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Zion curtain pushing Utah restaurants to convert to bars
Liquor » Legislator regrets not requiring all restaurants to erect barriers hiding bartenders.

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The number of permits are based on the state’s population, and do not take into account the 20 million tourists who visit — and dine — in Utah annually.

Bar licenses themselves — which are separated into social and dining clubs — can befuddle out-of-state visitors and add to the state’s acute shortage of permits.

At a glance

Zion curtain

New eateries must build barriers to hide bartenders from public view.

Number of eateries open since 2010 when law went into effect:

235 » Eateries serving all types of alcohol

139 » Restaurants serving beer and wine

64 » Beer only restaurants

Number of older restaurants exempt from the barrier law:

304 » Eateries serving all types of alcohol

124 » Restaurants serving beer and wine

83 » Beer only restaurants

Source: Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

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Liquid Joe’s in Salt Lake City, for example, holds a social club license, meaning no minors are allowed and food is not required to be sold. But Squatters Brewery Pub has a dining club permit, allowing minors when accompanied by an adult and requiring 60 percent of sales to be from food.

Valentine acknowledged both bars and fine dining restaurants are competing for club licenses. But he added that at some point he may revisit the requirements so that minors may not be allowed in any establishment that holds a club license.

"There must be a distinction between a bar and a restaurant," said Valentine. "There’s too much of a push to make restaurants look like bars, and that could promote liquor sales."

Rise of the barriers • The history of Utah’s unique restaurant partitions can be traced to 1968. At that time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which preaches against alcohol, successfully urged voters to kill an initiative that would have allowed the sale of liquor by the drink in restaurants.

As a compromise, diners could bring liquor minibottles to restaurants — as long as the liquor was not visible to other patrons.

By 1990, the minibottle law was repealed in favor of bartenders pouring individual drinks. To avoid over-the-counter-service, waiters had to bring drinks to diner’s tables. The following year, diners were allowed to order drinks at restaurant counters, as long as the liquor was not served or mixed there.

To comply, restaurants built back rooms with small windows where servers picked up the beverages. Other eateries built a hodge-podge of horizontal or perpendicular walls and still others erected see-through partitions of varying sizes.

Regulations became so convoluted that in 2009, liquor-control commissioners said the law couldn’t be enforced and in some cases didn’t make any sense. For instance, bartenders at Stella Grill in Murray could not hand glasses of water over to patrons seated on the other side of a short counter-top partition, and severs, not bartenders, had to walk around the counter to serve alcoholic beverages.

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In 2009 lawmakers did away with private club memberships, and as part of the compromise required restaurants to build barriers to hide bartenders and open liquor bottles­ — reminiscent of rules from the 1960s requiring minibottles and beer taps to be out of public view.

At times bills have been introduced to do away with Zion curtains, but the Legislature, whose majority is comprised of LDS Church members, has yet to ease requirements that aim to shield their non-drinking constituents from those who do.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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