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Home / Articles / News / News Articles /  News | Club Fighters: Foes of private membership law let it rip at DABC meeting
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News | Club Fighters: Foes of private membership law let it rip at DABC meeting

By Stephen Dark
Posted // June 11,2008 -

hspace=5“I’m tired of being called names [by people who don’t speak English] where you don’t even know what the heck they are saying,” Moab-based Woody’s Tavern owner Shari Beck says. 


On one Friday, over a four-hour period, Beck had 27 people turn around and leave when they learned they had to pay for private club membership to have a drink at her bar. A would-be customer from Manchester, England, was furious at having to shell out $4 before he could go in, she says. Then there are the tour buses, bringing what Beck describes as one of the largest influx of foreigners Moab has seen in 20 years. She has to wave a multi-lingual sign as she tries to explain Utah’s liquor laws to Japanese tourists.


Beck’s frustration with Utah’s liquor laws found much support this morning at the DABC Commission. The commission held the first of two open hearings on doing away with private club status. Bar owners and private citizens let rip with at times emotional speeches about what several described as Utah’s “quirky” liquor laws.


Sam Granato, DABC Commission chairman, opened the meeting by acknowledging they were looking at changing laws “we’ve had for 40 years.” It quickly got testy when Bill Martin, with Real Estate Professionals for Economic Growth, cited a survey that he says shows liquor laws “come up time and again” as a negative perception image for out-of-state companies considering locating in Utah. “In my personal opinion, we are not being hospitable to our guests,” Martin said.


Commissioner Kathryn Balmforth was less than happy. “Are non-drinkers to be disenfranchised from this issue entirely?” she said.


The drinkers weren’t happy either. One man from Park City said the liquor laws were made by people who don’t drink, adding this parallel: “We have lifeguards who don’t swim.” Ernest Hughes, owner of Faces in Salt Lake City, complained of how commission how difficult it was even staying in business. “I’m the best cook in town,” he said. “But when I tell people I have to sell them a pub card before they can taste my food, they turn away.”

A former Marine, Nate Daniels, said the liquor laws made no sense at all. He cited having to move from one table to the one next to it at Fiddler’s Elbow club in Sugar House after he requested a glass of wine with his steak dinner. Since Fiddler’s Elbow is a “mixed-use” bar, one section of the establishment is off-limits to alcohol consumption.


The most passionate plea though, came from Ogden-based Wine Cellar owner Warren Mitchell. “Just trust me,” he pled to the commission. “It’s not the $5 membership card that’s stopping people getting drunk, it’s me.” He described a drunk who came to his jazz bar looking for more booze. Mitchell sat him down, “pumped him with coffee,” and put him in a cab for home.


For a man who identified himself only as “Todd from Draper,” the private club requirement is too much. He said he calculated that his family spent $3000 less on eating out in Utah than they had when they lived in California. He blames the state’s decidedly odd liquor laws. “I find the membership card fee insulting,” he said. “I’ve never paid a membership fee once. I choose not to pay for something from which I’m getting no value.” 


Opposition to the idea of dropping the private club status came from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers’ Janey Brown. She told the commission how her daughter had to pull out the feeding tube from her four-month-old granddaughter in a hospital bed after their car had been hit by a drunk driver. Brown said her husband, had found the driver’s membership card to a private club among the establishment’s paperwork, identifying where the driver had sunk 21 beers before he was thrown out.


Bountiful resident Laura Bunker also worried about the message any relaxing of the liquor laws would send to young people. What was being sacrificed, she said, in the push to end private clubs? “Is alcohol really the best this state has to offer?”


The second and last hearing on the private club issue will take place on June 17, at 6 p.m.

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Posted // September 16,2008 at 17:03 i cant believe you are aruging about the laws with drunk drivers. You drink, you drive, you get caught, you hurt someone, you should pay for breaking any and all of these laws. COME on people, a little girl was killed. How hard is it to watch your customers waitresses and bartenders, not hard at all./////////// i worked at one of the biggest bars in Indiana, and had not one customer with a dui, a fight, or wreck. It is your job to cut people off after a certain point of drinking, and if you cant do that, you dont deserve the job. you wouldnt work at my bar ever.


Posted // June 13,2008 at 16:45 I’ve found that I buy more alcohol in Utah. I overbuy for anticipated need/occassion, because I know I can’t run out and buy more if needed. As nature abhors a vaccum, the extra booze is consumed. Helping to stop alcohol abuse? I think not. Anything prohibited becomes more attractive.


Posted // June 13,2008 at 10:23 While we criticize the State of Utah for its odd liquor laws, let’s not forget to save at least part of that blame for those who sell alcohol. nnYears ago, through their trade association, the state’s restaurant and bar owners petitioned the Utah Liquor Control Commission to allow alcohol sales in private clubs, such as Moose Clubs and the Alta Club in Salt Lake City. At that time, the law’s emphasis was on prohibiting sales in public places, and alcohol sellers told the Commission that to allow sales in private clubs would clear some confusion.nnThe Liquor Control Commission agreed, and also agreed to define private club as any establishment that charged a membership fee. The legislature gave the recommendation its stamp of approval, and the recommendation became law.nnHowever, creative alcohol sellers then saw a loophole: charge a membership fee for a drink in a restaurant or bar, and suddenly the restaurant or bar becomes eligible to sell alcohol to customers under the new private club laws! Now those same restaurant and bar owners are complaining that the laws they in fact helped create, and now use to their benefit, must be changed because those laws confuse customers and make them angry.nnDon’t begrudge the state’s bars and restaurants for their ingenuity; just keep in mind that they and their trade association must share the blame for the state’s strange private club laws and all the confusion they allegedly engender.


Posted // June 12,2008 at 10:21 Janey Brown uses the anecdote about pulling a private membership card from the pocket of the drunk driver who killed her granddaughter, but is the irony of this lost on her or the others crusading to keep the laws in place?nnJaney, even with the gatekeeping this law does, that driver still drank too much, drove a vehicle, and killed your granddaughter. Shouldn’t you be screaming that this law doesn’t work instead of defending how well it’s preventing alcohol deaths? nnWhy doesn’t M.A.D.D. work on better solutions instead of defending a broken system? And why, for the love, if the goal of this organization is to preserve this law, do they not send in someone whose granddaughter was killed BEFORE the laws were put into place rather than trotting out someone who proves the law doesn’t make a bit of difference?


Posted // June 12,2008 at 10:00 “Are non-drinkers to be disenfranchised from this issue entirely?” Kathryn Balmforth said.nnApparently Balmforth thinks only alcohol drinkers go to sports bars, fancy restaurants, pool halls or dance clubs. nnPlease try telling all the BYU students who make the trek up to Salt Lake to go dancing every week that their being forced to pay more and fill out forms disenfranchises them from this issue. Yes, Kathryn, they have a stake, too!nnSince this law affects nondrinkers and drinkers alike, doesn’t that seem to make it not an alcohol control issue, but a venue control issue? nnWhy is the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control deciding to what nondrinkers have to pay to gain entry to go dancing, watch the big game or eat a steak?