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Utah liquor bill aims to take down 'Zion curtains'

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 26, 2013 at 9:43 pm •  Published: February 26, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Wine spritzers are a favorite at Rovali's near Salt Lake City. Behind the bar, in full view of patrons, waiters siphon soda and syrup into glasses of ice — then they duck behind a fake olive tree and a barricade to add the chardonnay.

Utah's famously strict liquor laws forbid the restaurant from pouring alcohol in front of customers. The ban is based on the idea that the state should shield the mixing of cocktails and pouring of drinks from children. "Zion curtains" went up around the state as part of a compromise after lawmakers lifted a mandate in 2010 requiring bars to operate as members-only social clubs.

But this year, the curtains may be coming down.

Utah lawmakers are considering whether to repeal the requirement, a move that would ease restrictions and encourage new business. Right now, the requirement applies to restaurants that are less than 3 years old.

Doing away with the curtain would mark yet another small step by the state to relax its liquor laws.

Lawmakers have introduced a handful of pending bills this year that would ease Utah liquor regulations, including a measure allowing customers to order a drink before they order food and another to make more liquor licenses available to restaurants.

They are scheduled to discuss whether to do away with the curtains Wednesday; the measure has not yet been voted on by either chamber.

The so-called Zion curtains have a long history in the state. The nickname nods to Utah's legacy as home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The barriers first went up decades ago in the social clubs that existed before bars were legalized in 2009, unmistakable glass walls separating customers from bartenders.

Those who oppose today's Zion curtains say the law forces restaurant owners to waste money and space on configurations to keep bartenders out of sight of patrons using barriers or strategically positioned service bars. Curtain opponents also say the law hinders tourism by annoying outsiders and reinforcing their perception of Utah as staunchly sober.

Rovali's, an Italian restaurant in Ogden, opened in 2010. When waiters there explain the state's befuddling liquor laws to out-of-towners, Montanez said, "You see the eye roll."

"That kind of stifles guests," he said. "They're a little rankled by these weird laws."

Some lawmakers warn that removing the mandate could encourage underage drinking and influence customers to drink too much.

The majority of Utah legislators and residents belong to the Mormon church, which teaches its members to abstain from alcohol.

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