Utah liquor board denies Thai Archer’s liquor license request

(Photo courtesy of Thai Archer) Salt Lake City's Thai Archer restaurant is too close to a school and cannot get a license to sell liquor.

Salt Lake City’s Thai Archer restaurant does not qualify for a state liquor permit, the Utah alcohol commission decided Tuesday, because it is located too close to a school.

The McKee Language School is 68 feet from the restaurant, which is at 1429 S. 1100 East. Under state law, restaurants cannot sell alcohol if they are within 300 feet of a church, school, park, public playground or library.

Preschools, day cares and trade schools, though, are not considered community locations in the state liquor code, and, thus, are not subject to the proximity requirement.

Thai Archer’s Salt Lake City attorney, Donald J. Winder, argued that because McKee is not a traditional school — offering only after-school and preschool Spanish immersion classes — it did not meet the state’s definition of a community location.

“Just because the word school is on a building, that doesn’t mean it’s a community location,” he explained during the commission’s monthly meeting. “Only community locations are subject to proximity requirements.”

The panel disagreed with that argument, voting unanimously against the request.

“Under the spirit of the law,” explained Jacquelyn Orton, “they [lawmakers] don’t want an establishment serving alcohol in close proximity to where children are congregating.”

While Thai Archer lost the proximity battle, it is still in a war with the DABC.

In February, the restaurant’s owner filed a lawsuit in 3rd District Court alleging the liquor agency damaged his business by delaying his September 2018 request for a variance to the state’s distance requirements.

At the time the application was submitted, the lawsuit states, a business could apply for a variance — or exception — to the distance requirement, if certain conditions were met.

The Legislature was debating at the same time, however, whether to change the distance requirements to community locations and take away the DABC’s ability to grant variances.

The liquor commission decided not to act on any liquor applications that dealt with proximity issues until lawmakers settled the issue.

“Failure to act according to statutory prescribed duties,” the suit states, “adversely affects Thai Archer’s rights.”

The DABC’s authority to grant a variance was removed from the statute, which made it impossible for Thai Archer to get the variance — and liquor license — it needed for its business.

Winder said 3rd District Court did not want to rule on the lawsuit until the DABC had decided whether McKee Language School fit the community definition.

With Tuesday’s commission vote, the issue now goes back to court.