Debate over ‘Zion Curtain’ continues

Posted at 10:07 PM, Mar 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-05 12:57:30-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- What goes on behind the bar at Flatbread Pizza in Sugarhouse is something none of the customers ordering drinks get to see.

“We just can’t do that, honestly. It’s kind of frustrating,” said Amanda Willard, the restaurant’s general manager.

When the location opened a year ago, the owners had to install a 7-foot by 2-inch barrier to shield patrons from the bartender mixing alcoholic drinks. The Zion curtain, as it’s called, is an eyesore to Willard.

“It deters people away from getting cocktails because they’re not able to see the bartender actually making the drinks,” Willard said. “I would be happy to take it down with a sledge hammer.”

But getting rid of it is not so simple. The partition has been a controversial topic for lawmakers, who last year killed a plan that would have brought the curtain down.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, has not given up on the idea. He’s revived the legislation this session, however, with a compromising clause.

“Restaurants who want to stay with having the wall can stay. Restaurants who want to take down the wall are going to post a notice on the door,” Powell said.

The notice would warn customers that the restaurant dispenses and serves alcoholic products in public view.

Powell pitched the idea to the House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee on Tuesday.

“I would be willing to live with this restriction if I could see logically how it actually served the goals of stopping binge drinking,” Powell said. “This allows some choice among our restaurants in Utah.”

But it also goes against state policy and views, according to critics, who attended the meeting.

“One goal of Utah alcohol policy is to, ‘Not promote or encourage the sale or consumption of alcohol.’ HB285 will not serve this goal and will in fact undermine it,” said Stan Rasmussen of the Sutherland Institute.

Prior to this legislative session, the LDS church released a statement calling on lawmakers to preserve Utah’s liquor laws, including the Zion Curtain.

“Laws and policies create an alcohol environment that supports or undermines parents. The separate alcohol preparation areas are a valuable part of an environment that discourages underage drinking in our state,” said Laura Bunker, President of United Families International.

For now, the debate about what should happen at the bar will continue at the capitol.

The committee passed it by a narrow 8-7 margin. It now heads to the House floor for debate.