Happy Repeal Day! Here’s how Utah liquor laws have changed since Prohibition

Ninety years ago today, Utah became the state that put the 21st Amendment over the top, ending the national ban on alcohol.

(Associated Press file photo) As word came from Utah that Prohibition had been repealed, crowds jammed a downtown Chicago bar Dec. 5, 1933. Before the scramble for a legal drink, the crowd tossed a few hats in the air and let loose a round of cheers.

December 5 — that’s Tuesday — is Repeal Day, marking the 90th anniversary of the end of Prohibition, the 16-year nationwide ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages.

It’s a quirk of history that the state responsible for putting the ratification of the 21st Amendment over the top and ending Prohibition was, yes, Utah — where today two-thirds of the population identifies as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith that famously eschews alcohol in any form.

Utah voters overwhelmingly voted in November 1933 to repeal Prohibition, against the counsel of church President Heber J. Grant. The Utah Legislature convened a constitutional convention on Dec. 5, 1933, and became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment. When delegate S.R. Thurman cast the decisive “aye” vote at 3:31½ p.m., the amendment took effect immediately, and the news was relayed by telegraph across the nation.

The London Evening News’ headline the next day read: “Prohibition Is Dead! Mormons Killed It! Whoopee! Happy Days Are Here Again!”

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) After tearing down their "Zion Curtain," a 7-foot opaque barrier once required to block children from seeing drinks being mixed, owner Joel LaSalle and general manager Andrew Cliburn celebrated with champagne at Current Fish & Oyster in Salt Lake City July 1, 2017. Utah law has gone back and forth on requiring such barriers.

Once alcohol was legal again nationwide, the Utah Legislature went to work regulating it in the Beehive State. The Legislature started with the Liquor Control Act of 1935, and has continued making changes to this day.

Here’s a timeline of what’s happened with Utah’s liquor law since Prohibition was repealed in 1933:

1934 • Beer again legal to buy in Utah.

1935 • The Liquor Control Act is enacted, forming the state’s three-member liquor commission, requiring the commission to set prices, prohibiting all but state liquor stores and package stores from selling liquor (anything over 3.2% alcohol).

1937 • Drinking in public buildings, parks or stadiums, or being intoxicated in public are outlawed.

1955 • Nonprofit private “locker clubs” are established, so people could drink at recreation and social resorts.

1959 • “Brownbagging” is written officially into statute.

1969 • A new law allows state-run liquor outlets to open in restaurants, to sell 2-ounce “mini-bottles” directly to customers.

[Read more: Whatever happened to ... mini liquor bottles in Utah?]

1974 • The liquor commission is investigated, to see whether commissioners received free “samples” of booze that unduly influenced them to stock certain brands of liquor.

1975 • The commission’s director is fired, and two liquor commissioners are indicted on charges ranging from embezzlement to perjury. The commissioners were cleared on all charges.

1977 • Advertising for private clubs is banned.

1985 • A new Alcoholic Beverage Control Act is enacted, allowing restaurants to sell mini-bottles, and the use of alcoholic “flavorings” was allowed.

1988 • A law to allow restaurants to serve unopened mini-bottles directly to customers at their table is passed.

1990 • The end of “brownbagging” and the mini-bottle, as bars are allowed to use metered pouring devices to dispense one-ounce drinks in clubs. Keg sales and advertising visible from the street are banned.

1995 • Utah liquor stores finally are allowed to accept credit cards.

1996 • A U.S. Supreme Court ruling clears the way for alcohol advertising.

2001 • The liquor commission allows drink lists on restaurant tables.

2008 • Flavored malt beverages, or “alcopops,” can only be sold in state stores — but, because of restrictive labeling rules, the law effectively bans the drinks for several years. Metered pouring is increased to 1.5 ounces per drink, though the amount of alcoholic “flavorings” is reduced.

2009 • In a series of reforms designed to boost the tourism industry, Utah restaurants are allowed to remove the “Zion Curtain” barrier between diners and the areas where drinks are prepared. Also, bars and clubs are no longer required to charge a membership fee. And home brewing becomes legal.

2010 • The Utah Legislature puts the “Zion Curtain” barriers back in place.

2013 • After nine Park City businesses were fined during the Sundance Film Festival for allowing customers to order drinks before placing a food order, the Utah Legislature eases up on the “intent to dine” law.

2017 • The Utah Legislature at last does away with the “Zion Curtain,” though it briefly institutes a buffer zone of 10 feet, where no customers under 21 can sit. The Legislature also lowers the legal limit for a DUI to a blood-alcohol content of 0.05% — still the strictest in the nation. And the state requires signage, with such messages as “This is a restaurant, not a bar,” though the rule is eliminated after public ridicule.

2019 • With fewer breweries offering beer with an alcohol level of 3.2%, Utah makes it legal for grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with an alcohol-by-weight level of 4% — or 5% alcohol-by-volume.

2022 • The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control changes its name to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services — a move designed, officials say, to stress the agency’s “service-focused” mission to businesses that sell alcohol.

2023 • The Utah Legislature makes it legal for diners waiting at the bar to carry their own drinks to their table. And businesses can, for the first time, apply online for liquor licenses.

[Read more: Utah’s current liquor laws: An explainer]

Source: Utah Alcohol Beverage Control Commission; Salt Lake Tribune archives.