With no bar licenses available, Utah’s liquor board issues one ‘band-aid’ seasonal license

Salt Lake City’s West Side Tavern will get to serve hard liquor through April.

With Utah’s liquor board unable to give out a full-time bar license at their November meeting, a handful of businesses found themselves arguing that they could make do with a six-month seasonal license.

One business — West Side Tavern, 1763 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City — received a seasonal bar license at Tuesday’s meeting of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s commission, where board members and business owners showed exasperation at the process.

Libby Taylor, owner of West Side Tavern, said the seasonal bar license “will give us an opportunity to do some beer releases, have some local products in our bar.” The limited license also would let West Side schedule private events during the busy holiday season.

Commissioner Thomas Jacobsen said he was concerned about giving out a seasonal bar license to a year-round business. The seasonal licenses are intended, Jacobsen said, for bars that cater to Utah’s recreational areas, and the board is “using it as a band-aid to get a license out there.”

West Side, which will surrender its tavern license to be able to serve hard liquor from now to April 30, was one of eight applicants in the queue for a bar license. It was the only one that is currently open for business; two others — Bout Time Pub & Grub in Bluffdale and Proper Brewing in Moab — are finishing construction or remodeling, and are planning to open in December.

The owner of Bout Time, Tim Ryan, highlighted the precarious position of his bar with his T-shirt, which read “Almost ready to open” in block letters. The shirt produced some laughter from the commissioners.

“It seems like you could sell that shirt, seeing the amount of demand,” said commissioner Tara Thue, who asked if she could take a photo of Ryan’s shirt.

Ryan, who was one of four business owners who said they would accept a seasonal license, noted that his Bluffdale location is costing him $25,000 a month, with no business coming in. But, Ryan added, opening and then closing the business — and having customers and employees disperse — would be worse for his business in the long run.

Thue noted that Ryan has attended DABS meetings for 17 months, making the case to get a bar license. “I find it troubling to myself that we’re asked to be put in a position to ask our applicants to make business decisions that fit with our arbitrary timeline, versus what makes sense for your business,” Thue said.

Ryan told the board that he has met with two Utah state senators to talk about his struggles as a bar owner. “They were willing to listen,” Ryan said. “They see the problem. … I feel a little bit of hope there might be some movement in this year’s legislative session that’s more than a band-aid. … I hope we get some sutures to fix this.”

At issue is the Legislature-set population formula that determines how many full bar licenses the DABS commission can give out. For November’s meeting, no such licenses were available; one will become available in December, based on population increases. At past meetings, commissioners have urged bar owners to talk to their legislators about allowing more licenses.

Commission chair Juliette Tennert said that “we are very close to having a conversation about restaurant licenses that we’re now having about bar licenses.” The board had only 27 full restaurant licenses to give out, with another available in December, plus three summer seasonal licenses.

Of those 27 licenses, the DABS board handed out seven on Tuesday, to: La Fountain, Sandy; Mi Buena Vida, Salt Lake City; Tapa Sushi Japanese Cuisine, American Fork; Nori Sushi Bar & Grill, American Fork; Casa Linda Mexican Restaurant, Salt Lake City; DC Pub and Grill, Duck Creek Village (in Kane County); and Pizzeria 712, Orem.

“If we keep giving out restaurant licenses at this rate, we will run out prior to the next legislative session,” Thue said. “We need to make sure we’re raising this with the Legislature and the restaurant association.”

Commissioners also discussed businesses that were cited for liquor violations. Three businesses were cited for major violations:

• The Murray Eagle’s Hall was fined the maximum of $3,000 and had its license suspended after three underage SBI agents were served.

• Foster’s Market in Cedar City was cited for selling a 30-pack of beer to an intoxicated customer who was followed by police from a bar and then seen stumbling into the store.

• And the Hanna Cafe & Bar in Hanna (on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation) was cited for selling alcohol to minors and allowing them on the premises.

All three businesses are working with DABS staff so they can keep their licenses. Tennert said all the businesses on the violations list “are very much on notice,” and noted that two of the businesses with the month’s gravest offenses hold bar licenses.

“We have no bar licenses to give right now. We have a list of applicants, some of which have proven good management practices, which we would never expect to see these violations,” Tennert said. “So it’s incredibly frustrating to see things like this happen right now.”

Thirteen businesses were listed on the full violations list, including Woody’s Tavern in Moab. Woody’s was spared having to testify at Tuesday’s meeting after receiving a reprieve from Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration.