Confusion, anger and plenty of social media jabs bubbled up in May 2017, when the state required restaurants to post “This Is a Restaurant, Not a Bar” signs.
Today, those 8.5-by-11-inch sheets of paper are obsolete and have been turned into an artistic conversation piece.
“This Is Art, Not a Sign” is a collage of more than two dozen signs removed from the front windows of Utah businesses some six months ago, when the state changed the sign requirement for restaurants and tweaked it for bars.
Salt Lake City lawyer Tanner Lenart, who specializes in state liquor laws, asked restaurant owners not to throw out the signs but rather to donate them to her project.
Lenart got some assistance from Salt Lake City artist John Sproul and will unveil the piece Friday during Salt Lake City’s monthly Gallery Stroll. (See details below.)
Restaurant and bar owners have been invited to the opening reception, as have staffers from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the state agency that oversees liquor licensing and compliance. Lenart said she’d be thrilled if a few lawmakers came, too.
Ironically, because it is a public event, she said, state law does not allow alcohol to be served.
While consumers and business owners said good riddance to the signs in May, Lenart said the repeal is a good example of how Utah’s liquor laws are always evolving.
"We do not have to stand idly by and let things stay the way they are,” she said. “The Legislature does listen.”
Now the one-year sign experiment has its own chapter in Utah liquor history along with private clubs and the 7-foot-tall barriers — better known as Zion Curtains — that protect children from seeing the pouring and mixing of alcoholic drinks.
Sproul, who owns Salt Lake City Nox Contemporary art gallery, hopes the sign display sparks new conversation among guests, much as paintings, sculptures and other works do.
“Art is all about creating a conversation and seeing things in a new and different way,” he said. “We’ll see what conversation comes out of it.”
In May 2017, as part of a massive liquor-reform law, all Utah restaurants that served alcohol were required to post signs that read “This Premises Is Licensed as a Restaurant, Not a Bar.”
Bars were required to have similar signs that said: “This Premises Is Licensed as a Bar, Not a Restaurant.” The bar signs were especially confusing because many people assumed the bars didn’t serve food.
After a year, the Legislature removed the requirement for restaurants — but not bars.
Bars now must post a sign — at least 8.5 by 11 inches — that states the “Premises is a bar and no one under the age of 21 is allowed inside.” A few of those new bar signs will be on display during Lenart’s show.
The exhibit also includes some of the original misprints that had a grammatical error, using the word “premise.”
Restaurants and bars from across the Wasatch Front sent in their signs, many on the day the new law took effect, Lenart said. Other signs she saw hanging in restaurants months later and asked owners if she could have them for the project.
A few owners were suspicious and refused her request, she noted, “because there is so much confusion about liquor laws.”
‘This Is Art, Not a Sign’
When • Friday, Nov. 16, 6 to 9 p.m.; or by appointment through Nov. 30
Where • Nox Contemporary, 440 S. 400 West, Suite H, Salt Lake City
Cost • Free as part of Salt Lake City’s monthly Gallery Stroll
Contact • John Sproul at 801-289-6269 or email@example.com