‘Zion Curtains’ are falling, but liquor prices are going up under new Utah law

Posted at 5:22 PM, Mar 28, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- The fall of the "Zion Curtain" has begun in Utah.

Governor Gary Herbert signed House Bill 442 late Tuesday, enacting a major overhaul of Utah liquor laws.

"H.B. 442 is a major updating of our already strong and effective regulations on alcohol. It provides increased funding for proven education and enforcement efforts that will prevent underage drinking and impaired driving," the governor said in a prepared statement.

"This law also makes our restaurant licensing more equitable while giving establishments several options and reasonable time to comply."

HB442, sponsored by House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, overhauls a lot of the rules and regulations for liquor in Utah. The biggest impact is tearing down "Zion Curtains," the walls that prevent you from seeing a drink being made in Utah restaurants.

In exchange, restaurants can opt to have a 10-foot buffer zone between a bar area and a restaurant where children are not allowed, or a five-foot zone with a "mini-wall" to keep kids out (think of it as a "Zion DMZ").

Josh Garcia was preparing to open "We Olive" in Trolley Square as lawmakers were drafting the bill. He was required to install a wall keeping customers from seeing drinks being made. Under the new law, he can tear it down.

A Zion Curtain inside We Olive at Trolley Square. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

"Eventually, that is the plan," he said.

Garcia said he anticipated installing a mini-wall or a railing that would keep children out at five feet from the bar.

"The new laws in themselves, I'm pretty OK with. I think they're more normal than this," he said, pointing to the Zion Curtain. "This, to me, is just completely out of the realm of normalcy."

Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission met Tuesday to discuss the impact of HB442. The DABC decided that restaurants must fill out an application and seek permission before they are able to tear down the separate preparation walls, so they don't run afoul of other liquor laws.

"It's quite a large piece of legislation that probably touches all aspects of the department as well as the public," said Nina McDermott, the DABC's compliance director.

Beyond restaurant walls, here's what else HB442 does when it takes effect in July:

  • Liquor prices in state-run stores go up by 2%. Right now, it's sold at cost plus 86% markup (now it will be cost plus 88%).
  • Places will ultimately have to choose if they are a restaurant or a bar under licensing changes.
  • Changes will be made to the rules governing where restaurants can be in proximity to schools, churches and other community locations.
  • Beginning July 1, weekend brunch service can include alcohol service at 10:30 a.m. (it's 11:30 a.m. now).
  • Malted beverages in grocery and convenience stores will be limited to only two places where they can be displayed. There will also be stricter labeling requirements to clearly state it's an alcoholic product.

"We've either got everyone totally pleased or totally disgusted with it," Sen. Stevenson said of the bill on Tuesday. "Either way, it's probably good legislation."

Michele Corigliano, the executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, said tearing down Zion Curtains will help local businesses. She said they worked with lawmakers to address issues with the bill and Rep. Wilson and Sen. Stevenson have been receptive to address any other problems with the new law.

What will hurt local business, she said, is the new law lowering Utah's DUI level to .05.

"It's a bad bill," she said of House Bill 155. "The result on the economy is going to be so bad. I don't think they understand how bad this is going to affect us."