May 28 editorial |

May 28 editorial

Eliminating private clubs would be a boon to tourism

Do you understand Utah’s liquor laws? No, really.

If you’re like most of us, when a visitor asks you for an explanation, you just wince and shake your head.

The people at the Park City Chamber/Bureau say that getting a drink in Utah isn’t as difficult as you may have heard. But what are they supposed to say?

In a witty guest editorial on this page, Park City resident Craig Rode spends about 500 words trying to explain how to buy a beer in Utah. And he doesn’t even tackle the subject of private clubs.

Ah, private clubs: In how many other states do you have to fill out an application and pay a "membership" fee to enter a bar?

But you knew that already. What you may not have heard is that the chairman of the Utah liquor commission wants to get rid of the private-club system. According to a May 24 Associated Press story, commission chairman Sam Granato says the law serves no purpose. Another commissioner, Bobbie Coray, is proposing legislation that will allow private clubs to eliminate membership requirements. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has also proposed the repeal of the private-club system.

Most Utahns know enough about the liquor laws to find a mixed drink when they want one. But what about visitors? They are the people most confused by the private-club system. On one hand, Utah works hard to attract visitors spending millions to expand its convention facilities and to advertise its ski resorts and national parks. On the other hand, it hangs onto an archaic web of liquor laws that encourages visitors to spend their money elsewhere.

We applaud Granato, Coray and Huntsman sticking their necks out on this issue. However, with all due respect to Gov. Huntsman, eliminating private clubs is still an uphill battle. As we’ve learned time and again, the Utah Legislature is far more conservative than the population as a whole. Senate President John Valentine has said he would fight to preserve private clubs because he thinks they discourage overconsumption. It may take a ballot initiative — like the school voucher issue — to get a true reading of public opinion.

Eliminating private clubs won’t eliminate all the confusion surrounding our liquor laws. But it should at least send the message that Prohibition is no longer in force in Utah.

An exaggeration? Perhaps. But it takes a while to change public perception. After all, we’re still trying to convince people from other states that most of us don’t have multiple wives.

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