Park City restaurants eager to see ‘Zion Curtain’ torn down
Officials say change to liquor law would benefit the industry
Over the past several sessions of the Utah Legislature, there have been a number of efforts to tear down the “Zion Curtain.” But this year, the momentum seems stronger than ever to get rid of one of Utah’s most unusual liquor laws.
Several lawmakers in recent weeks have indicated their support for doing away with the Zion Curtain, a slang term for the partition many restaurants are required by law to use to hide the preparation of alcoholic beverages from the sight of customers. Gov. Gary Herbert, too, has put his weight behind the effort, recently mentioning it in his annual “State of the State” address.
As of Friday, no bill that would do away with the Zion Curtain had been released, but Hans Fuegi, owner of Park City’s Grub Steak Restaurant and the head of the Utah Restaurant Association’s liquor task force, said he’s more hopeful than ever that the partitions are on their way out.
“I was very encouraged to see that the governor seems to be in favor of eliminating it, which wasn’t the case before,” he said. “… It seems like there’s a really good effort from some legislators who seem to be convinced that it’s time for the Zion Curtain to go.”
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said he’s also optimistic legislators will pass a bill to strike down the Zion curtain law. However, he is concerned the bill may include additional elements that could make it less of a triumph for restaurants or alcohol drinkers in Utah.
Salt Lake City media outlets have reported, for instance, that the legislation might be accompanied by an increase the price of products at state liquor stores by a percentage point or two to pay for more training for restaurant staff about the liquor laws.
“I think, like everyone, you have to look at that and go, ‘It’s progress,’” he said. “We’re making progress. It’s unfortunate that we feel sometimes like we can’t make progress for progress’s sake and you have to give up something to get the progress. That’s frustrating.”
Fuegi added that he and many others in the restaurant industry will remain somewhat skeptical until they see a draft of the bill.
“The devil is always in the details,” he said. “There’s always a trade for any time the liquor laws get changed. But I think we just need to find out exactly what the industry will have to give to make the curtain go away. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”
Regardless, tearing down the Zion Curtain would be cause for celebration for restaurants and Park City’s tourism industry, Malone said. He compared the impact to when Utah did away in 2009 with the law requiring patrons possess private club memberships to enter bars, which made it much more difficult for visitors to find a cocktail on Main Street.
“This may not have as much of a personal impact on someone because it’s not somebody out front asking you for your driver’s license and asking if you’re a member, but it’s going to change the look and the feel of a lot of places,” he said. “You can see somebody making a drink for you, and you’re not going, ‘Where did that person go? Why are they behind that wall?’”
Malone added that confusion about Utah’s liquor laws remains one of the things the Chamber/Bureau hears most often in focus groups with prospective visitors to Park City.
“The sad part about it is it’s more prevalent in conversations with people who have never been here than people who have been here,” he said. “People who haven’t been here can kind of cite to you by verse the bad things about the uncomfortable, awkward moments in terms of serving alcohol in Utah.”
Eliminating the Zion Curtain — and the confusion among out-of-state guests when they see their server retreating behind a barrier to pour their Moscow Mules — could go a long way toward changing the state’s reputation, Fuegi said.
“I think it has quite a big impact on that reputation,” he said. “It’s so unusual to go to something that looks like a bar, where you can display liquor and do everything but make the actual drink or pour the actual glass of wine at that bar. That’s the kind of thing that leads to articles making fun of the state, and none of us want to see that.”
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.