Rep. Powell again centers crosshairs on controversial Zion curtain
Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber) is taking another crack at tearing down the Zion curtain — for some restaurants, at least.
The representative is sponsoring H.B. 76, which would allow restaurants currently required to serve liquor behind a Zion curtain — a partition that hides the preparation of alcoholic beverages from the sight of patrons — to become exempt from the mandate as long as they have a separate bar area where minors aren’t allowed. The bill would require such restaurants to post a notice that they serve alcohol in public view.
The Zion curtain was enacted in 2010 largely as a way to shield minors from the temptation of drinking. But it has long been a point of consternation for the restaurant industry, which has argued the requirement puts Utah out of step with the rest of the country and promulgates the notion that Utah is not alcohol-friendly.
Powell has been one of the Legislature’s most vocal crusaders pushing for the reform of the Zion curtain law. This is the third straight legislative session he has introduced a bill aimed at changing the requirement. The previous two bills failed, but he has said he believes the current bill represents a good compromise between restaurateurs who are eager to do away with the partitions and those who believe they increase alcohol safety.
Powell did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment for this story, but told The Park Record in September that restaurants having separate bar areas to serve liquor would not be an idea unique to Utah.
"If you look across the country there are lots of states that have restaurants or clubs or places that serve alcoholic beverages that have a separate bar or lounge area that says ‘No minors allowed,’" he said.
But some in the restaurant industry in Park City say that, while the bill would represent a step forward, it doesn’t get at the root of the problem.
Hans Fuegi, owner of Grub Steak Restaurant in Prospector and one of the founders of the Park City Area Restaurant Association, said one of the Zion curtain’s most damaging effects is that is causes confusion among guests.
"(The bill) doesn’t eliminate that," said Fuegi, who is a board member for the Utah Restaurant Association and has long been outspoken about alcohol-related issues. "Now maybe fewer restaurants will have a Zion wall, but not all of them can take it down. We really feel like we need to have a solution that does away with that giant wall altogether. As much as I applaud Rep. Powell for trying to make changes, it’s just not enough of a change to say that we support it."
Katie Easter, general manager of Vinto Pizzeria on Main Street, is all too familiar with the Zion curtain. Any bartender who pours a drink at Vinto must dart back to the kitchen, hidden from view of the restaurant’s seating areas, before returning with the libation.
"We have to explain why the bartender has to walk around the back to open the beer, then walk back to them to serve it and things like that," she said. "We get that a lot."
However, Vinto Pizzeria does have a separate lounge area it uses for private events and overflow — so it would likely be able to serve alcohol openly if Powell’s bill becomes law. Still, Easter said, she would prefer to see a law that does away with the partitions for every restaurant.
"Ideally, it would all go away so you can make cocktails in front of people, and they can have that experience that they get in any other state," she said.
Any questions about whether Powell’s bill goes far enough become moot, however, if it fails to gain traction in both houses of the Legislature, like his previous attempts to change the Zion curtain requirement have. The bill had its first reading in front of the House late last month, but Fuegi, for one, is not hopeful the legislation will have the broad support it needs.
"At some point, we just need to come up with something that has support in the House and the Senate, otherwise it’s going to be difficult to change," he said. "This is not meant to reflect poorly on Rep. Powell — he’s a great guy and really trying hard to help us. I’m just not sure he’s going to get there by himself."
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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.