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Utah Restaurateurs Urge State to Nix Burdensome Liquor Law

‘Zion Curtains’ are mandatory walls that drinks are mixed and poured behind

Thomas Hawk/Flickr

Utah isn’t the easiest place to get your hands on liquor. More than half of the state’s population identify as Mormon, a religion that condemns the consumption of alcohol. Those views have filtered through the state government, and the end result has been a whole range of restrictions around alcohol sales and consumption.

Some of the rules are straightforward — for example, if you’re buying alcohol to consume at home, wine, hard liquor, and stronger beers can only be purchased at state-run stores. Others are a little more convoluted, such as the fact that since 2009, all new restaurants have been required to have a wall that’s at least seven feet, two inches tall to hide bartenders who are mixing or pouring drinks from customers. They’re called Zion Curtains, according to the LA Times, many Utah restaurateurs want to tear down these walls.

The law came into existence as part of a trade-off on alcohol laws: In exchange for eliminating a law that required drinking spots to operate like private clubs (so customers could only drink if they were sponsored by a member), the Utah legislature made the Zion Curtains a requirement for any new establishment.

But the law has ensnared a prominent restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City that’s been open for almost a century. Lamb’s Grill made an error when filing paperwork to renew its liquor license that caused it to be without one for a short period — and because the replacement was considered a new license, Lamb’s couldn’t serve alcohol until they put up a Zion Curtain. That meant substantial losses from not being able to sell alcoholic drinks to customers, plus the $2,000 price tag for constructing the wall.

Of all the liquor laws in Utah, from requirements that certain beers be no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by volume, to bans on free-pouring and strict limits on the amount of booze in a cocktail, the Zion Curtain is the most likely law to fall in the near future. State senator Jerry W. Stevenson, who deals with many alcohol-related laws, told the LA Times that new legislation could be coming in January. Additionally, a recent poll suggests that despite the state’s Mormon majority, 70 percent of the population is against the Zion Curtain law.

Utah’s restaurant association agrees with proposals to eliminate the law. But, as with past attempts to scrap or change the law, the church has been vehemently opposed to it. Regardless of the fate of the Zion Curtain law, Lamb’s Grill will have to work around their wall in the meantime.

Pressure Building to Take Down Utah's 'Zion Curtain' Liquor Law [LA Times]
How Salt Lake City’s Quirky Liquor Laws to Unique Cocktail Menus [E]
More Booze News [E]

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