Utah’s liquor board awards all 10 of its bar licenses at once, even though booze bill isn’t yet law

The liquor commissioners, who have complained of a license scarcity, won’t have another bar license to hand out until April.

(Kolbie Peterson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Felt Bar & Eatery in downtown Salt Lake City, photographed Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 — the day it received its liquor license.

After years of parceling out bar licenses one or two at a time, Utah’s liquor commission on Thursday reversed course and granted licenses to three bars that were ready to open — and seven more planning to open in the coming months.

Going back on a long-running practice of only giving bar licenses to businesses that are ready to open their doors, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services commission exhausted its supply of bar licenses. It will have none to give out for its March meeting, and only one available in April.

Commissioner Juliette Tennert noted that there’s a clause in the current omnibus liquor bill — which cleared its last hurdle in the Utah Legislature Thursday — that requires the commission to grant any conditional license where the applicant has met all statutory criteria.

Gov. Spencer Cox has yet to sign the bill into law — and it wouldn’t take effect until May 1 once he does — but, Tennert said, “the Legislature has articulated its policy.”

Some commissioners disagreed with Tennert. Commissioner Jacquelyn Orton said, “I don’t think this is going to be a positive thing for the industry, because we are going to end up month after month without any licenses to award.”

Commissioner Thomas Jacobson said he’d rather wait to see what Cox did with the bill.

And commission chair Tara Thue said, “I don’t think that, on the bar license side, we’re going to be able to keep pace. I hope I’m wrong about that.”

Population quotas govern how many bar and restaurant licenses the commission can grant. The omnibus bill, HB548, gradually lowers that quota over the next seven years — which the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jefferson Burton, R-Salem, said would eventually add 136 bar licenses to the 350 in place before Thursday’s commission meeting. But those licenses won’t all appear all at once, and there won’t be another one available until April, DABS staff said.

The three bars that received their licenses Thursday and are ready to operate are:

• Premiere Park City, a music venue in the basement of O.P. Rockwell’s, at 268 Main St. in Park City.

• Felt Bar & Eatery, at 341 S. Main St., in downtown Salt Lake City.

• Weathered Waves, a cider and cinema bar at 158 S. Rio Grande St., in The Gateway, Salt Lake City.

The seven bars that received conditional licenses on the grounds that they meet all other requirements of operation include:

• Aker Restaurant & Lounge, 9 Exchange Place in downtown Salt Lake City (projected opening March 28).

• El Moab Hotel in Moab (projected opening in April).

• Thieves Guild Cidery, 117 W. 900 South, in the Central 9th district in Salt Lake City (projected opening in April).

• Neptune’s Palace, at 152 W. 400 South, in The Gateway, Salt Lake City (projected opening in May).

• The Tasting Room, 357 W. 200 South, in downtown Salt Lake City (projected opening June 1).

• Repeal, in the basement at 19 E. 200 South, downtown Salt Lake City (projected opening in August).

• Bout Time Pub & Grub in Saratoga Springs (projected opening in August).

The board’s change in practice applied to restaurants, too. The only ready-to-operate restaurant that received its full service liquor license Thursday was Roux, a new restaurant at 515 E. 300 South in Salt Lake City. But five restaurants also got their conditional licenses:

• Bryce Canyon Pines in Bryce (now open).

• Tita’s Restaurant in Taylorsville (projected opening March 2).

• Piko Mexican Grill in Salt Lake City (projected opening May 15).

• Clear Sky Resorts in Cannonville (projected opening June 1).

• LongHorn Steakhouse in Spanish Fork (projected opening Dec. 30).

During Thursday’s meeting, the liquor commission also announced a new way shoppers will be able to get “allocated” products at state liquor stores, which are a step down from the rare, high-demand products for which the DABS holds drawings.

Under the new system, shoppers will be able to go online to see where those items will be sold, as well as how many bottles will be available. On the third Saturday of every month, at 11 a.m., DABS will have those items available for purchase at certain liquor stores. The new shopping system will begin March 16, and the website will be updated at least a week before the items go on sale.

Deputy director Cade Meier said that some “allocated” bourbons and whiskies will be available through the new system, as well as some wines. “We hope it’s much more fair and easily accessible to those who might be interested in these types of items,” Meier said.