Prices rise, partitions fall under new Utah liquor law

Joel LaSalle, Current Fish and Oyster owner, smashes a partition known as a "Zion Curtain" that prevent customers from seeing their alcoholic drinks being mixed and poured, at his restaurant. A new Utah law is making wine, liquor and higher-alcohol beer more expensive. Parts of a broad liquor law passed by state legislators this year takes effect Saturday, including the price increase and measures allowing some restaurants to take down their "Zion Curtains." Salt Lake City, Utah, July 1, 2017 AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A trendy downtown Salt Lake City seafood restaurant started business Saturday with glass-smashing and champagne, a symbolic gesture in its emancipation from Utah’s so-called “Zion Curtains” alcohol law.

Andrew Cliburn, left, looks on after pouring a glass of champagne to Joel LaSalle, Current Fish and Oyster owner, after a partition known as the “Zion Curtain” that prevents customers from seeing their alcoholic drinks being mixed and poured, was taken down at the restaurant Saturday. A new Utah law is making wine, liquor and higher-alcohol beer more expensive. Parts of a broad liquor law passed by state legislators this year takes effect Saturday, including the price increase and measures allowing some restaurants to take down their “Zion Curtains.” Salt Lake City, Utah, July 1, 2017 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

“It feels fabulous and liberating. It’s a hallelujah moment,” said Joel LaSalle, owner of Current Fish & Oyster. “It’ll make our restaurant twice as beautiful because you can actually see the $100,000 bar and wall.”

The new liquor law went into effect Saturday, making wine, liquor and higher-alcohol beer more expensive while also allowing some restaurants to take down walls and partitions that were meant to prevent customers from seeing their alcoholic drinks being mixed and poured.

The broad liquor law passed in March eased a longtime requirement that drinks be prepared behind barriers known as “Zion Curtains,” typically glass walls or back rooms. It’s based on the premise that the barriers shield children from alcohol culture and the glamour of bartending, and prevents underage drinking.

The Zion Curtain nickname is a reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members to avoid alcohol and plays an influential role in state liquor policy.

The rule has been a longtime thorn in the side of Utah’s restaurant industry, which has complained that the barriers can be ugly and awkward, and point out that children can still see customers drinking alcohol. They also argued the rule punished newer restaurants, because those built before 2009 were not required to have a barrier.

Under the new law, restaurants can stop hiding drinks behind glass barriers or in backrooms starting Saturday — if they choose one of two options to keep those under 21 away from bars: Seat them at least 10 feet (3 meters) from a bar, or at least 5 feet (1.5 meters) from a bar if the restaurant installs a half-wall or other structure about 3.5 feet (1 meter) tall.

Adult customers can sit at or near bars and watch drinks being made.

Restaurants that want to pick one of those paths will first need the alcohol control department to sign off on their changes and floor plans and meet with a compliance officer from the liquor department.

Terry Wood, spokesman for Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, did not know how many restaurants had taken steps to make those changes, but it was expected to be a small number.

Most restaurants are not required to do anything differently under the law, and eateries that must make adjustments have a year to do that.

The large dining room at Current Fish & Oyster offers plenty of room for a 10-foot (3-meter) buffer zone. LaSalle said that the wall is an eyesore and costs his restaurant thousands in sales each month because customers can’t sit and enjoy a drink while chatting with the bartender hidden in a glass-paneled cubicle.

The law also raised the markup that the state makes on the case price of alcohol by 2 percentage points. Starting Saturday, the price markup will be 88 percent for liquor and wine and 66.5 for beer that has more than 4 percent of alcohol by volume.

After closing time Friday, workers went through the state’s 44-state-run liquor stores to post new price tags on store shelves ahead of Saturday’s openings.

The rising markup will generally cause retail prices to increase about 1 percent. For example, a $19.99 bottle of wine would cost $20.20 on Saturday.

The price increases don’t apply to lower-alcohol beer, which is sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Some of the law’s other changes took effect in May, including rules allowing alcohol to be sold an hour earlier — at 10:30 a.m. — on weekends and holidays.

Written by MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press writers Rick Bowmer in Salt Lake City and Sally Ho in Las Vegas contributed.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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7 Comments

  • Caveat_Emptor July 1, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    The rise and ultimate fall, of the Zion Curtain silliness smacks of special interest influence at the State Capital…….
    The next challenge will be what to do about the likely elimination of near beer, with its 3.2% alcohol by weight limit..
    Some of us remember the days (30+ years ago) when you had to buy your “split” of wine at the front desk of a restaurant, or a mini bottle to mix with your soda, at your table. Utah has come a long way since those days, but is far from the wide open laws of Nevada, or California. The tax revenue for the state is huge, but you have to wonder if they could collect the same net taxes, without being in the distribution/retailing business.

  • NoNonsense July 1, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    To play devil’s advocate, are we not going far enough? What if a child hears about alcohol, or even smells it. If our law markers really cared about the children of this state, ear protection and nucence level respirators should be issued to any child that sets foot into a place that serves the devil’s brew. It’s truly the only way to be safe.

    • Real Life July 1, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      Lol! The devil is in the brew! It’s gonna get your children.

  • mmsandie July 1, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Well there are more non Mormons moving in, and some Mormons drink, but what makes me mad, I was in Olive Garden in bar area eating, in the booth. And a 4 yr old kid was sitting me hind me, his mom works in the kitchen and she left him in the bare area, he would go behind the counter and ask for a drink.. I thought kids couldn,t sit in that area.. No one was checking and there was a new bartender obviously not trained right. There bottles have always been exposed, under a grandfather clause someone said..I don,t care if I see the bottles or not.. Just want a good drink..

  • utahdiablo July 1, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    Big deal….just buy your real deal brew in Mesquite

    • Badshitzoo July 2, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      No doubt. I’ll be there anyway to p/u da Kush baby!

  • youcandoit July 2, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Control freaks no wonder why all the kids here are out of control you can’t shield them from everything. Why don’t you read the Bible it’s ok to drink in moderation.

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