- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) | Bartenders in Utah threw open their doors Wednesday as the state ditched a 40-year-old requirement that customers fill out an application, pay a fee and become a member of a private club before setting foot in a bar.

“It’s 40 years of oppression come to an end,” said Dave Morris, owner of the bar Piper Down in Salt Lake City. “There’s this national perception that we don’t have bars here, so hopefully this gets out there that we’re open for business.”

The new rules are an effort to boost the state’s $7 billion-a-year tourism industry and make the state appear a little less quirky to outsiders.

In the posh ski resort town of Park City, Steve Liebroder, owner of Lindzee O’Michaels, said bar owners in town celebrated the switch at midnight.

“Tourists will actually know that you can get a drink here now. Maybe all of our business will quit going to Colorado,” he said.

Meanwhile, many locals took the change in stride. The area has long been known for bending state rules to accommodate tourists and many locals never bought a club membership.

In Salt Lake City, home to the Mormon Church, it’s always been different.

Mr. Morris organized a 16-bar pub crawl to celebrate the novelty of being allowed into a bar without having to pay first. One crawl was set for Wednesday, another with a different lineup of bars was scheduled for Friday.

About 35 miles north, in Ogden, bartender Rich Miros at Brewskis happily scraped off lettering on the door that said the bar was a private club. The bar gets plenty of tourists from a nearby downtown hotel and skiers coming back from a day on the slopes at nearby Snowbasin.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said of the change to becoming a public bar. “It needed to be changed a long time ago.”

The Mormon Church has always helped shape alcohol policy here, and the change to the law this year was no different. Only after consultation with church leaders and an agreement that DUI penalties would be stiffened, did lawmakers make progress on the changes.

As part of the agreement, Utah also became the only state in the country to require bars to scan the ID of anyone who appears to be 35 or younger to ensure their ID is valid. Bars store the information for a week so law enforcement can inspect it.

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