Tear down this wall
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March 3, 2017
The Legislature has spent an inordinate amount of time this session on the future of the "Zion Curtain."
It's a perennial distraction. It used to really bother me, but I've come to the conclusion that there's some benefit in them having an issue they care so deeply about that, in the end, matters so little. When you think of the serious damage they could be doing, spending a large portion of the session arguing about the Zion Curtain is almost cute. It's like a pacifier.
The Zion Curtain is a requirement in state law that a restaurant that sells liquor must have the bar preparation area shielded from public view, lest women and children be mortified at the sight of demon liquor dispensed from a metered pouring device, ice added, and (I'm beginning to swoon) a piece of lemon put on the rim of the glass.
The barrier must be opaque and 7 feet tall. The new theater in Salt Lake had to build a Zion Ceiling because people could see drinks mixed from the atrium. Restaurant owners have hated it for years because it is just one more expense, and depending on the building and where the plumbing for the bar area is, it makes a strange enclosure in the middle of an open room.
For every foot the barrier is lowered, some new and equally ridiculous requirement will be proposed to replace it. Lower the wall, and servers have to mix drinks left-handed while holding a red umbrella.
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There have been moves to get rid of it for years, and the negotiations become silly. For every foot the barrier is lowered, some new and equally ridiculous requirement will be proposed to replace it. Lower the wall, and servers have to mix drinks left-handed while holding a red umbrella.
This year, the proposal was to eliminate the Zion Curtain, so the bar area was in full view, but then require a "moat" of 10 or 15 feet around it in which no decent people could be seated. Restaurant owners complained about that because, if the bar is in the center of the building, that 15-foot perimeter eats up a lot of expensive floor space. If you are doing business in a 25-foot wide building on Main Street, and the bar, bar back and working space is between a total 10 feet, the 15-foot buffer means your patrons have to sit in the building next door. As long as they are 15 feet away from the bar in that restaurant. Makes perfect sense.
So as a mitigation to that, they have now proposed that the moat can be narrower, if, instead of a Zion Curtain, you plant a hedge that is at least 4 feet high. So the width of the planters, added to the reduced buffer, add up to about the same distance. The restaurant association has come to the conclusion that, stupid as the Zion Curtain rule is, it probably is better to leave it alone.
Here's a proposal. If you go into a restaurant for dinner with the family and find things not to your liking, whether it's the view of margaritas being poured, the music too loud or not to your taste, the temperature is uncomfortable, or the servers are dressed inappropriately for a meal with the young 'uns, you do this: When you pay your bill, you mention to the manager that you were disappointed/offended/annoyed by some aspect of the experience and will be eating somewhere else next time.
The manager may say, "What were you thinking, having your 10-year-old's birthday party at Hooters instead of Chuck-E-Cheese?" But the free market principle of people exercising choice would prevail. It works pretty well in most contexts. If enough people said that a nearly topless woman mixing a flaming cocktail is inappropriate for a family lunch, either the customer mix or the management style would change.
It's ironic the same group, who are about to take up arms against the idea of the landlord imposing regulations on the season and intensity of grazing on the landlord's property, feels it is necessary and appropriate to put the legislature in charge of the interior decoration of every restaurant in the state.
These guys can't stand the thought of the jack-booted thugs at EPA suggesting there are limits to how toxic the air in Salt Lake can be. It may be causing thousands of serious health problems, even deaths, every year. But air pollution is a private matter between a man and his 1976 Plymouth Belvedere, and the feds should stay out of it. But the Zion Curtain, well, we have to protect the delicate sensibilities of our folks who are apparently not smart enough to eat somewhere else if they become dyspeptic at the sight of a liquor bottle.
Is the sight of a glass of beer being dispensed any more disturbing than that of a pint of whipped cream being squirted on a cubic yard of cheese cake?
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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