As legislators sink into ever deepening quicksand negotiating how to make private clubs more friendly to tourists, a bill with the potential to greatly improve the lives of drinking Utahns bides its time quietly.
Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, calls it his “Brunch Bill” after the proposal’s inspiration: going out for Sunday brunch and not being able to order a Bloody Mary.
As the law now stands, Utahns can get a drink before going to the meeting house Sunday morning at bars, aka “private clubs,” which are allowed to serve at 10 a.m., but they couldn’t have a bite to eat with a drink at a restaurant. “It doesn’t make any sense,” McCoy says. In Utah, clubs, taverns and restaurants each have different types of liquor licenses with different rules. In restaurants, you can get a beer at 10 a.m., but wine and liquor cannot be sold before noon. That cuts out the mainstays of brunch: the mimosa and the Bloody Mary, not to mention the less popular but no less important greyhound and its cousin the screwdriver. McCoy’s Brunch Bill would simply make all liquor licensees equal when it comes to service time: 10 a.m.
Tin Angel Cafe owner Kestrel Liedtke says the differing service times for beer and wine or liquor have long been her biggest gripe about Utah liquor law. A small business physically and financially, the Tin Angel must maintain two alcohol refrigerators, one for beer and a second for wine and liquor, which by law can’t be unlocked until noon. “It’s arbitrary and silly,” she says. Erik Nelson, owner of longtime favorite brunch spot Ruth’s Diner in Emigration Canyon, says the effect of the 12 p.m. restaurant service law is to delay start of business on Saturday and Sunday until noon. Locals know to sleep in. But tourists who show up early “look at us like we’re crazy,” he says.
Citris Grill owner Amanda Blank says a day doesn’t go by without a surprised customer asking for a drink too early.
“People are pretty understanding. They know where they live,” she says. “It’s just a disappointing thing no one can control.”
McCoy thinks otherwise. He doesn’t believe Utahns should be resigned to liquor weirdness, about brunch or other legal quirks that cause people to scratch their heads. He began in 2008 with a bill that lifted the ban on getting a drink in bars or restaurants on election days. This year, in addition to overthrowing the prenoon Bloody Mary ban, McCoy proposes taking last year’s election day bill one step farther by keeping state liquor stores open during polling. Another McCoy bill proposes removing those silly “DABC” stickers from liquor bottles. A fiscal analysis of the bill by legislative staff says sticker removal alone would save the state nearly $1 million per year in money the DABC now spends pasting 24 million stickers on 24 million bottles annually. Keeping state liquor stores open election days is expected to bring in around $100,000 each additional open day.
The DABC bottle stickers are intended to prevent smuggling. In Utah—as wine lovers know all too well—only the state can import alcohol. But, nowadays, the DABC has an electronic tracking system that scans the bar codes of bottles. McCoy says that’s a much more accurate tracking mechanism. DABC commissioners haven’t taken a position on any of this year’s proposed liquor-law reforms. But DABC staff like some of the McCoy’s ideas. The DABC’s Sharon Mackay says a standard service time for all establishments would likely help the tourism industry. McCoy’s stickerremoval bill passed unanimously out of a Senate committee Feb. 20 with the support of DABC Director Dennis Kellen who told senators the stickers have little value in court smuggling cases.
Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, says anything that can be done to make Utah restaurant patrons less confused is good, and consistent service times do that. Utah restaurants, fighting this year to be able to serve drinks over restaurant bar counters, just want to be normal, she says. “Sunday brunch on Sunday—just like everybody else.”