Utah Liquor Laws Slowly ThawingJanuary 21, 2010 By: Bryan Bass
The state liquor legislation in the state of Utah has long been both absolutely unique compared to anywhere else and a running joke for those who enjoy imbibing in the occasional alcohol-possessing drink. While last year’s change in legislation lifted the law that allowed for only two bars per block and did away with the state’s silly private-club laws, it has done little to allow for the future development of a Utah cocktail culture. Still on the books is a population quota limit for bar and restaurant liquor licenses, which caused eight operators to vie for one available license last month.
Local politicians are applauding these basic changes, including Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who announced in a statement: "The ordinance change is a reflection that we're growing up as a city. We have diverse needs. We have antiquated laws. It's an important step in creating a downtown we all want." However, for other politicians, the changes still leave the Utah liquor system too stringent and limiting. Rep. Gage Froerer has said he will propose a bill lifting caps on restaurant liquor licenses as a start, but it is anticipated he will run into political roadblocks from Rep. Greg Hughes, Sen. John Valentine, Gov. Gary Herbert and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has already announced it will not support Froerer’s proposal. The other gum in the cog is that Herbert and other lawmakers are all facing re-election in 2010.
For Froerer, the fight isn’t about politics or religion, as he told the Salt Lake Tribune: "This is an economic-development issue. With slow job growth and high unemployment, we shouldn't be restricting businesses from expanding or opening in our state. Starting with restaurants will be a good test case before we begin looking at bars.” It’s a thought that drives the LDS church crazy — the powerful church has exerted incredible influence over liquor legislation for the past four decades — but is backed even by bar owners who as of now are holding a captive and profitable audience. Bob Brown, owner of Cheers to You in downtown Salt Lake City told the Tribune: "Sure it makes my business more valuable because I've got a license but quotas hurt the state's image. There's still a perception that you can't get a drink in Utah, and that's bad for all of us."
While thirsty Utah citizens may have to wait until after this year’s election process to see any more movement, at least the ball has started to roll.