The fall of the ‘Zion Curtain’ begins in restaurants all over Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- The glass panes landed on the patio and shattered into thousands of tiny pieces.

"Governor Herbert, tear down this wall!" someone said to laughter from inside the restaurant.

At Current, an upscale seafood restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, employees carefully removed glass panes that made up their "Zion Curtain," carried them outside and smashed them. It was both a political protest and celebration for a symbol of Utah's oft-derided liquor laws.

"It feels awesome!" restaurant owner Joel LaSalle said as he sipped champagne.

Joel LaSalle (right) the owner of the downtown seafood restaurant Current, removes the Zion Curtain separating his bar. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Saturday was the first day they were legally able to be torn down.

"Zion Curtains," as they came to be nicknamed, are walls that prevent you from seeing drinks being made in a restaurant. They were mandated by the Utah State Legislature as a protection measure for children in restaurants. But restaurateurs said they added to the perception that Utah has "weird" liquor laws and cost them business.

"Over the last two years it probably cost us $350,000 in sales," LaSalle said, adding that customers refused to sit at the bar where they would face a glass wall.

The Zion Curtains are being removed under compromise legislation that passed earlier this year. So far, 59 restaurants have applied to Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to remove them. Of those, about 26 have been approved to remove them.

"There are some restaurants in Utah that have said, 'No, we’ll still keep our drink mixing out of sight.' They may have more of a family customer base with children," said DABC spokesman Terry Wood.

As part of the compromise, Zion Curtains are replaced by a sort-of "Zion DMZ." Children are now forbidden from sitting within 10 feet of the bar area (five feet if restaurants install a 42-inch barrier separating the bar area).

Before and after the Zion Curtain at the restaurant Current. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Customers must still verbally state an "intent to dine" in a restaurant before being served a drink. No more than 30 percent of a restaurant's total sales can be alcohol. Any liquor licensee in Utah must now prominently display a sign indicating whether they are indeed a "bar" or a "restaurant."

However, restaurants can also offer weekend drink service at 10:30 a.m., just in time for brunch.

Under the new liquor law that took effect July 1, prices in state-run liquor stores go up. Wine and spirits will be sold at cost plus 88% markup. Beer is sold at cost plus 66%. Wood said many wholesalers have already cut their listing prices so customers wouldn't see much of a price hike per bottle.

LaSalle said he was thrilled to have the Zion Curtains go down, but doesn't agree with some of the other law changes.

"I think we paid a high price. We think our customers paid too high of a price," he said. "Higher prices on already high-priced alcohol and the limit dropping to the lowest in the country as far as .05 DUIs."

In a separate bill, Utah lawmakers passed the strictest anti-drunk driving bill in the nation, lowering the Blood Alcohol Content level to .05. That law has already seen pushback and may undergo some tweaks.