Drinking in Utah


Here’s an excellent party trivia question: “How many liquor stores are in Utah?” Answer: 44 State Liquor Stores. Unlike most states in the good ol’ USA, we in Utah cannot control our adult cravings and must have the government pick what we drink, when we drink and where we drink. Yet, we Utahn’s have a great history of booze made by white men that continues to today.

Supposedly the first brewer in the state was Brigham Young’s personal hit man and self proclaimed cannibal, Porter Rockwell. He opened the Hot Springs Brewery Hotel in 1856. There was simply a great need for beds and liquor in the territory because immigration and industry were whirling towards Zion like a modern day sharknado. If hard working rail roaders and miners couldn’t get a simple beer or a shot of cheap whiskey after a back breaking day of work they’d just keep movin’ on to another state like Wyoming or west to California that did would to drinkers. Local Mormon businessmen learned quickly that booze was good for business if they wanted to attract workers.

Flip the page forward to today. The same mentality for a successful business atmosphere continues. The LDS Church-owned City Creek Mall allows the Cheesecake Factory and Texas de Brazil Churrascaria to sell alcoholic beverages on its property. That might not have happened if the Mormon-controlled legislature hadn’t met earlier to increase the number of restaurant liquor licenses just in time for the grand opening of the shopping mall. Thank goodness because the immigrants keep coming and are demanding more and more options! Look at Goldman Sachs with almost 2000 employees working in downtown with more coming. Many of their folks hail from big cities and want food trucks, bike rentals, local pubs and restaurants. Whaaaat? Neumont University just opened its doors in the old Salt Lake Tribune building and has 40 apartments upstairs for eager tech-minded students to live in year round. That’s 500 students who are coming closer to the heart of Zion. It’s working numbers like that which helped Gracie’s on West Temple just get voted ‘Best Cocktail in Utah’.

Just east of downtown there’s been a vicious verbal throw down for the owners of a proposed pub near 2100 East and 1300 South. They recently came to Salt Lake Planning and Zoning to ask for permission to create their drive-up, sit down restaurant and pub aptly named ‘Brewhaha Tavern’. Owners Jones and Pohlman want to bring a concept of a neighborhood pub to an area of town occupied by people who apparently don’t drink a sip of liquor. Over 400 ‘neighbors’ signed a petition to not let them open. Rumors flew that modern day temperance workers were telling other businesses in the area that they would stop shopping with them if didn’t also help vote the potential pub down. Residents complained that they didn’t want their children to walk by a bar (God forbid the kids might hang at Foothill Village behind the building where McCool’s Tavern operates). One NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) said she was scared that a place like Brewhaha might bring strangers and addicts to the neighborhood. I’m not making that up. Sadly, the loud neighbors won out so far and P and Z voted the request for a conditional use permit down. That means the owners can’t get a liquor license now.

I recall when Dick N Dixie’s at 479 E. 300 South-across the street from Michaels “Now and Again”-consignment shop petitioned the Salt Lake Planning and Zoning Commission to open up their neighborhood bar. Neighbors streamed into the hearing to complain that the world would end if their new changes to the hood passed through the city permitting system. Low and behold, Dick N Dixie’s has a 4 star rating from Yelp and is one of the hottest little dives in town. I have not been able to find any statistic that any addict has been sleeping on the sidewalk there or that crime is at an all time high on this urban corner because of this pub.

The more business we want to attract to Utah the more all of us will have to look to improve the accessibility to adult watering holes and boozy beverages for the immigrants we wish to attract.



Let’s go back in time to the early 1900’s in Salt Lake City. The J.G. McDonald Chocolate Company had just built a 100,000 sq. ft confectionary factory that produced sweets, chocolate and a chocolate drink intended to replace tea and coffee. J. G.’s dad had been a taffy maker in the 1860’s and his son took the talent and small company into sugary success. The building which housed the operation had wonderful Victorian gardens on the roof, where ladies in their corsets, petticoats, fancy dresses, big hats and white gloves could enjoy fine treats served on white linens by an equally well dressed wait staff. Sadly, the garden isn’t there anymore but the building still is…and is now known as The Broadway Lofts Condominiums (next door to Squatters).

Visitors know our capitol city as a clean town with ultra-wide streets and 20′ sidewalks. There are lovely gardens and plantings from the Temple grounds down Main Street here, but it’s been difficult to find outside dining or friendly places to sit to enjoy downtown without the interruption of our panhandler plague. How to make areas of town more inviting to pedestrians has been a dilemma. We’ve rushed ahead to make bike lanes and put in UHaulcareshare and green bike rentals. And slowly bars and restaurants have been setting out a few tables to lure in more traffic-with or without the permission of City Permits.

I remember many years ago the only place you could go for outside dining was Ruth’s Diner, The Park Café and out south to La Caille. Now we have many options to sit, eat and watch the world go by AND we’re about to get more. City officials are ready to enact sweeping guidelines to enable and clearly control outside dining. The process to change rules is not quick. For example, it took a few million meetings for the City to get on board with food trucks this past decade. Old planners with pocket protectors ran around in a dizzy yelling about the potential trucks, “Where will they get power? Where will they go to the bathroom? Will they stay open late?”. After all the worry we have a thriving community of local, mobile, yummy alternatives to Taco Smell and Dickey Me’s for lunch or dinner. Our winter weather doesn’t make for good roof top dining or curbside tables but soon you’ll see proper short walls and portable heaters going up in front of several eateries downtown because the laws are being updated.

The other great addition to our city that I’ve personally been pushing for is the legalization of ‘Parklets’. Other cities in the U.S. from Boston to SoCal have found that their street scene is not warm and fuzzy with just merely sidewalks and parking spaces to greet people. Businesses and neighborhoods have created mini-green spaces to sit, read, dine, exercise or have marshmellow roasting parties. Parklets are like pop-up small urban parks legally created in usually two parking spaces outside of buildings. We have had parklets here before and this Saturday, 9/21/13 from 11-5 there will be more. I tip my fedora to the 21st and Twenty First Autumn Arts Festival on the north side of 2100 South (between 2100 East to 2200 East). The local businesses there have worked with Salt Lake City to put in temporary grass and planters for the day’s activities of food, art and music. Go check it out-it’s a free event and you can see what a parklet looks like and maybe get some ideas for your own area.

Last time I was in San Francisco we went shopping in it was ‘Parklet Friday’ and all the stores on one block face had erected side by side experiences. It made you want to stop and check out the crowds and the fun. One parklet had temporary indoor/outdoor carpeting and a surround of crafty trees. People were BBQ’ing weenies on hangers while skinny jeaned kids played silly camp songs on acoustic guitars. Another parklet had several old school exercise bikes that you could get on and pedal with your friends for as long as you wanted. There are more permanent parklets all over the city where people can just sit and read. Restaurants can’t use them to serve customers, but people can eat there and must abide by local laws (like no smoking).

Soon Salt Lake City will have its outside dining regulations updated and the rules for operating a seasonal parklet on the books. Methinks next summer will be a lot more fun in this old city of salt!