Starting today, bartenders may hand drinks directly to diners sitting at restaurant counters when a portion of new legislation goes into effect that makes sweeping changes to Utah's liquor laws.
That's because as of midnight Monday they no longer will have to deal with barriers, dubbed Zion Curtains, that were erected to separate diners from alcoholic beverages. The old statutes were so strict that bartenders were also prohibited from handing anything over the barriers -- including a glass of water, a plate of food, a napkin or even a bill. Either the bartender had to walk around the counter or hand the items to a server who made the trek around the barrier.
Shawn Boyle, manager of the downtown restaurant Faustina, can hardly wait to get rid of the odd looking glass partition that sits atop a counter.
"Not having these barriers is going to save us a lot of time, especially with out-of-state visitors who constantly ask what it is and why it's there, which then goes onto questions and comments about other state liquor laws," he said. "It turns into a long conversation about something we don't have any control over -- plus, the thing is kind of an eyesore."
Removing the barrier at Stella Grill in Salt Lake City will be simple. Employees will have only to unscrew eight bolts to get rid of the glass partition at the restaurant's eight-seat counter at the front entrance to the eatery.
"The barriers were put up with the hope that someday we'd be taking them down," said manager Erin O'Conner.
At the Chili's Grill and Bar on 400 South in Salt Lake City, diners will see nothing different at the eatery credited with prompting lawmakers to re-examine how restaurants serve alcoholic beverages. The 18-inch wooden barrier there stays for now.
It was the bar at this Chili's, where state Senate President Michael Waddoups sometimes catches a bite, that first attracted the lawmaker's attention. In January, he summoned state liquor control officials to the state Capitol to explain why restaurants were allowed to mix alcoholic drinks in full view of minors "in a bar setting."
Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, directed liquor officials to tighten rules to make it more difficult for diners to see bartenders mixing drinks at restaurants. But the effort was so convoluted that liquor commissioners said the task was impossible.
Waddops in turn, was behind the push that resulted in the removal of Zion Curtains -- and another aspect of the law that is not as visible as the barriers. The legislation, which does away with private club memberships (beginning July 1), also prohibits minors from sitting at or lingering near restaurant bars. And it prohibits new restaurants from storing or mixing drinks at bars, while grandfathering bars at existing eateries.
Waddoups called the removal of restaurant barriers "a trade-off" in the overall liquor legislation package. He pointed out that laws increasing penalties for drunk driving and forfeiting vehicles after drunk driving convictions "send a strong message that the state will not tolerate people drinking and driving and putting others at risk."
Until 2001, all alcohol was hidden from public view in Utah restaurants. That's when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a state ban against liquor advertising and displays.