- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah law requiring that some restaurants prepare alcoholic drinks behind a barrier could be repealed this year. Defenders of the unusual law, nicknamed the “Zion Curtain” in a reference to the Mormon church’s teetotaler practices, say it helps keep restaurants from looking like bars and shields children from the glamour of bartending.

Some things to know about the issue:

WHAT IS A ‘ZION CURTAIN?’

The requirement that restaurants mix and pour drinks behind a barrier has been in place for decades in Utah, but it was relaxed for most establishments in 2009, when Utah passed a major overhaul of liquor laws. As part of a compromise for loosening some restrictions, the law required any restaurants opening after 2009 to construct the barriers. The Utah Restaurant Association has estimated most of roughly 1,200 restaurants in the state were grandfathered in. In booming areas, including Salt Lake City, the barriers can be regularly found as new eateries have popped up.

WHY GET RID OF THEM?

Drinkers, the hospitality industry and some lawmakers of both parties say they think the barriers are strange and serve no purpose. They argue that children aren’t any more likely to drink by seeing an alcoholic drink being prepared, and children in a restaurant can still see other diners drinking the secretly-prepared drinks. Critics also point out that the rule unfairly applied, and when it’s imposed on older restaurants, it can be a burden. That’s what happened to the Lamb’s Grill in Salt Lake City last year. After nearly 100 years in operation, the restaurant was required to start preparing drinks behind a “Zion Curtain” after the restaurant changed ownership and temporarily lost its liquor license because state officials weren’t notified of the change. Diners can still sit at the restaurant’s long, antique wooden bar, but drinks are prepared in a side room and walked out to customers.

WHY KEEP THEM?

Backers of the barrier rule, including some powerful legislators and conservative groups, say they help maintain an important distinction between restaurants and bars. Families dining out don’t want to bring their children to a place that feels like a cocktail lounge, they argue. Proponents of the law have also pointed out that the structures don’t seem to be harming tourism, which has boomed in recent years, and they don’t seem to hurt diners’ ability to have a drink if they want one.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE?

For years, lawmakers have introduced measures to try to repeal the barrier rule, but none of those attempts passed the Legislature. Four years ago, a bill from then Rep. Ryan Wilcox, a Republican, was approved by the House of Representatives, but it died in the Senate, which has generally taken a more conservative approach to liquor laws. This year’s proposal will be sponsored by Republican Rep. Brad Wilson of Kaysville, who serves as the House Majority Leader. Wilson’s been working on a wide-ranging plan that could include significant trade-offs in exchange for dropping the “Zion Curtain” rule, including raising the 86 percent markup on alcohol by a few percentage points. Those concessions, along with Wilson’s influence as a member of the House leadership and an early endorsement from Gov. Gary Herbert leave many wondering if this is year the “Zion Curtain” will fall.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice


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