After a four-month wait, Salt Lake City’s RoHa Brewing gets its bar license

DABC commission approves one bar license, but is prepared to dole out 10 more before June.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roha Brewing Project, at 30 E. Kensington Ave. in Salt Lake City, shown here in 2017, was awarded a bar license by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's commission on April 26, 2022.

Rob Phillips has been patient since January, hoping finally to get a bar license for RoHa Brewing Project, the Salt Lake City brewery that he co-owns.

“You’re ready to go, right?” Thomas Jacobsen, chairman of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control commission, which on Tuesday finally awarded RoHa its bar license.

“We’ll be open today at noon, and I could probably sell high-point beer before I got back to the brewery. Challenge me,” Philips replied, prompting an explosion of laughter in the meeting room.

RoHa had been operating under a tavern license, meaning it could sell beer with 5% alcohol content, but no higher. Tuesday’s decision means RoHa can sell higher-alcohol beers, as well as hard liquor.

RoHa was the only establishment to receive a bar license Tuesday. Four other establishments that are ready to open were left waiting by the commission, along with 11 more with projected opening dates as late as October of this year.

The commission had two bar licenses available this month. One was due to the state’s rising population, which by law determines how many licenses are available. The other was surrendered by Ogden’s Triple Peaks Sports Grill, whose building was destroyed in a fire in January; the sports bar surrendered its license voluntarily, planning to apply again once the owners figure out when they might reopen.

Commissioner Tara Thue recommended the board hold back on granting the second license until the next meeting in May, and the commission agreed. At that meeting, the commission will have 10 bar licenses to give out, plus one seasonal winter license, because of a change in state law during this winter’s legislative session — a law that ends the practice of bars buying licenses from each other.

Bar owners offered the commission suggestions on how to pass out those bar licenses.

Tim Ryan, owner of Bout Time Pub & Grub (which has 12 locations around the state), urged commissioners to prioritize new businesses — rather than those who are transferring licenses. Ryan also suggested the board hold back licenses from establishments trying to finish construction, because building schedules can be unpredictable. (Bout Time has two more locations scheduled to open in October, in Bluffdale and Saratoga Springs.)

Michael Eccleston and Katy Willis of Quarters Arcade Bar, which is applying for a license for a new Sugar House location to accompany its downtown bar, pleaded with the commission to give bar licenses to bars — not restaurants.

“The line between restaurant and bar has become pretty blurry,” Eccelston said. “The prioritization for bar licenses should go to businesses that truly operate as bars, and not restaurants that are trying to get out of intent to dine, or the 70/30 split for sales.” (Places with restaurant licenses can only sell alcohol to patrons who say they plan to eat there, and must make at least 70% of their sales in food.)

Eccleston also noted that “if you go to downtown Salt Lake City on weekends, you can see that the demand is not being met with supply. The rural areas obviously should be prioritized, but also we have to look at the demand and supply side of the equation, not just the supply side of the equation.”

Jacobsen said the DABC commission likely will hold a special meeting in June — by which time, thanks to the Legislature, the DABC will become DABS, the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Services — to talk about the “windfall” of bar licenses.

“It’s something we’ve never had, at least since I’ve been part of the commission,” Jacobsen said. “That’s a lot of licenses all at once to deal with, so we’d like to hear from those people who’d be most affected.” Jacobsen added that the public can email written comments to the commission, at hotline@dabc.gov.

Package agencies approved

The commission Tuesday also granted three-year contracts to 36 new package agencies across the state, primarily serving Utah’s rural areas.

The new package agencies will be located in: Beaver, Boulder, Brian Head, Bryce Canyon, Castle Dale, Centerfield, Coalville, Delta, Duchesne, Eden, Ephraim, Escalante, Eureka, Fillmore, Garden City, Green River, Helper, Kamas, Kanab, Lake Powell, Midvale, Milford, Monticello, Morgan, Mount Pleasant, Nephi, Parowan, Payson, Richfield, Roosevelt, Salina, Springdale, Sunnyside, Torrey and Tremonton.

The applicants had come before the commission on March 24, Jacobsen noted — in an all-day meeting that Thue said lasted nine hours.

Both Thue and commissioner Stanley Parrish noted there were inconsistencies with the applications for the package agencies. Parrish said some applications were barely complete, while others had fleshed-out business plans.

Thue said it was “disappointing” that “there wasn’t more competition. … It’s on us and on DABC staff to make sure that people in rural parts of the state understand what the package agencies are, what they do, the revenue, the opportunity that presents itself to those business owners, and that we do look for opportunities to have more competition in this area.”

Parrish said he was glad to see economic opportunities extended to rural Utah. Thue corrected him slightly on this point, noting that Midvale, a suburb of Salt Lake City, isn’t technically rural.

More booze news

• A good chunk of Tuesday’s meeting was spent discussing a liquor violation by Cheers to You, specifically its downtown Salt Lake City location at 315 S. Main. The bar was cited for improperly locking up bottles at the end of the night.

A state hearing officer recommended dismissing the violation, because the bar had not been properly notified. Assistant Attorney General Jeff Buckner objected to the hearing officer’s recommendation. The board voted unanimously in Buckner’s favor, keeping the violation intact — though commissioners Jacquelyn Orton and Juliette Tennert urged DABC staff to give business more specific information when violations are found.

• Tiffany Clason, DABC’s executive director, told the board that at May’s meeting, she will present the agency’s strategic plan — focusing on workforce issues, transparency, customer service and alcohol abuse prevention, which includes overconsumption. To that end, DABC is partnering with the Park City Area Restaurant Association to hold a “mocktail” event during the annual Savor the Cocktail contest.

• Red Pine Cafe in Park City requested a summer seasonal license in lieu of its winter seasonal license, which was approved.

• Approved full-service restaurant applicants included: Adria’s Restaurant, Kanab; Urban Hill, Salt Lake City; Neutral Ground, Salt Lake City; Nomo, Salt Lake City; and Winger’s, West Jordan.

• Approved limited-service applications included: The Deli, Duck Creek Village; Mandarin Garden Weng, Logan; Schulz’s Lakeside Dining, Panguitch; Yoko Taco, Salt Lake City; Mountain Mikes Pizza, Spanish Fork; Rock Reef Cafe, Torrey; Matt Curry Steakhouse, Vernal; and Mr. Fries Man, West Jordan.

• Bar license applicants that are ready to operate are: Wasatch Loft & Tap Room Bar, Park City; Shades Tap Room, Salt Lake City; Durango Bar, Salt Lake City. Fenice Mediterranean Bistro in Salt Lake City, which is ready to open, had received a violation and so was disqualified from receiving a license.

• Bar license applications with projected future openings are: Quarters Sugar House, Salt Lake City (May); Franklin Ave. Cocktail & Kitchen, Salt Lake City (May); Paxton Pub, Salt Lake City (May); Russell Hanson (May); The Spoke, Moab (June); Edison House, Salt Lake City (June); Woodbine Hospitality, Salt Lake (June); Marquis, Park City (July); Proper Brewing Moab Taphouse (August); Bout Time Pub & Grub, Bluffdale (October); Bout Time Pub & Grub, Saratoga Springs (October); Aker Restaurant & Lounge, Salt Lake City (October).