Cafe Molise owner Fred Moesinger is opening a wine bar on Monday in downtown Salt Lake City, but because of a shortage of liquor licenses, the bar will be open only until the end of October.
After nearly a year of waiting, Moesinger has resorted to a temporary summer permit, the only license available enabling BTG Wine Bar to operate.
“I’m hopeful that I can show there’s a demand for a wine bar,” said Moesinger. “But it’s difficult to hire a staff, not knowing how long the wine bar will be in business.”
BTG, an acronym for by the glass, is at 63 W. 100 South, a few doors down from Cafe Molise. The cafe, which serves Italian cuisine from the Molise region of Italy, has been in business for 20 years.
Last spring, Moesinger turned to the public in his effort to obtain a wine bar permit, gathering more than 350 signatures asking the liquor commission to award him the single club license that became available in June. At the time, 13 applicants were on the waiting list from Salt Lake, Summit and Duchesne counties. That year-round club permit went to Red Rock Place at Fashion Place Mall in Murray, which had been on the waiting list for more than two years.
The number of club permits are based on the state’s population, and unlike restaurant licenses, lawmakers have refused to create more bar licenses over concerns of underage drinking and drunk driving.
Now, there’s an acute shortage of club permits. Three years ago the waiting period for a bar license was eight months, compared to two years today — and counting.
Currently, 11 applicants are on the waiting list, and some are businesses far larger than the BTG Wine Bar.
Moesinger was placed on the waiting list last fall — about the same time as were owners of the Hyatt Escala Lodge in Park City. The Hyatt Escala hopes to swap a bar license for its existing restaurant license, which was the only permit available when the hotel opened in 2010.
Many businesses see downsides to restaurant permits, which require diners to order food before they can be served an alcoholic beverage. Restaurants also must build a partition dubbed a Zion curtain to hide bartenders from public view on the theory that restaurants should not become bars.
In January, a Hyatt representative told liquor commissioners that hotel guests frequently complain that they can’t enjoy a cocktail served in a traditional bar setting, without the server having to retreat to an area out of sight to make or pour a drink, and without having to order a meal.
The Hyatt Escala, at The Canyons Resort, is a condominium hotel with 175 rooms and an AAA Four Diamond Award rating, representing the upper echelon of fine dining.
Among the more recent applicants is Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar, a Washington-base chain that is opening its first Utah location in September at Station Park in Farmington. The bistro, known for its 36 signature martini menu drinks, has been awarded a restaurant permit, which means its noted mixologists will have to do their work behind the scenes.
Seasonal permits typically are awarded to businesses that operate a few months during the winter or summer. But as the year-round licenses have become scarce, businesses are applying for these permits as well. In 2010, for example, restaurant licenses were in such short supply that only a summer permit was available for California Pizza Kitchen’s newly opened Murray restaurant. Months later, a year-round license became available, but at the time the restaurant had no assurances it could continue serving alcohol when the seasonal permit expired.
BTG Wine Bar
Where • 63 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City
What • 50 wines by the glass, spirits, local beers, light menu
Hours • 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Sunday