than they really are, but that is due more to the individual bar or restaurant than to the law. Drinks still are metered, however, and bartenders can lose their jobs if they give you too much liquor in a drink. Now the intent of this is to reduce DUI, a worthy goal, but not everyone buying a drink plans on driving.

The new laws do not eliminate private clubs, but there is no longer a requirement to be a club in order to serve drinks without being a restaurant. As a result, most clubs are going public. (The Salt Lake City Weekly claims to have a list online where you can check the status of your favorite watering hole, but I was unable to find it in five minutes of searching their site. Pick up a hard copy of the entertaining July 2 “Liquor and Liberty” issue.) You will not have to buy a membership (or be the guest of a member) to buy a drink. You will have to be 21 years of age, and if you appear to be under 35 your ID will be scanned and recorded. The recorded IDs are to be deleted within a week, and may not be used for marketing etc. DUI laws are being tightened, with stiffer penalties (when the Utah legislature and ABC give, they must also take), but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

One strange inconsistency in the law concerns the oft derided “Zion Curtain” that shielded restaurant patrons from the sight of a bartender mixing drinks. The state seemed confused as to whether the reason for the curtain is to shield all patrons from witnessing a degenerate act or to shield children from a vision so enticing (seeing a drink shaken) that should they see it, it would seduce them irrevocably to the rites of the cocktail. Under a new law that was effective May 12, 2009, restaurants that had a Zion Curtain may remove them, but restaurants that opened after that date must still have one. Perhaps the intent is to put all restaurants on an equal financial footing… Nevertheless, it appears that much progress has been made in modernizing Utah’s liquor laws.

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