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Utah State Legislature passes bill tearing down ‘Zion Curtains’ in restaurants

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah State Legislature has passed a bill tearing down "Zion Curtains," those walls that prevent you from seeing a drink being made.

After a debate in the Senate and a quick vote in the House, House Bill 442 is now on its way to Governor Gary Herbert's desk, and he has signaled that he will sign it into law.

"This is good policy for the state of Utah," Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told the Senate during a debate Wednesday afternoon.

The biggest effect of the bill will allow restaurants to tear down the wall (or they can keep it), but require a 10-foot "buffer zone" between the bar area and dining where minors are allowed.

A Zion Curtain inside a Utah restaurant. (FOX 13 file image)

"There’s a structure or barrier and that includes a 42 inch wall, 60 inches out from the bar. Think about it, it’s not much more than a walk area. No minors in the area inside this area. They can keep the current structure if they prefer," Sen. Stevenson said.

If a restaurant is crowded, parents can allow their child to sit in the buffer zone area under the law, creating what you could call a "Zion DMZ."

As FOX 13 first reported last month, HB442 adds a few new conditions, including:

  • Establishments with multiple bar licenses must choose if they are a bar or a restaurant and live under those regulations.
  • The bill limits restaurants that serve liquor to 300 feet from a community location like a school, church or a park. Bars are 600 feet away. The DABC commission no longer has authority to grant a variance.
  • Brunch mimosas and Bloody Mary service got moved up by an hour to 10:30 a.m.
  • Liquor prices will go up 2%.

During Senate debate, many lawmakers had heartburn over the bill.

"I don’t drink. I don’t understand all these implications, all the things you’ve talked about. It’s really a trust me bill," Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said against the bill.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he opposed the state having control of alcohol.

"Just like North Korea, Utah cannot run a $450 million business and have it come out OK," he said.

The bill passed the Senate on a 20-9 vote and then cleared the House on a 53-17 vote.

Michele Corigliano, the executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, said they can live with the many negotiated compromises in the bill. She praised House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, the sponsor of HB442, for working with them on making it OK for restaurants.

"We feel confident this bill is something that will continue to be reviewed and looked at and if there are unintended consequences that we feel confident Rep. Wilson will work with us," Corigliano said.

Doug Hofeling, the Chief Operating Officer of the Salt Lake Brewing Co., which owns Squatter's, said they were unsure what will happen to their restaurant, which is dual-licensed and must choose between being a restaurant or bar.

"Family is a huge part of our business, so the ability to have children in our restaurant is extremely important to us. We will have to make this transition over time," he said.

Hofeling said if it has a negative impact on their business, he may ask lawmakers to change it next year.

"We’re going to come back and ask. You never get more than you ask for, but we’re going to come back and ask," he said.

Despite problems that may arise with HB442, Corigliano said they're willing to live with it if it tears down Zion Curtains.

"The Zion Curtain was that weird," she said.