Public torn as Zion Curtain reforms move forward

In this 2011 photo, a frosted glass curtain hides a portion of the bar at Brio Tuscan Grille at Fashion Place Mall in Murray City, Utah. A lawmaker introduced a proposal during Utah’s general session Monday aiming to allow restaurants to get rid of barriers known as "Zion Curtains" that block people from seeing alcoholic drinks being made. | Photo by Paul Fraughton/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The House Business and Labor Standing Committee heard and approved a substitute version of a massive and controversial liquor reform bill Wednesday morning after considering several comments both in favor and in opposition of the bill.

The proposed Alcohol Amendments legislation, first designated as HB 442 and now HB 442-S1 for the substitute bill, is sponsored by Utah House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Layton. It was introduced Monday to both major acclaim and criticism from all sides of the issue and saw revisions Tuesday night while under consideration by the House committee.

Read more: ‘Massive’ liquor reform bill addresses Zion Curtain, licenses, pricing, more

Two aspects of the revised, or substitute, bill that gathered the most attention were the addition of a third option for businesses aimed at separating children from alcohol preparation and extending the deadline for businesses to comply with one of these options.

“In a piece of legislation of this size, there’s probably going to be a few tweaks here and there, but I think what we all care about most is having good alcohol policy,” Wilson said before the committee vote. “I think there is a lot of good in this bill, whether it’s the opportunity to educate our youth, whether it’s the opportunity to see a different environment in our off-premise retailers and the opportunity to create a level playing field with all of our restaurants, and so I encourage your support.”


The original version proposed that as of 2018 all businesses would have to choose between: (1) the Zion Curtain, a 7-foot barrier preventing patrons from seeing the preparation of alcohol; and (2) a 10-foot perimeter around the bar area where no children could be seated. The substitute bill adds a third option to businesses: a 42-inch structure 6 feet from the bar creating an adults-only area.

Wilson hopes the new third option will help businesses that previously didn’t need or want the Zion Curtain, he said, as well as businesses that may have been forced to choose the Zion Curtain due to space restrictions that couldn’t accommodate the 10-foot perimeter option.

The proposed reforms eliminate any grandfather exceptions that would otherwise exempt businesses that had been serving alcohol before these or earlier restrictions were enacted.

The substitute bill also extends the timeline within which businesses would be required to comply. In the first version, compliance would have been required of all businesses effective 2018; in the newer version, compliance would be required by July 2022.

Public comments

Opinions on the bill ran the spectrum and largely addressed the issue of the Zion Curtain. Owners of establishments that serve alcohol spoke both in favor and opposition of the bill.

I’m in full support of the positive step forward in bringing the wall down,” Michael McHenry, COO of Even Stevens Sandwiches, said.

As an owner, McHenry said, his concern is for his restaurant leaders to have the ability to monitor what bartenders are doing, something hindered by the Zion Curtain. He also mentioned the costs his company incurred complying with previous regulations.

Tim Ryan from Bout Time Pub & Grub, on the other hand, opposed the bill and sought protections for businesses attempting to comply in areas where ordinances or lease agreements might conflict. In particular, he noted these issues may arise because the proposed law eliminates a “club” liquor license in favor of simply “bar” or “restaurant” licenses based on percentage of food vs. alcohol sales.

Passage of this bill will have a grave impact on our business,” Ryan said. “Local ordinances and zoning do not necessarily allow for a … ‘bar’ operation in a particular zone.” Ryan cited Holladay as an example of a location he might be forced to close his business for inability to comply with the law.

“We cannot choose to become a restaurant,” he said, “but by choosing to become a bar, we are losing our ability to operate in certain locations.”

Susan Cohen from Snowbird Ski Resort also spoke against the bill with similar licensing concerns. Snowbird has several different types of licenses, Cohen said, including social club, dining club, restaurants with grandfathered Zion Curtains, restaurants without Zion Curtains and banquet licenses. It took her five hours to go through Wilson’s bill, she said, and believes they need more time.

Several restaurant owners who are members of the Utah Restaurant Association spoke in favor of the bill. Katy Sine, URA vice president of marketing and communications, called the Zion Curtain “an operational hindrance.” The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce also stated its support of the bill.

However, Laura Bunker, co-director of Family Policy Resource, said the Zion Curtain needs to stay in place.

“Utah has more children per capita than any other state, and they should be our priority,” Bunker said, paraphrasing her recent op-ed published in Deseret News. “Children learn from what they see. … We can either put a fence at the top of the cliff or more ambulances at the bottom. Alcohol barriers in restaurants are part of our fence at the top of the cliff to prevent underage drinking.”

Gayle Ruzicka, president of Utah Eagle Forum, also spoke in opposition to the bill. She mentioned she had recently gone into a restaurant with her grandson and, given the proposed legislation, paid particular attention to the Zion Curtain.

“I was so grateful that I didn’t see them preparing alcohol where my grandson could see it,” she said.

Ruzicka added that she wondered if she would have returned to the restaurant with her grandson if there had been no barrier.

“I thought to myself, ‘Shame on me if I would.’ … Let’s leave the restaurants the way they are.”

Committee action

After considerable deliberation and public comment, committee member Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, made a motion to pass the bill out of committee with a favorable recommendation. Several other members commented that although they had concerns, they believed it should go to the full House.

The motion passed by a vote of 13-1, with Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Salt Lake City, as the only dissenting vote.


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.




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  • voice of reason March 1, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Gail, you hypocritical old bat! I thought the Eagle Forum was concerned about liberty and freedom! If you think you’re kid is going to have issues with alcohol because he see’s a drink being mixed, well that just means YOU are a total and complete failure as a parent and grandparent and ought to do the world a favor and find a cave to live in.

    One of the greatest FAKE NEWS STORIES there ever was, was convincing the world that UTAH was a conservative/liberty loving/free state!

  • voice of reason March 1, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    From the Eagle Forum website

    “We support the private enterprise system”

    (unless it involves alcohol in Utah, then it’s Government control all the way!)

  • desertgirl March 1, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    The first time I saw one of the Zion curtains and inquired about it I knew some religious control freaks knew not what they do. Nothing is dumber than having patrons drinks mixed out of the site of the customer. Having worked in a number of restaurant/bars in three states I can tell you it is bad enough your food is prepared out of sight. I want to see my drinks being made. Enough said. Walls and barriers of any type are unnecessary; your kids will drink later or not and won’t be based on seeing a bottle of liquor or a mixologist making a cocktail. These onerous regulations wreak havoc on businesses and income. One law and one law only is needed regarding this issue. Like most state you simply don’t allow anyone under 21 in the bar area. Period. Then we grown-ups can have a drink with our meal and have adult conversations.

    Control freaks be damned same with the Temperance crowd.

    • Henry March 1, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      I agree with you on the ridiculousness of the “Zion Curtain” requirement. It sounds like the old Iron Curtain of the Cold War. LOL

      It’s laughable to think that the Zion Curtain will have any effect on lessening alcohol consumption. Some of these proponents would feint if they went to Germany – where beer costs about the same as water, the legal beer drinking age is 16, and open public consumption is legal. Prost!

      • Rainbow Dash March 1, 2017 at 9:49 pm

        Good comment Henry! 🙂

  • r2d2 March 1, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Aw the days of Everclear and hugging the porcelain rim of the toilet. Those were the days.

    • anybody home March 1, 2017 at 9:31 pm

      OMG, you were there and saw me?

    • Real Life March 1, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      Hey party boy, you had better take a break. You have been hitting it hard lately.

  • [email protected] March 1, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    It really seems like a minor nuisance to have to deal with the Zion Curtain requirement, for non-grandfathered establishments. There are far too many whining people who are not involved, that complain about it. If we trade off compliance with these mis-guided requirements for a more streamlined liquor licensing process, everyone involved would be net-net “happy”. Let’s remember that as odd as we think Utah liquor laws are, there are plenty of other states that have equally restrictive, or in some cases worse.

    Instead of complaining about the stupid ZC, these hospitality folks should be stressing out about the potentially lower BAC limit of 0.05%. All they care about is alcohol sales, which are the most profitable piece of their businesses. A BAC limit of 0.05% will undoubtedly cut into those sales, but as has been proven in other civilized countries, fewer drivers make the poor choice of drinking exceesively and driving their cars/trucks/motorcycles. Uber and Lyft are bound to pick up business!

  • .... March 1, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Is there no Zion curtain for prescription drug over dose. or drug abuse or animal abuse or child abuse or tattoo parlors or the beer section at the local grocery store or no Zions curtain around the state liquor stores or polygamy communities ?

    • Real Life March 2, 2017 at 9:34 am

      You have the inside scoop on the prescription one.

  • anybody home March 1, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    “Utah has more children per capita than any other state, and they should be our priority,” … if the Mormons want to keep popping out babies without end, yeah, there will always be more children per capita than any other state (and restaurant cans of food in the grocery stores)…but this is not a reason to put up Zion whatevers. They work about as well as Prohibition did – eg. not at all.

    Maybe Utah should just ban the rest of the population (non-Mormon) from entering the state – Trump will help you build a wall – and make sure your kids never come in contact with the real world.

    • Utahguns March 2, 2017 at 5:58 am

      Seems as though the Mo’s are becoming more of a problem than an asset. Trying to mix their idealogies with common sense politics is becoming increasingly diffficult. Their belief about “what’s good for them is good for everyone” isn’t working anymore and increasing hypocrisy continues to raise its ugly head, like the increasing misuse with prescription narcotics in the life-long quest to gain “Perfection”.
      Anybody Home’s comment about building a wall reminds me of the cloistering of the FLDS comminities….

  • Rainbow Dash March 1, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    “Utah has more children per capita than any other state, and they should be our priority,”…”“Children learn from what they see. … We can either put a fence at the top of the cliff or more ambulances at the bottom. Alcohol barriers in restaurants are part of our fence at the top of the cliff to prevent underage drinking.”

    kind of like how “abstinence only” sex ed will stop kids from having sex? Like how making marijuana illegal will cut down on drug addiction? Or like how making abortion illegal will stop abortions?

    Guess what Gail, none of those things work. Neither does the “Zion Curtain”. If you think it does, you need a history lesson. Click here to begin your remedial course

    The only thing the “Zion Curtain” does is make alcohol *slightly* harder to get and more interesting to kids. They say, “Why is it illegal”? , “What’s so bad about it”? ….And then they’re more likely to try it….however they can get it.

    I think it’s good that you want to prevent kids from drinking but may I suggest, that you TALK TO THEM about it instead of covering it up and pretending it doesn’t exist? You know, EDUCATE THEM about Alcohol? Make it so it’s not a curiosity. Heck you might even improve your relationship with them.

    Have a nice day! 😀

    • Henry March 2, 2017 at 12:42 pm

      Good observation, Rainbow Dash! By making alcohol “the forbidden fruit”, it makes it even more likely that kids will try to obtain it. To quote our old German neighbor, “I don’t understand why Americans are so upset about beer. There’s nothing in a bottle of beer that isn’t in a loaf of bread.” LOL

  • old school March 1, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    This would be a pretty easy one in FREE country, if you don’t like an establishment that serves alcohol, don’t go there! Duh? All this is, is a lot of firebrand waving from the old church theocracy. If you look at your history books, Utah was a big drinking State (Territory) in the 1800’s. In fact, Brigham Young was the one who controlled all the
    alcohol, so he could control all the profits! Wouldn’t it honor his memory more making
    it readily available to soak the Gentiles for everything you can get!!! Come on!!!! And
    while we’re at it, if they legalizing a State
    lottery, maybe we can stop taking food off
    people’s tables with That FOOD TAX!!!!!

  • high5 March 2, 2017 at 7:20 am

    A Real Waist Of legislative Time. Write Your Congressman,Congresswoman Now!!! Stand There Not Here behind a Keyboard!!! Ive written My Opinion.

  • darkgoddess March 3, 2017 at 5:34 am

    Growing up in the Southern Bible Belt, a lot of kids I knew had parents that forbid alcohol to be in the home, etc. As soon as they were old enough to date/drive, guess what? They were the biggest weekend partiers/drunks. Alcohol was easily obtained from the local bootlegger or a friend old enough to purchase. I grew up in a Catholic household, so liquor wasn’t taboo. I was allowed a sip of my parent’s drink if I asked. I didn’t have that curiosity to go out and party hearty as a teen like my peers, as I already knew what alcohol tasted like. That’s not to say I didn’t party as a young adult – the club scene was big in the early 80s. This whole Zion curtain/moat is ridiculous – these kids are going to be curious about what is so “secretive” and run out and find out first chance they get. Parents just need to do their jobs and educate their children.

  • Dolly March 4, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I guess I just don’t understand how mixing a drink is going to negatively influence a child. If I were a parent, I would be more concerned about the patron sitting next to me, who just had a pretty little drink delivered to their table. You know, the kind with a cute little umbrella, a cherry, an orange slice and a fancy toothpick! Maybe rather than a Zion curtain or moat, perhaps all drinks could be served in an opaque black glass with all fancy decoration hidden inside! Kids don’t care what is going on behind the bar, or the food prep part of a restaurant..they want to see that delicious looking hot fudge sundae or the dessert in a glass that might walk right by their face! If you don’t want your kids to see that, keep them at home or get a babysitter, or better yet, take them to McDonalds.

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