More bars in Washington City? Council considers modernizing city code

WASHINGTON CITY — Washington City officials are considering updating city code that would allow additional bars to come to town.

Tim Ryan, chief financial officer for the Bout Time company, speaks to the Washington City Council about the possible relocation of the sports bar from St. George to Washington City, Utah, March 24, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

During the the City Council’s workshop meeting Wednesday, discussion took place between the council and representatives of the Bout Time Pub & Grub sports bar, who are looking to relocate to Washington City.

Originally located in St. George in the Phoenix Plaza on Sunset Boulevard, the Bout Time sports bar shut down in  March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Looking to restart the business in Washington City, the franchise owner and chief financial officer of the company approached the city Wednesday about getting a license to sell beer, wine and spirits.

“We want to come to Washington City,” said Tim Ryan, CFO of the Bout Time Pub & Grub company, which has multiple locations in Utah and Colorado. “We know we have customers here.”

Ryan noted that it can be difficult to seek a “bar liquor license” from cities due to the constant tweaking the Utah Legislature gives the state liquor laws each year.

“It’s a constant moving playing field and a work in progress,” he said.

One of those tweaks the Legislature passed was in 2017, when it split the alcohol license into two categories: restaurants and bars. Prior to this change, the state issued what were known as dining club licenses, which Bout Time operated under.

L-R: St. George News personality Sheldon Demke with Bout Time Pub & Grub franchisee Darwin Harington at the sports bar’s former St. George location during a May 2019 episode of “What’s on the Menu” | Photo by Aaron Crane, St. George News

Under the new law, a restaurant licensee has to do 70% retails sales of food to 30% alcohol sales. Ryan said Bout Time was more along the lines of 60/40, which wouldn’t have been an issue under the former license structure but which forced the Bout Time franchises in Utah to go from the dining club category to bars, which prohibit anyone under 21.

As for coming to Washington City, Ryan noted that while the city already had their single allowable bar per code, the rapidly growing population may be better served with an additional bar. The current license holder is the Koral Kafe, which has also been temporarily closed in the wake of the pandemic.

Under city code, which was adopted in 1998, Washington City currently allows one bar per 20,000-plus residents, which is higher than the current state quota of one bar per 10,200 people. The current population of Washington City is near 30,000.

City Attorney Thad Seegmiller told the council the city doesn’t specifically have an actual city-level bar license, and the code also only addresses beer sales and not the sale of wine or spirits.

A menu for the Bout Time Pub & Grub sports bar on a chair following a Washington City Council meeting. The sports bar could be the next bar to come into Washington City following an update to city code regarding city alcohol licenses, Washington City, Utah, March 24, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“There is not a specific bar license mentioned in the code,” he said.

Being able to obtain a city-level bar license would have two benefits for Bout Time, Ryan said. First, having that “local consent” would help in getting a state-level bar license, and second, it would help the franchise owner pin down a location since he would know he’s able to operate in the city.

Darwin Harrington, the local Bout Time franchise owner, said locations in Washington City under consideration are at the incoming Grapevine Crossing commercial center off the Washington Parkway/Exit 13 interchange, as well as some others within the city proper.

When a question of Bout Time’s previous location already having a preexisting alcohol license was raised, Harrington said it was a restaurant license. They needed to apply for a new license from the Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control in order to sell a wider range of alcoholic beverages to patrons.

After some additional discussion, the council appeared to come to a general consensus that the city’s alcohol license code needed to be modernized.

“I think we should go with the state code,” council member Craig Coats said.

Council member Doug Ward added that he would like public input involved in shaping any new code changes. Seegmiller said he believed there is modernization that “needs to happen.”

The council took no further action on the matter beyond asking Seegmiller to continue looking into the need to modernize the current code.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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