With only one bar license available and 11 businesses wanting it, it was a sure thing that the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services’ commission would make somebody unhappy.
Instead, the board opted to make everybody unhappy, deciding at its September meeting not to issue that bar license until its next meeting, on Oct. 25.
“We’re in a tough spot,” commission chair Juliette Tennert said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have one license, and based on population analysis, we have one more coming up in November. … It’s not a first for the commission, but it’s the first time for those of us who are newer to be in such a place of scarcity.”
“The truth of the matter is we have a very difficult situation,” said Commissioner Thomas Jacobsen.
Jacobsen put the blame for the license shortage on the Utah Legislature, and mentioned the body’s leading figure on alcohol policy: Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.
“I’m going to put my friend, Sen. Stevenson, on the spot and say we’re operating with what is given us. The remedy is to petition the Legislature and ask them to grant more bar licenses,” Jacobsen said.
Of the 11 businesses whose applications went before the commission Tuesday, two of them were Salt Lake City taverns seeking to upgrade to a full bar license: West Side Tavern at 1763 S. 300 West, and Fisher Brewing at 320 W. 800 South.
Libby Taylor, general manager of West Side Tavern, told the board her business — which is not tied to the Squatters Brewpub in downtown Salt Lake City — is losing customers because she can’t pour some of Squatters higher-alcohol beers, such as its Hop Rising Double IPA, which is 9% alcohol.
Tim Dwyer, co-owner of Fisher Brewing Company, told the board that the business has added an event space, expanding its capacity from 250 people to 509. The space will be used for weddings, corporate parties and other events, Dwyer said — and, he argued, people will want to pour champagne and spirits.
“We have a proven track record,” Dwyer said. “We’re not just a tavern looking to pour high-point beer. We are busy and need the extra space.”
Nine more applicants are planning to open in the coming months, though the owners of only one — Verse, an LGBTQ+ bar at 605 S. State St., Salt Lake City — said they were ready to open immediately.
Verse owner Michael Repp — formerly of The Sun Trapp, one of Salt Lake City’s longest-operating LGBTQ+ bars — said his new business was nearly ready to open its doors, because their crews had been in 16-hour days and completed months of construction in a matter of weeks.
“We’d be ready to operate by October 7, if not before,” Repp said.
The eight other applicants have proposed opening dates ranging from mid-October to next July. They are: Lit Arcade Bar in Ogden, the social club Edison House in downtown Salt Lake City, Bout Time Pub and Grub in Bluffdale and Saratoga Springs, Proper Brewing in Moab, Marquis in Park City, and Aker and Yuki, both in Salt Lake City.