Utah liquor bill aims to take down 'Zion curtains'

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 26, 2013 at 9:43 pm •  Published: February 26, 2013
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"Alcohol is a drug," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who opposes the law. "It has social costs. We have DUIs. We have underage drinkers. We have problems that are caused by drinking."

Valentine said he would consider supporting the proposal if the state promised trade-offs such as bulking up police presence around restaurants and nearby roads, or a measure keeping children from entering restaurants serving liquor.

For restaurant owners moving into existing spaces, the law presents a nightmare, said Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden. Restaurants sometimes have to cut into floor space, he said, where more tables should be.

"It really just hampers the new guys, the little guys," Wilcox said. "A lot of these guys, too, they're not large operators. They've got one shop: 'This is my restaurant. My lifelong dream. I've invested everything into this.'"

At Rovali's, Montanez plays sommelier for guests who order wine service, setting off a presentation that underscores the patchwork nature of current laws. Montanez opens the wine at the table and invites guests to sniff the cork. If they purchase the bottle, he can pour and serve the bottle. If they order by the glass, however, he must slip away to pour the drink behind a partition.

"Everything we do is show," Montanez said, likening the visible pouring of drinks to a dessert cart.

The display of pastries and sweets bolsters dessert sales at the restaurant by about 15 percent, he said. And Montanez estimates that taking the curtain down would boost wine sales by a similar margin.

"You can't get creative, that's for sure," he said of the partition. "You have to stick with the rules."

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said the curtain mandate confuses diners and raises eyebrows. Utah should impose one set of rules for all restaurants, regardless of their start date, Sine said.

"It lessens consumer confidence: What's the reason that you're doing this in the back room?" she said.

Sine rejects the notion that the visible flow of liquor would tempt youngsters to drink.

"We have got to stop feeling like everyone who drinks alcohol is doing something wrong," she said. "We all want people to go out and enjoy themselves and be responsible."

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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.