Al­co­hol goes public in Utah restau­rants

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - MICHELLE L. PRICE In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Rick Bowmer and Sally Ho of The Associated Press.

SALT LAKE CITY — A trendy down­town Salt Lake City seafood res­tau­rant started busi­ness Satur­day with glass-smash­ing and cham­pagne, a sym­bolic ges­ture in its eman­ci­pa­tion from Utah’s so-called Zion Cur­tains al­co­hol law.

“It feels fab­u­lous and lib­er­at­ing. It’s a hal­lelu­jah mo­ment,” said Joel LaSalle, owner of Cur­rent Fish & Oys­ter. “It’ll make our res­tau­rant twice as beau­ti­ful be­cause you can ac­tu­ally see the $100,000 bar and wall.”

The new liquor law went into ef­fect Satur­day, mak­ing wine, liquor and higher-al­co­hol beer more ex­pen­sive while also al­low­ing some restau­rants to take down walls and par­ti­tions that were meant to pre­vent cus­tomers from see­ing their al­co­holic drinks be­ing mixed and poured.

The broad liquor law passed in March eased a long­time re­quire­ment that drinks be pre­pared be­hind bar­ri­ers known as Zion Cur­tains, typ­i­cally glass walls or back rooms. It’s based on the premise that the bar­ri­ers shield chil­dren from al­co­hol cul­ture and what some per­ceive as the glam­our of bar­tend­ing, and pre­vent un­der­age drink­ing.

The Zion Cur­tain nick­name is a ref­er­ence to The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, which teaches its mem­bers to avoid al­co­hol and plays an in­flu­en­tial role in state liquor pol­icy.

The rule has been a long­time thorn in the side of Utah’s res­tau­rant in­dus­try, which has com­plained that the bar­ri­ers can be ugly and awk­ward, and points out that chil­dren can still see cus­tomers drink­ing al­co­hol. They also ar­gued that the rule pun­ished newer restau­rants, be­cause those built be­fore 2009 were not re­quired to have a bar­rier.

Un­der the new law, restau­rants can stop hid­ing drinks be­hind glass bar­ri­ers or in back­rooms start­ing Satur­day — if they choose one of two op­tions to keep those un­der 21 away from bars: Seat them at least 10 feet from a bar, or at least 5 feet from a bar if the res­tau­rant in­stalls a half-wall or other struc­ture about 3.5 feet tall.

Adult cus­tomers can sit at or near bars and watch drinks be­ing made.

Restau­rants that want to pick one of those paths will first need the al­co­hol con­trol depart­ment to sign off on their changes and floor plans and meet with a com­pli­ance of­fi­cer from the liquor depart­ment.

Terry Wood, spokesman for the Utah Depart­ment of Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol, did not know how many restau­rants had taken steps to make those changes, but it was ex­pected to be a small num­ber.

Most restau­rants are not re­quired to do any­thing dif­fer­ently un­der the law, and eater­ies that must make ad­just­ments have a year to do that.

The din­ing room at Cur­rent Fish & Oys­ter of­fers plenty of room for a 10-foot buf­fer zone. LaSalle said the wall is an eye­sore and costs his res­tau­rant thou­sands in sales each month be­cause cus­tomers can’t sit and en­joy a drink while chat­ting with the bar­tender hid­den in a glass-pan­eled cu­bi­cle.

The law also raised the markup that the state makes on the case price of al­co­hol by 2 per­cent­age points. Start­ing Satur­day, the price markup will be 88 per­cent for liquor and wine and 66.5 for beer that has more than 4 per­cent al­co­hol by vol­ume.

The price in­creases don’t ap­ply to lower-al­co­hol beer, which is sold in gro­cery and con­ve­nience stores.

Some of the law’s other changes took ef­fect in May, in­clud­ing rules al­low­ing al­co­hol to be sold an hour ear­lier — at 10:30 a.m. — on week­ends and hol­i­days.

AP/RICK BOWMER

At his Cur­rent Fish & Oys­ter res­tau­rant Satur­day in Salt Lake City, Joel LaSalle smashes a par­ti­tion that pre­vents cus­tomers from see­ing their al­co­holic drinks be­ing mixed and poured.

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