Zion Curtains may have come down, but now they might be replaced by an 8-foot ‘Zion Wall’

Posted at 2:22 PM, Jan 30, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY -- "Zion Curtains" may have fallen, but now Utah's liquor control commission is considering replacing them in some restaurants with a sort-of "Zion Wall."

In a proposed rule change debated on Tuesday, Utah's Department of Alcoholic Control Commission floated the idea of separate rooms or an 8-foot wall to keep people from seeing cocktails being mixed.

As part of the original deal last year to tear down Zion Curtains, those walls that kept you from seeing drinks being prepared, restaurants across Utah had a choice: are you a bar or a restaurant? Depending on the path they chose, it meant they had to abide by certain rules. But some still are dual-licensed and if they refuse to choose, they may have to put their bar in an entirely separate room -- or build a wall around the entire bar area.

"The way the statue reads it talks about a room, but it isn’t defined," John Nielson, the DABC Commission chairman, told FOX 13.

DABC Commissioner Tom Jacobson draws on a white board as they debate the definition of a "room" and whether restaurants have to erect 8-foot walls. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

On Tuesday, DABC commissioners debated what makes a room. Commissioner Tom Jacobson drew a room on a white board and asked about common areas. Ideally, a customer would walk into a common area and then choose their path: one room for the bar, where children are prohibited; or into the other room where the restaurant is.

But it's not that simple. Restaurants, resorts and hotels pushed back and argued not only making such changes would be expensive, it would be confusing.

"The definition of room is critical to our current and future business," said Susie Cohen of Snowbird Resort, which has spent millions on its restaurants and bars.

Provo Marriott manager John Garfield argued that his lobby restaurant bar area has the appropriate barriers, but he can't ban minors from the hotel lobby.

Melva Sine of the Utah Restaurant Association said restaurateurs made concessions in last year's big alcohol bill that included a price hike on alcohol and other restrictions to get rid of Zion Curtains. She suggested this betrays that agreement.

A Zion Curtain inside a Utah restaurant. (FOX 13 file image)

"We’re super scared that we’re just going to keep getting dinged from the legislature and from the DABC's definition of this room that’s going to make it so that people come here and they think it is not welcoming to people that actually have a cocktail with dinner," said Michele Corigliano of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.

Asked if these rooms and walls were just a Zion Curtain by another name, Nielsen replied: "I don’t think it has the same kid of trappings the Zion Curtain, but the intention is similar that we ought not to have minors exposed, to the extent we can avoid it, the preparation of alcohol."

Commissioner Sophia DiCaro proposed that the DABC proceed with any rule changes adopting the "least restrictive means." Nielsen cautioned that this was only the beginning phase of rule-making under Utah liquor laws and any final decisions are still months away. He urged the public to give comment, even contacting their elected lawmakers with any concerns.

He acknowledged the Utah State Legislature could change things again.

"What we did today may be moot depending on what the legislature does," he said.